Elon Musk Has Broken Disaster-Response Twitter

Article by Juliette Kayyem: “For years, Twitter was at its best when bad things happened. Before Elon Musk bought it last fall, before it was overrun with scammy ads, before it amplified fake personas, and before its engineers were told to get more eyeballs on the owner’s tweets, Twitter was useful in saving lives during natural disasters and man-made crises. Emergency-management officials have used the platform to relate timely information to the public—when to evacuate during Hurricane Ian, in 2022; when to hide from a gunman during the Michigan State University shootings earlier this month—while simultaneously allowing members of the public to transmit real-time data. The platform didn’t just provide a valuable communications service; it changed the way emergency management functions.

That’s why Musk-era Twitter alarms so many people in my field. The platform has been downgraded in multiple ways: Service is glitchier; efforts to contain misleading information are patchier; the person at the top seems largely dismissive of outside input. But now that the platform has embedded itself so deeply in the disaster-response world, it’s difficult to replace. The rapidly deteriorating situation raises questions about platforms’ obligation to society—questions that prickly tech execs generally don’t want to consider…(More)”

Technology over the long run: zoom out to see how dramatically the world can change within a lifetime

Article by Max Roser: “The big visualization offers a long-term perspective on the history of technology.

The timeline begins at the center of the spiral. The first use of stone tools, 3.4 million years ago, marks the beginning of this history of technology. Each turn of the spiral then represents 200,000 years of history. It took 2.4 million years – 12 turns of the spiral – for our ancestors to control fire and use it for cooking.3

To be able to visualize the inventions in the more recent past – the last 12,000 years – I had to unroll the spiral. I needed more space to be able to show when agriculture, writing, and the wheel were invented. During this period, technological change was faster, but it was still relatively slow: several thousand years passed between each of these three inventions.

From 1800 onwards, I stretched out the timeline even further to show the many major inventions that rapidly followed one after the other. 

The long-term perspective that this chart provides makes it clear just how unusually fast technological change is in our time. 

You can use this visualization to see how technology developed in particular domains. Follow, for example, the history of communication: from writing, to paper, to the printing press, to the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, all the way to the Internet and smartphones.

Or follow the rapid development of human flight. In 1903, the Wright brothers took the first flight in human history (they were in the air for less than a minute), and just 66 years later, we landed on the moon. Many people saw both within their lifetimes: the first plane and the moon landing.

This large visualization also highlights the wide range of technology’s impact on our lives. It includes extraordinarily beneficial innovations, such as the vaccine that allowed humanity to eradicate smallpox, and it includes terrible innovations, like the nuclear bombs that endanger the lives of all of us.

What will the next decades bring? 

The red timeline reaches up to the present and then continues in green into the future. Many children born today, even without any further increases in life expectancy, will live well into the 22nd century. 

New vaccines, progress in clean, low-carbon energy, better cancer treatments – a range of future innovations could very much improve our living conditions and the environment around us. But, as I argue in a series of articles, there is one technology that could even more profoundly change our world: artificial intelligence (AI).

One reason why artificial intelligence is such an important innovation is that intelligence is the main driver of innovation itself. This fast-paced technological change could speed up even more if it’s not only driven by humanity’s intelligence, but artificial intelligence too. If this happens, the change that is currently stretched out over the course of decades might happen within very brief time spans of just a year. Possibly even faster.

I think AI technology could have a fundamentally transformative impact on our world. In many ways, it is already changing our world, as I documented in this companion article. As this technology is becoming more capable in the years and decades to come, it can give immense power to those who control it (and it poses the risk that it could escape our control entirely).

Such systems might seem hard to imagine today, but AI technology is advancing very fast. Many AI experts believe there is a real chance that human-level artificial intelligence will be developed within the next decades, as I documented in this article….(More)”.

Longterm timeline of technology
A long-term timeline of technology

Semantic Media: Mapping Meaning on the Internet

Book by Andrew Iliadis: “Media technologies now provide facts, answers, and “knowledge” to people – search engines, apps, and virtual assistants increasingly articulate responses rather than direct people to other sources. 

 Semantic Media is about this emerging era of meaning-making technologies. Companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft organize information in new media products that seek to “intuitively” grasp what people want to know and the actions they want to take. This book describes some of the insidious technological practices through which organizations achieve this while addressing the changing contexts of internet searches, and examines the social and political consequences of what happens when large companies become primary sources of information…(More)”.

Universal Access and Its Asymmetries

Book by Harmeet Sawhney and Hamid R. Ekbia: “Universal access—the idea that certain technologies and services should be extended to all regardless of geography or ability to pay—evokes ideals of democracy and equality that must be reconciled with the realities on the ground. The COVID-19 pandemic raised awareness of the need for access to high-speed internet service in the United States, but this is just the latest in a long history of debates about what should be made available and to whom. Rural mail delivery, electrification, telephone service, public schooling, and library access each raised the same questions as today’s debates about health care and broadband. What types of services should be universally available? Who benefits from extending these services? And who bears the cost?

Stepping beyond humanitarian arguments to conduct a clear-eyed, diagnostic analysis, this book offers some surprising conclusions. While the conventional approach to universal access looks primarily at the costs to the system and the benefits to individuals, Harmeet Sawhney and Hamid Ekbia provide a holistic perspective that also accounts for costs to individuals and benefits for systems. With a comparative approach across multiple cases, Universal Access and Its Asymmetries is an essential exploration of the history, costs, and benefits of providing universal access to technologies and services. With a fresh perspective, it overturns common assumptions and offers a foundation for making decisions about how to extend service—and how to pay for it…(More)”.

What is PeaceTech?

Report by Behruz Davletov, Uma Kalkar, Marine Ragnet, and Stefaan Verhulst: “From sensors to detect explosives to geographic data for disaster relief to artificial intelligence verifying misleading online content, data and technology are essential assets for peace efforts. Indeed, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war is a direct example of data, data science, and technology as a whole has been mobilized to assist and monitor conflict responses and support peacebuilding.

Yet understanding the ways in which technology can be applied for peace, and what kinds of peace promotion they can serve, as well as their associated risks remain muddled. Thus, a framework for the governance of these peace technologies—#PeaceTech—is needed at an international and transnational level to guide the responsible and purposeful use of technology and data to strengthen peace and justice initiatives.

Today, The GovLab is proud to announce the release of the “PeaceTech Topic Map: A Research Base for an Emerging Field,” an overview of the key themes and challenges of technologies used by and created for peace efforts…(More)”.

How Technology Companies Are Shaping the Ukraine Conflict

Article by Abishur Prakash: “Earlier this year, Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram, announced that people could create posts calling for violence against Russia on its social media platforms. This was unprecedented. One of the world’s largest technology firms very publicly picked sides in a geopolitical conflict. Russia was now not just fighting a country but also multinational companies with financial stakes in the outcome. In response, Russia announced a ban on Instagram within its borders. The fallout was significant. The ban, which eventually included Facebook, cost Meta close to $2 billion.

Through the war in Ukraine, technology companies are showing how their decisions can affect geopolitics, which is a massive shift from the past. Technology companies have been either dragged into conflicts because of how customers were using their services (e.g., people putting their houses in the West Bank on Airbnb) or have followed the foreign policy of governments (e.g., SpaceX supplying Internet to Iran after the United States removed some sanctions)…(More)”.

The Sounds of Life: How Digital Technology Is Bringing Us Closer to the Worlds of Animals and Plants

Book by Karen Bakker: “The natural world teems with remarkable conversations, many beyond human hearing range. Scientists are using groundbreaking digital technologies to uncover these astonishing sounds, revealing vibrant communication among our fellow creatures across the Tree of Life.

At once meditative and scientific, The Sounds of Life shares fascinating and surprising stories of nonhuman sound, interweaving insights from technological innovation and traditional knowledge. We meet scientists using sound to protect and regenerate endangered species from the Great Barrier Reef to the Arctic and the Amazon. We discover the shocking impacts of noise pollution on both animals and plants. We learn how artificial intelligence can decode nonhuman sounds, and meet the researchers building dictionaries in East African Elephant and Sperm Whalish. At the frontiers of innovation, we explore digitally mediated dialogues with bats and honeybees. Technology often distracts us from nature, but what if it could reconnect us instead?

The Sounds of Life offers hope for environmental conservation and affirms humanity’s relationship with nature in the digital age. After learning about the unsuspected wonders of nature’s sounds, we will never see walks outdoors in the same way again…(More)”.

The Haves and the Have Nots: Civic Technologies and the Pathways to Government Responsiveness

Paper by Jonathan Mellon, Tiago C. Peixoto and Fredrik M. Sjoberg: “As civic life has moved online scholars have questioned whether this will exacerbate political inequalities due to differences in access to technology. However, this concern typically assumes that unequal participation inevitably leads to unequal outcomes: if online participants are unrepresentative of the population, then participation outcomes will benefit groups who participate and disadvantage those who do not. This paper combines the results from eight previous studies on civic technology platforms. It conducts new analysis to trace inequality throughout the participation chain, from (1) the existing digital divide, to (2) the profile of participants, to (3) the types of demands made through the platform, and, finally, to (4) policy outcomes.
The paper examines four civic technology models: online voting for participatory budgeting in Brazil, online local problem reporting in the United Kingdom, crowdsourced constitution drafting in Iceland, and online petitioning across 132 countries. In every case, the assumed links in the participation chain broke down because of the platform’s institutional features and the surrounding political process.
These results show that understanding how inequality is created requires examination of all stages of participation, as well as the resulting policy response. The assumption that inequalities in participation will always lead to the same inequalities in outcomes is not borne out in practice…(More)”.

Big Tech Goes to War

Article by Christine H. Fox and Emelia S. Probasco: “Even before he made a bid to buy Twitter, Elon Musk was an avid user of the site. It is a reason Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov took to the social media platform to prod the SpaceX CEO to activate Starlink, a SpaceX division that provides satellite internet, to help his country in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion. “While you try to colonize Mars—Russia try [sic] to occupy Ukraine!” Fedorov wrote on February 26. “We ask you to provide Ukraine with Starlink stations.”

“Starlink service is now active in Ukraine,” Musk tweeted that same day. This was a coup for Ukraine: it facilitated Ukrainian communications in the conflict. Starlink later helped fend off Russian jamming attacks against its service to Ukraine with a quick and relatively simple code update. Now, however, Musk has gone back and forth on whether the company will continue funding the Starlink satellite service that has kept Ukraine and its military online during the war.

The tensions and uncertainty Musk is injecting into the war effort demonstrate the challenges that can emerge when companies play a key role in military conflict. Technology companies ranging from Microsoft to Silicon Valley start-ups have provided cyberdefense, surveillance, and reconnaissance services—not by direction of a government contract or even as a part of a government plan but instead through the independent decision-making of individual companies. These companies’ efforts have rightly garnered respect and recognition; their involvement, after all, were often pro bono and could have provoked Russian attacks on their networks, or even their people, in retaliation…(More)”.

The Equality Machine: Harnessing Digital Technology for a Brighter, More Inclusive Future

Book by Orly Lobel: “Much has been written about the challenges tech presents to equality and democracy. But we can either criticize big data and automation or steer it to do better. Lobel makes a compelling argument that while we cannot stop technological development, we can direct its course according to our most fundamental values.
With provocative insights in every chapter, Lobel masterfully shows that digital technology frequently has a comparative advantage over humans in detecting discrimination, correcting historical exclusions, subverting long-standing stereotypes, and addressing the world’s thorniest problems: climate, poverty, injustice, literacy, accessibility, speech, health, and safety. 
Lobel’s vivid examples—from labor markets to dating markets—provide powerful evidence for how we can harness technology for good. The book’s incisive analysis and elegant storytelling will change the debate about technology and restore human agency over our values…(More)”.