Standards and Innovations in Information Technology and Communications

Book by Dina Šimunić and Ivica Pavić: “This book gives a thorough explanation of standardization, its processes, its life cycle, and its related organization on a national, regional and global level. The book provides readers with an insight in the interaction cycle between standardization organizations, government, industry, and consumers. The readers can gain a clear insight to standardization and innovation process, standards, and innovations life-cycle and the related organizations with all presented material in the field of information and communications technologies. The book introduces the reader to understand perpetual play of standards and innovation cycle, as the basis for the modern world.

  • Provides a thorough explanation of standardization and innovation in relation to communications engineering and information technology
  • Discusses the standardization and innovation processes and organizations on global, regional, and national levels
  • Interconnects standardization and innovation, showing the perpetual life-cycle that is the basis of technology progress…(More)”.

The Machine Pauses: Will our means continue to dictate our ends?

Essay by Stuart Whatley: “It is now a familiar story. A civilization that measures itself by its technological achievements is confronted with the limits of its power. A new threat, a sudden shock, has shown its tools to be wanting, yet it is now more dependent on them than ever before. While the few in a position to wrest back a semblance of control busy themselves preparing new models and methods, the nonessential masses hurl themselves at luminescent screens, like so many moths to the flame.

It is precisely at such moments of technological dependency that one might consider interrogating one’s relationship with technology more broadly. Yes, “this too shall pass,” because technology always holds the key to our salvation. The question is whether it also played a role in our original sin.

In 1909, following a watershed era of technological progress, but preceding the industrialized massacres of the Somme and Verdun, E.M. Forster imagined, in “The Machine Stops,” a future society in which the entirety of lived experience is administered by a kind of mechanical demiurge. The story is the perfect allegory for the moment, owing not least to its account of a society-wide sudden stop and its eerily prescient description of isolated lives experienced wholly through screens.

The denizens (for they are not citizens) of Forster’s world wile away their days in single-occupancy hexagonal underground rooms, where all of their basic needs are made available on demand. “The Machine…feeds us and clothes us and houses us,” they exclaim, “through it we speak to one another, through it we see one another, in it we have our being.” As such, one’s only duty is to abide by the “spirit of the age.” Whereas in the past that may have entailed sacrifices, always to ensure “that the Machine may progress, that the Machine may progress eternally,” most inhabitants now lead lives of leisure, “eating, or sleeping, or producing ideas.” 

Yet despite all of their comforts and free time, they are a harried leisure class, because they have absorbed the values of the Machine itself. They are obsessed with efficiency, an impulse that they discharge by trying to render order (“ideas”) from the unmanageable glut of information that the machine spits out. One character, Vashti, is a fully initiated member of the cult of efficiency. She does not bother trying to acquire a bed to fit her smaller stature more comfortably, for she accepts that “to have an alternative size would have involved vast alterations in the Machine.” Nor does she have any interest in traveling, because she generates “no ideas in an air-ship.” To her mind, any habit that “was unproductive of ideas…had no connexion with the habits that really mattered.” Everyone simply accepts that although the machine’s video feeds do not convey the nuances of one’s facial expressions, they’re “good enough for all practical purposes.”

Chief among Vashti’s distractions is her son, Kuno, a Cassandra-like figure who dares to point out that, “The Machine develops—but not on our lines. The Machine proceeds—but not to our goal.” When the mechanical system eventually begins to break down (starting with the music-streaming service, then the beds), the people have no choice but to take further recourse in the Machine. Complaints are lodged with the Committee of the Mending Apparatus, but the Mending Apparatus itself turns out to be broken. Rather than protest further, the people pray and pine for the Machine’s quick recovery. By that “latter day,” Forster explains, they “had become so subservient that they readily adapted themselves to every caprice of the Machine.”…(More)”.

The institutionalization of digital public health: lessons learned from the COVID19 app

Paper by Ciro Cattuto and Alessandro Spina: “Amid the outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, there has been a call to use innovative digital tools for the purpose of protecting public health. There are a number of proposals to embed digital solutions into the regulatory strategies adopted by public authorities to control the spread of the coronavirus more effectively. They range from algorithms to detect population movements by using telecommunication data to the use of artificial intelligence and high-performance computing power to detect patterns in the spread of the virus. However, the use of a mobile phone application for contact tracing is certainly the most popular.

These proposals, which have a very powerful persuasive force, and have apparently contributed to the success of public health response in a few Asian countries, also raise questions and criticisms in particular with regard to the risks that these novel digital surveillance systems pose for privacy and in the long term for our democracies.

With this short paper, we would like to describe the pattern that has led to the institutionalization of digital tools for public health purposes. By tracing their origins to “digital epidemiology”, an approach originated in the early 2010s, we will expose that, whilst there exists limited experimental knowledge on the use of digital tools for tracking disease, this is the first time in which they are being introduced by policy-makers into the set of non-clinical emergency strategies to a major public health crisis….(More)”

Crisis as Opportunity: Fostering Inclusive Public Engagement in Local Government

Ashley Labosier at Mercatus Center: “In addressing local challenges, such as budget deficits, aging infrastructure, workforce development, opioid addiction, homelessness, and disaster preparedness, a local government must take into account the needs, preferences, and values of its entire community, not just politically active groups. However, research shows that citizens who participate in council meetings or public hearings rarely reflect the diversity of the community in terms of age, race, or opinion, and traditional public comment periods seldom add substantively to local policy decisions. It is therefore clear that reform of public engagement in local governments is long overdue.

An opportunity for such a reform is emerging out of the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic. As local governments cope with the crisis, they should strengthen their relationship with their residents by adopting measures that are inclusive and sensitive to all the constituencies in their jurisdiction.

This work starts by communicating clearly both the measures adopted to combat COVID-19 and the guidelines for citizen compliance and by making sure this information is accessible and disseminated throughout the entire community. During the crisis, building trust with the community will also entail restraining from advancing projects that are not instrumental to crisis management, particularly controversial projects. Diligence and prudence during the crisis should create the opportunity to try and test new forms of dialogue with citizens.

These new forms of engagement should increase the legitimacy and public support for government decisions and cultivate a civic culture where residents no longer see themselves as customers vying for services, but as citizens with ownership in the democratic process and its outcomes. In this brief, I propose ways to integrate digital technology tools into those new forms of public engagement.

Integrating Digital Technologies into Public Engagement

Over the past 15 years a new civic tech industry has emerged to assist local governments with public engagement. Videos and podcasts increase access to guidelines, rules, and procedures published by local governments. Real-time language translation is possible thanks to machine-learning algorithms that are relatively easy to integrate into online help lines. Government web portals increase access to official information, particularly for those with limited mobility or with visual or hearing impairments. These and other digital platforms have the potential to increase citizens’ participation, particularly when the costs—such as transportation or childcare—keep people from attending public meetings.

Indeed, tech solutions have the potential to increase citizen participation. During a decade of working with local governments on technology and public engagement, I have observed technologies that promote inclusiveness in public participation and technologies that simply magnify the voice of groups traditionally engaged in politics. Drawing from this experience, I offer local governments and agencies five recommendations to integrate technology into their public engagement programs….(More)”.

Digital solutions to revolutionise community empowerment

Article by Alan Marcus: “…The best responses to Covid-19 have harmonised top-down policies and grassroots organisation. In the UK, more than 700,000 volunteers for the National Health Service are being organised through GoodSAM—an app that, like many gig economy platforms, allows individuals to switch on availability for delivering supplies to vulnerable people.

Perhaps the best example is Taiwan, where officials have kept the rate of infection to a fraction of even highly-rated Singapore. Coordinating public and private groups, the country has deployed a range of online services, including a system for mapping and allocating rationed face masks developed by Digital Minister Audrey Tang and members of an online hacktivist chatroom. …

Effective responses to the crisis show the value of inclusive government and hint at more resilient models for managing our communities. So far, governments, businesses and individuals have pooled resources to deliver country-wide responses. However, this model should be pushed further. Digital tools should be provided to communities to organise themselves, develop locally tailored solutions and get involved in the governance of their town or neighbourhood.

This model requires open communication between local people and the organisations responsible for administrating neighbourhoods—be they governments or businesses. … 

The platform provides significant opportunities for optimising crisis response and elevating quality of life. For example, a popular solution for market vendors forced to close by Covid-19 has been offering delivery services. As well as the businesses, this benefits local people, who can bypass overcrowded superstores or overcapacity online grocery deliveries. While grassroots movements are largely left to organise themselves, this is a missed opportunity for collaboration with local administrators.

By communicating with vendors, the administrator can not only establish an online platform to coordinate their services, but also connect them with local people to help deliver the service, such as van owners who can loan their vehicles. Moreover, the administrator can collect feedback on local infrastructure needed to improve services, such as communal cold lockers for receiving groceries when no-one is home.

By integrating this model into the day-to-day governance of our communities, we can unite community action with top-down resources, empowering local people to co-own the evolution of their neighbourhoods and helping administrators prioritise projects that maximise quality of life.

As Solnit wrote: “A disaster is a lot like a revolution when it comes to disruption and improvisation.” Pushed to their limits, countries are pioneering ways of coordinating local and national action. From this wave of innovation, we can empower communities to become more resilient in crises, more inclusive in their governance and more engaged in the determination of their future….(More)”.

Mind the app – considerations on the ethical risks of COVID-19 apps

Blog by Luciano Floridi: “There is a lot of talk about apps to deal with the pandemic. Some of the best solutions use the Bluetooth connection of mobile phones to determine the contact between people and therefore the probability of contagion.

In theory, it’s simple. In practice, it is a minefield of ethical problems, not only technical ones. To understand them, it is useful to distinguish between the validation and the verification of a system. 
The validation of a system answers the question: “are we building the right system?”. The answer is no if the app

  • is illegal;
  • is unnecessary, for example, there are better solutions; 
  • is a disproportionate solution to the problem, for example, there are only a few cases in the country; 
  • goes beyond the purpose for which it was designed, for example, it is used to discriminate people; 
  • continues to be used even after the end of the emergency.

Assuming the app passes the validation stage, then it needs to be verified.
The verification of a system answers the question: “are we building the system in the right way?”. Here too the difficulties are considerable. I have become increasingly aware of them as I collaborate with two national projects about a coronavirus app, as an advisor on their ethical implications. 
For once, the difficult problem is not privacy. Of course, it is trivially true that there are and there might always be privacy issues. The point is that, in this case, they can be made much less pressing than other issues. However, once (or if you prefer, even if) privacy is taken care of, other difficulties appear to remain intractable. A Bluetooth-based app can use anonymous data, recorded only in the mobile phone, used exclusively to send alerts in case of the contact with people infected. It is not easy but it is feasible, as demonstrated by the approach adopted by the Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing initiative (PEPP-PT). The apparently intractable problems are the effectiveness and fairness of the app.

To be effective, an app must be adopted by many people. In Britain, I was told that it would be useless if used by less than 20% of the population. According to the PEPP-PT, real effectiveness seems to be reached around the threshold of 60% of the whole population. This means that in Italy, for example, the app should be consistently and correctly used by something between 11m to 33m people, out of a population of 55m. Consider that in 2019 Facebook Messenger was used by 23m Italians. Even the often-mentioned app TraceTogether has been downloaded by an insufficient number of people in Singapore.

Given that it is unlikely that the app will be adopted so extensively just voluntarily, out of social responsibility, and that governments are reluctant to impose it as mandatory (and rightly so, for it would be unfair, see below), it is clear that it will be necessary to encourage its use, but this only shifts the problem….

Therefore, one should avoid the risk of transforming the production of the app into a signalling process. To do so, the verification should not be severed from, but must feedback on, the validation. This means that if the verification fails so should the validation, and the whole project ought to be reconsidered. It follows that a clear deadline by when (and by whom) the whole project may be assessed (validation + verification) and in case be terminated, or improved, or even simply renewed as it is, is essential. At least this level of transparency and accountability should be in place.

An app will not save us. And the wrong app will be worse than useless, as it will cause ethical problems and potentially exacerbate health-related risks, e.g. by generating a false sense of security, or deepening the digital divide. A good app must be part of a wider strategy, and it needs to be designed to support a fair future. If this is not possible, better do something else, avoid its positive, negative and opportunity costs, and not play the political game of merely signalling that something (indeed anything) has been tried…(More)”.

How Civic Technology Can Help Stop a Pandemic

Jaron Lanier and E. Glen Weyl at Foreign Affairs: “The spread of the novel coronavirus and the resulting COVID-19 pandemic have provided a powerful test of social and governance systems. Neither of the world’s two leading powers, China and the United States, has been particularly distinguished in responding. In China, an initial bout of political denial allowed the virus to spread for weeks, first domestically and then globally, before a set of forceful measures proved reasonably effective. (The Chinese government also should have been better prepared, given that viruses have jumped from animal hosts to humans within its territory on multiple occasions in the past.) The United States underwent its own bout of political denial before adopting social-distancing policies; even now, its lack of investment in public health leaves it ill-equipped for this sort of emergency.

The response of the bureaucratic and often technophobic European Union may prove even worse: Italy, although far from the epicenter of the outbreak, has four times the per capita rate of cases as China does, and even famously orderly Germany is already at half China’s rate. Nations in other parts of the world, such as information-manipulating Iran, provide worse examples yet.

Focusing on the countries that have done worst, however, may be less useful at this point than considering which country has so far done best: Taiwan. Despite being treated by the World Health Organization as part of China, and despite having done far broader testing than the United States (meaning the true rate of infection is far less hidden), Taiwan has only one-fifth the rate of known cases in the United States and less than one-tenth the rate in widely praised Singapore. Infections could yet spike again, especially with the global spread making visitors from around the world vectors of the virus. Yet the story of Taiwan’s initial success is worth sharing not just because of its lessons for containing the present pandemic but also because of its broader lessons about navigating pressing challenges around technology and democracy.

Taiwan’s success has rested on a fusion of technology, activism, and civic participation. A small but technologically cutting-edge democracy, living in the shadow of the superpower across the strait, Taiwan has in recent years developed one of the world’s most vibrant political cultures by making technology work to democracy’s advantage rather than detriment. This culture of civic technology has proved to be the country’s strongest immune response to the new coronavirus….(More)”.

Meaningful Inefficiencies: Civic Design in an Age of Digital Expediency

Book by Eric Gordon and Gabriel Mugar: “Public trust in the institutions that mediate civic life-from governing bodies to newsrooms-is low. In facing this challenge, many organizations assume that ensuring greater efficiency will build trust. As a result, these organizations are quick to adopt new technologies to enhance what they do, whether it’s a new app or dashboard. However, efficiency, or charting a path to a goal with the least amount of friction, is not itself always built on a foundation of trust.

Meaningful Inefficiencies is about the practices undertaken by civic designers that challenge the normative applications of “smart technologies” in order to build or repair trust with publics. Based on over sixty interviews with change makers in public serving organizations throughout the United States, as well as detailed case studies, this book provides a practical and deeply philosophical picture of civic life in transition. The designers in this book are not professional designers, but practitioners embedded within organizations who have adopted an approach to public engagement Eric Gordon and Gabriel Mugar call “meaningful inefficiencies,” or the deliberate design of less efficient over more efficient means of achieving some ends. This book illustrates how civic designers are creating meaningful inefficiencies within public serving organizations. It also encourages a rethinking of how innovation within these organizations is understood, applied, and sought after. Different than market innovation, civic innovation is not just about invention and novelty; it is concerned with building communities around novelty, and cultivating deep and persistent trust.

At its core, Meaningful Inefficiencies underlines that good civic innovation will never just involve one single public good, but must instead negotiate a plurality of publics. In doing so, it creates the conditions for those publics to play, resulting in people truly caring for the world. Meaningful Inefficiencies thus presents an emergent and vitally needed approach to creating civic life at a moment when smart and efficient are the dominant forces in social and organizational change….(More)”.

Civic tech, Data and Demos: exploring the interaction between democracy and technology

IAPP: “The French data protection authority, the CNIL, has published a report that explores emerging issues of data protection and freedoms in democracy, technology and citizen participation. The report discusses the emergence of civic technologies and data protection issues associated. The CNIL also uses the report to propose its recommendations for creating “an environment of trust” with civic tech “that allows everyone to exercise their citizenship while respecting their rights and freedoms.” Those recommendations include more implementation of EU General Data Protection Regulation principles and considerations for improved digital communication and participation….(More)”.

The Downside of Tech Hype

Jeffrey Funk at Scientific American: “Science and technology have been the largest drivers of economic growth for more than 100 years. But this contribution seems to be declining. Growth in labor productivity has slowed, corporate revenue growth per research dollar has fallen, the value of Nobel Prize–winning research has declined, and the number of researchers needed to develop new molecular entities (e.g., drugs) and same percentage improvements in crop yields and numbers of transistors on a microprocessor chip (commonly known as Moore’s Law) has risen. More recently, the percentage of profitable start-ups at the time of their initial public stock offering has dropped to record lows, not seen since the dot-com bubble and start-ups such as Uber, Lyft and WeWork have accumulated losses much larger than ever seen by start-ups, including Amazon.

Although the reasons for these changes are complex and unclear, one thing is certain: excessive hype about new technologies makes it harder for scientists, engineers and policy makers to objectively analyze and understand these changes, or to make good decisions about new technologies.

One driver of hype is the professional incentives of venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, consultants and universities. Venture capitalists have convinced decision makers that venture capitalist funding and start-ups are the new measures of their success. Professional and business service consultants hype technology for both incumbents and start-ups to make potential clients believe that new technologies make existing strategies, business models and worker skills obsolete every few years.

Universities are themselves a major source of hype. Their public relations offices often exaggerate the results of research papers, commonly implying that commercialization is close at hand, even though the researchers know it will take many years if not decades. Science and engineering courses often imply an easy path to commercialization, while misleading and inaccurate forecasts from Technology Review and Scientific American make it easier for business schools and entrepreneurship programs to claim that opportunities are everywhere and that incumbent firms are regularly being disrupted. With a growth in entrepreneurship programs from about 16 in 1970 to more than 2,000 in 2014, many young people now believe that being an entrepreneur is the cool thing to be, regardless of whether they have a good idea.

Hype from these types of experts is exacerbated by the growth of social media, the falling cost of website creation, blogging, posting of slides and videos and the growing number of technology news, investor and consulting websites….(More)”.