Mapping European Attitudes towards Technological Change and its Governance.


European Tech Insights 2021 by Oscar Jonsson and Carlos Luca de Tena: “…is composed of two studies: Part I focuses on how the pandemic has altered our habits and perceptions with regards to healthcare, work, social networks and the urban space. Part II reveals how Europeans are embracing technologies (from AI to automation) and what are the implications for our democracies and societies.

One year on from the outbreak of Covid-19, the findings of European Tech Insights 2021 reveal that the pandemic has accelerated the acceptance of technologies among Europeans but also increased awareness of the downsides of technological development….

Democracy in the Digital Age

Not only are citizens changing their attitudes and becoming more willing to use new technologies; they are also supportive of democracy going digital.

– A vast majority of Europeans (72%) would like to be able to vote in elections through their smartphone, while only 17% would oppose it. Strongest support is found in Poland (80%), Estonia (79%), Italy (78%) and Spain (73%).

– 51% of Europeans support reducing the number of national parliamentarians and giving those seats to an algorithm. Over 60% of Europeans aged 25-34 and 56% of those aged 34-44 are excited about this idea.

Embracing Technology

The research found growing support towards increased adoption of AI and new uses of technology:

– One third of Europeans would prefer that AI algorithms decide their social welfare payments or approve their visa for working in a foreign country, rather than a human civil servant

– A majority of Europeans support the use of facial technology for verifying the identity of citizens if that makes their lives more convenient. Increased support is seen in Italy (56%), Sweden (47%) or The Netherlands (45%).

– More than a third of Europeans would prefer to have a package delivered to them by a robot rather than a human…..(More)”.

Galileo and the Science Deniers


Book by Mario Livio: “Galileo’s story may be more relevant today than ever before. At present, we face enormous crises—such as the minimization of the dangers of climate change—because the science behind these threats is erroneously questioned or ignored. Galileo encountered this problem 400 years ago. His discoveries, based on careful observations and ingenious experiments, contradicted conventional wisdom and the teachings of the church at the time. Consequently, in a blatant assault on freedom of thought, his books were forbidden by church authorities.

Astrophysicist and bestselling author Mario Livio draws on his own scientific expertise to provide captivating insights into how Galileo reached his bold new conclusions about the cosmos and the laws of nature. A freethinker who followed the evidence wherever it led him, Galileo was one of the most significant figures behind the scientific revolution. He believed that every educated person should know science as well as literature, and insisted on reaching the widest audience possible, publishing his books in Italian rather than Latin.

Galileo was put on trial with his life in the balance for refusing to renounce his scientific convictions. He remains a hero and inspiration to scientists and all of those who respect science—which, as Livio reminds us in this gripping book, remains threatened even today….(More)”.

Deepfake Maps Could Really Mess With Your Sense of the World


Will Knight at Wired: “Satellite images showing the expansion of large detention camps in Xinjiang, China, between 2016 and 2018 provided some of the strongest evidence of a government crackdown on more than a million Muslims, triggering international condemnation and sanctions.

Other aerial images—of nuclear installations in Iran and missile sites in North Korea, for example—have had a similar impact on world events. Now, image-manipulation tools made possible by artificial intelligence may make it harder to accept such images at face value.

In a paper published online last month, University of Washington professor Bo Zhao employed AI techniques similar to those used to create so-called deepfakes to alter satellite images of several cities. Zhao and colleagues swapped features between images of Seattle and Beijing to show buildings where there are none in Seattle and to remove structures and replace them with greenery in Beijing.

Zhao used an algorithm called CycleGAN to manipulate satellite photos. The algorithm, developed by researchers at UC Berkeley, has been widely used for all sorts of image trickery. It trains an artificial neural network to recognize the key characteristics of certain images, such as a style of painting or the features on a particular type of map. Another algorithm then helps refine the performance of the first by trying to detect when an image has been manipulated….(More)”.

‘Belonging Is Stronger Than Facts’: The Age of Misinformation



Max Fisher at the New York Times: “There’s a decent chance you’ve had at least one of these rumors, all false, relayed to you as fact recently: that President Biden plans to force Americans to eat less meat; that Virginia is eliminating advanced math in schools to advance racial equality; and that border officials are mass-purchasing copies of Vice President Kamala Harris’s book to hand out to refugee children.

All were amplified by partisan actors. But you’re just as likely, if not more so, to have heard it relayed from someone you know. And you may have noticed that these cycles of falsehood-fueled outrage keep recurring.

We are in an era of endemic misinformation — and outright disinformation. Plenty of bad actors are helping the trend along. But the real drivers, some experts believe, are social and psychological forces that make people prone to sharing and believing misinformation in the first place. And those forces are on the rise.

“Why are misperceptions about contentious issues in politics and science seemingly so persistent and difficult to correct?” Brendan Nyhan, a Dartmouth College political scientist, posed in a new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It’s not for want of good information, which is ubiquitous. Exposure to good information does not reliably instill accurate beliefs anyway. Rather, Dr. Nyhan writes, a growing body of evidence suggests that the ultimate culprits are “cognitive and memory limitations, directional motivations to defend or support some group identity or existing belief, and messages from other people and political elites.”

Put more simply, people become more prone to misinformation when three things happen. First, and perhaps most important, is when conditions in society make people feel a greater need for what social scientists call ingrouping — a belief that their social identity is a source of strength and superiority, and that other groups can be blamed for their problems….(More)”.

Lobbying in the 21st Century: Transparency, Integrity and Access


OECD Report: “Lobbying, as a way to influence and inform governments, has been part of democracy for at least two centuries, and remains a legitimate tool for influencing public policies. However, it carries risks of undue influence. Lobbying in the 21st century has also become increasingly complex, including new tools for influencing government, such as social media, and a wide range of actors, such as NGOs, think tanks and foreign governments. This report takes stock of the progress that countries have made in implementing the OECD Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying. It reflects on new challenges and risks related to the many ways special interest groups attempt to influence public policies, and reviews tools adopted by governments to effectively safeguard impartiality and fairness in the public decision-making process….(More)”.

Can Democracy Safeguard the Future?


Book by Graham Smith: “Our democracies repeatedly fail to safeguard the future. From pensions to pandemics, health and social care through to climate, biodiversity and emerging technologies, democracies have been unable to deliver robust policies for the long term.

In this book, Graham Smith asks why. Exploring the drivers of short-termism, he considers ways of reshaping legislatures and constitutions and proposes strengthening independent offices whose overarching goals do not change at every election. More radically, Smith argues that forms of participatory and deliberative politics offer the most effective democratic response to the current political myopia, as well as a powerful means of protecting the interests of generations to come….(More)”.

The Rise of Digital Repression: How Technology is Reshaping Power, Politics, and Resistance


Book by Steven Feldstein: “The world is undergoing a profound set of digital disruptions that are changing the nature of how governments counter dissent and assert control over their countries. While increasing numbers of people rely primarily or exclusively on online platforms, authoritarian regimes have concurrently developed a formidable array of technological capabilities to constrain and repress their citizens.

In The Rise of Digital Repression, Steven Feldstein documents how the emergence of advanced digital tools bring new dimensions to political repression. Presenting new field research from Thailand, the Philippines, and Ethiopia, he investigates the goals, motivations, and drivers of these digital tactics. Feldstein further highlights how governments pursue digital strategies based on a range of factors: ongoing levels of repression, political leadership, state capacity, and technological development. The international community, he argues, is already seeing glimpses of what the frontiers of repression look like. For instance, Chinese authorities have brought together mass surveillance, censorship, DNA collection, and artificial intelligence to enforce their directives in Xinjiang. As many of these trends go global, Feldstein shows how this has major implications for democracies and civil society activists around the world.

A compelling synthesis of how anti-democratic leaders harness powerful technology to advance their political objectives, The Rise of Digital Repression concludes by laying out innovative ideas and strategies for civil society and opposition movements to respond to the digital autocratic wave….(More)”.

Would you notice if fake news changed your behavior? An experiment on the unconscious effects of disinformation


Paper by Zach Bastick: “A growing literature is emerging on the believability and spread of disinformation, such as fake news, over social networks. However, little is known about the degree to which malicious actors can use social media to covertly affect behavior with disinformation. A lab-based randomized controlled experiment was conducted with 233 undergraduate students to investigate the behavioral effects of fake news. It was found that even short (under 5-min) exposure to fake news was able to significantly modify the unconscious behavior of individuals. This paper provides initial evidence that fake news can be used to covertly modify behavior, it argues that current approaches to mitigating fake news, and disinformation in general, are insufficient to protect social media users from this threat, and it highlights the implications of this for democracy. It raises the need for an urgent cross-sectoral effort to investigate, protect against, and mitigate the risks of covert, widespread and decentralized behavior modification over online social networks….(More)”

Data Brokers Are a Threat to Democracy


Justin Sherman at Wired: “Enter the data brokerage industry, the multibillion dollar economy of selling consumers’ and citizens’ intimate details. Much of the privacy discourse has rightly pointed fingers at Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok, which collect users’ information directly. But a far broader ecosystem of buying up, licensing, selling, and sharing data exists around those platforms. Data brokerage firms are middlemen of surveillance capitalism—purchasing, aggregating, and repackaging data from a variety of other companies, all with the aim of selling or further distributing it.

Data brokerage is a threat to democracy. Without robust national privacy safeguards, entire databases of citizen information are ready for purchase, whether to predatory loan companies, law enforcement agencies, or even malicious foreign actors. Federal privacy bills that don’t give sufficient attention to data brokerage will therefore fail to tackle an enormous portion of the data surveillance economy, and will leave civil rights, national security, and public-private boundaries vulnerable in the process.

Large data brokers—like Acxiom, CoreLogic, and Epsilon—tout the detail of their data on millions or even billions of people. CoreLogic, for instance, advertises its real estate and property information on 99.9 percent of the US population. Acxiom promotes 11,000-plus “data attributes,” from auto loan information to travel preferences, on 2.5 billion people (all to help brands connect with people “ethically,” it adds). This level of data collection and aggregation enables remarkably specific profiling.

Need to run ads targeting poor families in rural areas? Check out one data broker’s “Rural and Barely Making It” data set. Or how about racially profiling financial vulnerability? Buy another company’s “Ethnic Second-City Strugglers” data set. These are just some of the disturbing titles captured in a 2013 Senate report on the industry’s data products, which have only expanded since. Many other brokers advertise their ability to identify subgroups upon subgroups of individuals through criteria like race, gender, marital status, and income level, all sensitive characteristics that citizens likely didn’t know would end up in a database—let alone up for sale….(More)”.

A Resurgence of Democracy in 2040?


Blog by Steven Aftergood: “The world will be “increasingly out of balance and contested at every level” over the next twenty years due to the pressures of demographic, environmental, economic and technological change, a new forecast from the National Intelligence Council called Global Trends 2040 said last week.

But among the mostly grim possible futures that can be plausibly anticipated — international chaos, political paralysis, resource depletion, mounting poverty — one optimistic scenario stands out: “In 2040, the world is in the midst of a resurgence of open democracies led by the United States and its allies.”

How could such a global renaissance of democracy possibly come about?

The report posits that between now and 2040 technological innovation in open societies will lead to economic growth, which will enable solutions to domestic problems, build public confidence, reduce vulnerabilities and establish an attractive model for emulation by others. Transparency is both a precondition and a consequence of this process.

“Open, democratic systems proved better able to foster scientific research and technological innovation, catalyzing an economic boom. Strong economic growth, in turn, enabled democracies to meet many domestic needs, address global challenges, and counter rivals,” the report assessed in this potential scenario.

“With greater resources and improving services, these democracies launched initiatives to crack down on corruption, increase transparency, and improve accountability worldwide, boosting public trust. These efforts helped to reverse years of social fragmentation and to restore a sense of civic nationalism.”

“The combination of rapid innovation, a stronger economy, and greater societal cohesion enabled steady progress on climate and other challenges. Democratic societies became more resilient to disinformation because of greater public awareness and education initiatives and new technologies that quickly identify and debunk erroneous information. This environment restored a culture of vigorous but civil debate over values, goals, and policies.”

“Strong differences in public preferences and beliefs remained but these were worked out democratically.”

In this hopeful future, openness provided practical advantages that left closed authoritarian societies lagging behind.

“In contrast to the culture of collaboration prevailing in open societies, Russia and China failed to cultivate the high-tech talent, investment, and environment necessary to sustain continuous innovation.”

“By the mid-2030s, the United States and its allies in Europe and Asia were the established global leaders in several technologies, including AI, robotics, the Internet of Things, biotech, energy storage, and additive manufacturing.”

The success of open societies in problem solving, along with their economic and social improvements, inspired other countries to adopt the democratic model.

“Technological success fostered a widely perceived view among emerging and developing countries that democracies were more adaptable and resilient and better able to cope with growing global challenges.”…(More)”.