The Hype Machine


Book by Sinan Aral on “How Social Media Disrupts Our Elections, Our Economy, and Our Health–and How We Must Adapt”: “Drawing on two decades of his own research and business experience, Aral goes under the hood of the biggest, most powerful social networks to tackle the critical question of just how much social media actually shapes our choices, for better or worse. Aral shows how the tech behind social media offers the same set of behavior-influencing levers to both Russian hackers and brand marketers—to everyone who hopes to change the way we think and act—which is why its consequences affect everything from elections to business, dating to health. Along the way, he covers a wide array of topics, including how network effects fuel Twitter’s and Facebook’s massive growth to the neuroscience of how social media affects our brains, the real impact of fake news, the power of social ratings, and the effect of social media on our kids.

In mapping out strategies for being more thoughtful consumers of social media, The Hype Machine offers the definitive guide to understanding and harnessing for good the technology that has redefined our world overnight…(More)”.

If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future


Book by Jill Lepore: “The Simulmatics Corporation, launched during the Cold War, mined data, targeted voters, manipulated consumers, destabilized politics, and disordered knowledge—decades before Facebook, Google, and Cambridge Analytica. Jill Lepore, best-selling author of These Truths, came across the company’s papers in MIT’s archives and set out to tell this forgotten history, the long-lost backstory to the methods, and the arrogance, of Silicon Valley.

Founded in 1959 by some of the nation’s leading social scientists—“the best and the brightest, fatally brilliant, Icaruses with wings of feathers and wax, flying to the sun”—Simulmatics proposed to predict and manipulate the future by way of the computer simulation of human behavior. In summers, with their wives and children in tow, the company’s scientists met on the beach in Long Island under a geodesic, honeycombed dome, where they built a “People Machine” that aimed to model everything from buying a dishwasher to counterinsurgency to casting a vote. Deploying their “People Machine” from New York, Washington, Cambridge, and even Saigon, Simulmatics’ clients included the John F. Kennedy presidential campaign, the New York Times, the Department of Defense, and dozens of major manufacturers: Simulmatics had a hand in everything from political races to the Vietnam War to the Johnson administration’s ill-fated attempt to predict race riots. The company’s collapse was almost as rapid as its ascent, a collapse that involved failed marriages, a suspicious death, and bankruptcy. Exposed for false claims, and even accused of war crimes, it closed its doors in 1970 and all but vanished. Until Lepore came across the records of its remains.

The scientists of Simulmatics believed they had invented “the A-bomb of the social sciences.” They did not predict that it would take decades to detonate, like a long-buried grenade. But, in the early years of the twenty-first century, that bomb did detonate, creating a world in which corporations collect data and model behavior and target messages about the most ordinary of decisions, leaving people all over the world, long before the global pandemic, crushed by feelings of helplessness. This history has a past; If Then is its cautionary tale….(More)”.

US Government Guide to Global Sharing of Personal Information


Book by IAPP: “The Guide to U.S. Government Practice on Global Sharing of Personal Information, Third Edition is a reference tool on U.S. government practice in G2G-sharing arrangements. The third edition contains new agreements, including the U.S.-U.K. Cloud Act Agreement, EU-U.S. Umbrella Agreement, United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and EU-U.S. Privacy Shield framework. This book examines those agreements as a way of establishing how practice has evolved. In addition to reviewing past agreements, international privacy principles of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation will be reviewed for their relevance to G2G sharing. The guide is intended for lawyers, privacy professionals and individuals who wish to understand U.S. practice for sharing personal information across borders….(More)”.

Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Policy


Book edited by Maggie WalterTahu KukutaiStephanie Russo Carroll and Desi Rodriguez-Lonebear: “This book examines how Indigenous Peoples around the world are demanding greater data sovereignty, and challenging the ways in which governments have historically used Indigenous data to develop policies and programs.

In the digital age, governments are increasingly dependent on data and data analytics to inform their policies and decision-making. However, Indigenous Peoples have often been the unwilling targets of policy interventions and have had little say over the collection, use and application of data about them, their lands and cultures. At the heart of Indigenous Peoples’ demands for change are the enduring aspirations of self-determination over their institutions, resources, knowledge and information systems.

With contributors from Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, North and South America and Europe, this book offers a rich account of the potential for Indigenous data sovereignty to support human flourishing and to protect against the ever-growing threats of data-related risks and harms….(More)”.

The Oxford Handbook of Ethics of AI


Book edited by Markus D. Dubber, Frank Pasquale, and Sunit Das: “This volume tackles a quickly-evolving field of inquiry, mapping the existing discourse as part of a general attempt to place current developments in historical context; at the same time, breaking new ground in taking on novel subjects and pursuing fresh approaches.

The term “A.I.” is used to refer to a broad range of phenomena, from machine learning and data mining to artificial general intelligence. The recent advent of more sophisticated AI systems, which function with partial or full autonomy and are capable of tasks which require learning and ‘intelligence’, presents difficult ethical questions, and has drawn concerns from many quarters about individual and societal welfare, democratic decision-making, moral agency, and the prevention of harm. This work ranges from explorations of normative constraints on specific applications of machine learning algorithms today-in everyday medical practice, for instance-to reflections on the (potential) status of AI as a form of consciousness with attendant rights and duties and, more generally still, on the conceptual terms and frameworks necessarily to understand tasks requiring intelligence, whether “human” or “A.I.”…(More)”.

Digital Diplomacy and International Organisations: Autonomy, Legitimacy and Contestation


Book edited by Corneliu Bjola and Ruben Zaiotti: “This book examines how international organisations (IOs) have struggled to adapt to the digital age, and with social media in particular.

The global spread of new digital communication technologies has profoundly transformed the way organisations operate and interact with the outside world. This edited volume explores the impact of digital technologies, with a focus on social media, for one of the major actors in international affairs, namely IOs. To examine the peculiar dynamics characterising the IO–digital nexus, the volume relies on theoretical insights drawn from the disciplines of International Relations, Diplomatic Studies, Media, and Communication Studies, as well as from Organisation Studies.

The volume maps the evolution of IOs’ “digital universe” and examines the impact of digital technologies on issues of organisational autonomy, legitimacy, and contestation. The volume’s contributions combine engaging theoretical insights with newly compiled empirical material and an eclectic set of methodological approaches (multivariate regression, network analysis, content analysis, sentiment analysis), offering a highly nuanced and textured understanding of the multifaceted, complex, and ever-evolving nature of the use of digital technologies by international organisations in their multilateral engagements….(More)”.

The Good Drone: How Social Movements Democratize Surveillance


Book by Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick: “Drones are famous for doing bad things: weaponized, they implement remote-control war; used for surveillance, they threaten civil liberties and violate privacy. In The Good Drone, Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick examines a different range of uses: the deployment of drones for the greater good. Choi-Fitzpatrick analyzes the way small-scale drones—as well as satellites, kites, and balloons—are used for a great many things, including documenting human rights abuses, estimating demonstration crowd size, supporting anti-poaching advocacy, and advancing climate change research. In fact, he finds, small drones are used disproportionately for good; nonviolent prosocial uses predominate.

Choi-Fitzpatrick’s broader point is that the use of technology by social movements goes beyond social media—and began before social media. From the barricades in Les Misérables to hacking attacks on corporate servers to the spread of #MeToo on Twitter, technology is used to raise awareness, but is also crucial in raising the cost of the status quo.

New technology in the air changes politics on the ground, and raises provocative questions along the way. What is the nature and future of the camera, when it is taken out of human hands? How will our ideas about privacy evolve when the altitude of a penthouse suite no longer guarantees it? Working at the leading edge of an emerging technology, Choi-Fitzpatrick takes a broad view, suggesting social change efforts rely on technology in new and unexpected ways…(More)”.

We the Possibility: Harnessing Public Entrepreneurship to Solve Our Most Urgent Problems


Book by Mitchell Weiss: “During his years as a public official, Mitchell Weiss was told that government can’t do new things or solve tough challenges–it’s too big and slow and bureaucratic. Sadly, this is what so many of us have come to believe. But in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, he and his city hall colleagues raced to support survivors in new, innovative ways. This kind of entrepreneurial spirit and savvy in government is growing, transforming the public sector’s response to big problems at all levels.

In this inspiring and instructive book, Weiss, now a professor at Harvard Business School, argues that we must shift from a mindset of “Probability Government”–overly focused on performance management and on mimicking “best” practices–to “Possibility Government.” This means a leap to public leadership and management that embraces more imagination and riskier projects.

Weiss shares the basic tenets of this new way of governing in the book’s three sections:

  • Government that can imagine. Seeing problems as opportunities, and designing solutions with citizens.
  • Government that can try new things. Testing and experimentation as a regular part of solving public problems.
  • Government that can scale. Harnessing platform techniques for innovation and growth; and how public entrepreneurship can reinvigorate democracy.

The lessons unfold in the timely episodes Weiss has seen and studied: a heroin hackathon in opioid-ravaged Cincinnati; a series of blockchain experiments in Tbilisi to protect Georgian property from the Russians; the U.S. Special Operations Command prototyping of a hoverboard for chasing pirates, among many others.

At a crucial moment in the evolution of government’s role in our society, We the Possibility provides both inspiration and a positive model to help shape progress for generations to come….(More)”.

How to destroy Surveillance Capitalism


Book by Cory Doctorow: “…Today, there is a widespread belief that machine learning and commercial surveillance can turn even the most fumble-tongued conspiracy theorist into a svengali who can warp your perceptions and win your belief by locating vulnerable people and then pitching them with A.I.-refined arguments that bypass their rational faculties and turn everyday people into flat Earthers, anti-vaxxers, or even Nazis. When the RAND Corporation blames Facebook for “radicalization” and when Facebook’s role in spreading coronavirus misinformation is blamed on its algorithm, the implicit message is that machine learning and surveillance are causing the changes in our consensus about what’s true.

After all, in a world where sprawling and incoherent conspiracy theories like Pizzagate and its successor, QAnon, have widespread followings, something must be afoot.

But what if there’s another explanation? What if it’s the material circumstances, and not the arguments, that are making the difference for these conspiracy pitchmen? What if the trauma of living through real conspiracies all around us — conspiracies among wealthy people, their lobbyists, and lawmakers to bury inconvenient facts and evidence of wrongdoing (these conspiracies are commonly known as “corruption”) — is making people vulnerable to conspiracy theories?

If it’s trauma and not contagion — material conditions and not ideology — that is making the difference today and enabling a rise of repulsive misinformation in the face of easily observed facts, that doesn’t mean our computer networks are blameless. They’re still doing the heavy work of locating vulnerable people and guiding them through a series of ever-more-extreme ideas and communities.

Belief in conspiracy is a raging fire that has done real damage and poses real danger to our planet and species, from epidemics kicked off by vaccine denial to genocides kicked off by racist conspiracies to planetary meltdown caused by denial-inspired climate inaction. Our world is on fire, and so we have to put the fires out — to figure out how to help people see the truth of the world through the conspiracies they’ve been confused by.

But firefighting is reactive. We need fire prevention. We need to strike at the traumatic material conditions that make people vulnerable to the contagion of conspiracy. Here, too, tech has a role to play.

There’s no shortage of proposals to address this. From the EU’s Terrorist Content Regulation, which requires platforms to police and remove “extremist” content, to the U.S. proposals to force tech companies to spy on their users and hold them liable for their users’ bad speech, there’s a lot of energy to force tech companies to solve the problems they created.

There’s a critical piece missing from the debate, though. All these solutions assume that tech companies are a fixture, that their dominance over the internet is a permanent fact. Proposals to replace Big Tech with a more diffused, pluralistic internet are nowhere to be found. Worse: The “solutions” on the table today require Big Tech to stay big because only the very largest companies can afford to implement the systems these laws demand….(More)”.

Analogia: The Emergence of Technology Beyond Programmable Control


Analogia

Book by George Dyson: “In 1716, the philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz spent eight days taking the cure with Peter the Great at Bad Pyrmont in Saxony, seeking to initiate a digitally-computed takeover of the world. In his classic books, Darwin Among the Machines and Turing’s Cathedral, Dyson chronicled the realization of Leibniz’s dream at the hands of a series of iconoclasts who brought his ideas to life. Now, in his pathbreaking new book, Analogia, he offers a chronicle of people who fought for the other side—the Native American leader Geronimo and physicist Leo Szilard, among them—a series of stories that will change our view not only of the past but also of the future.

The convergence of a startling historical archaeology with Dyson’s unusual personal story—set alternately in the rarified world of cutting-edge physics and computer science, in Princeton, and in the rainforest of the Northwest Coast—leads to a prophetic vision of an analog revolution already under way. We are, Dyson reveals, on the cusp of a new moment in human history, driven by a generation of machines whose powers are beyond programmable control…(More)”.