This week: AI changing lives. D&D is cool. Surveillance. A studio for ideas. Undersea cables. Right to repair. GoT.
Really really good interview with the AI Now Institute founders Kate Crawford and Meredith Whittaker, covering many of the worries and problems around AI and ethics. Notice how they always circle back to data sources and whether we are asking the right questions. Nothing massively new but it recaps and grasps the scope of the problem—as can be understood from the large number of quotes below (!!). You might also want to watch the Screening Surveillance videos further down right after reading this, perfect match.
[I]n the end, you’re talking about cultures of data production and if that data is historical, then you are importing the historical biases of the past into the tools of the future. […]
“Okay, how do we think about data construction practices? How do we think about how we represent the world and the politics of AI?” Because these systems are political, they’re not neutral. They’re not objective. They are actually made by people in rooms. And that’s why it matters who’s in the room, who’s making the system, and what types of problems they’re trying to solve. […]
[H]ow are you measuring benefit? And that’s one of the key areas I think we need to look at more closely, right? So in increasing crop yield, that might be a huge benefit, but is that coming at the expense of soil health? Is that coming at the expense of broader ecological concerns? Is that displacing communities that used to live on that land? I’m sort of making up these examples as questions you’d want to ask before you sort of claim blanket benefits from these technologies. […]
These issues are serious and they’re being taken seriously. But what we don’t see is real accountability. What we don’t see are mechanisms of oversight that actually bring the people who are most at risk of harm into the room to help shape these decisions. […]
They’re having different conversations about privacy that realize that it’s not just about individual privacy, it’s about our collective privacy. It’s the fact that, if you make a decision in a social media network, that can affect how data from all of your contacts is being extracted, as well. I think there’s an increasing level of literacy, and that’s something that’s super important. […]
The US has many similar systems that are either in place or about to be in place in the next couple of years. I’m sure you read the news that, for example, in New York, insurers have been given full permission to look at your social media to decide how to modulate your insurance rates. That sounds very similar to the sorts of things that we’re concerned about in China. […]
[🔥] I’d say this field has worshiped at the altar of the technical for the better part of 60 years, and at the expense of understanding the social and the ethical. We’re seeing the fruits of that prioritization. […]
Meredith Whittaker: I think he’s [Elon Musk] wrong across the board. I think the premise is faulty, but it is a great distraction from the very real harms of faulty, broken, imperfect, profitable systems that are being mundanely and obscurely threaded through our social and economic systems.
Kate Crawford: We’ve called this the apex predator problem, which if you’re already an apex predator and you have all the money and all the power in the world, what’s the next thing to worry about? “Oh, I know! Super-intelligent machines, that’s the next threat to me.” But if you’re not an apex predator, if you’re one of us, we’ve got real problems with the systems that are already deployed, so maybe let’s focus on that.
I’m always writing about, or alluding to, the “crazy” or “red string” walls for thinking through things so this concept for an app that would be a “studio for ideas” appeals to me a lot, and I tend to like the implementation. I haven’t spent much time considering options so I’d be happy to read more and your comments on this. (I do wish they had a longer narrated demo in addition of all these short snippets.)
Creativity is about making connections. This seems to demand a freeform, fluid space where creative fodder can be mixed together and sorted to the user’s liking. So why are freeform environments so rare in digital workspaces? […]
The studio is a place to collect raw material as input to your thinking. This means everything together, with no media silos. If you get a critical mass of documents into the studio, connections will naturally form. These connections produce new ideas that can be captured in the studio—a virtuous cycle producing yet more fodder for generation of future ideas.
No.75 Asides ⊕ See Note
- 💫⚫️ I wasn’t going to write about the black hole since it’s already everywhere but then I happened on this short 🧵 by Seamus Blackley, which I quite liked: The black spot in this image is larger in diameter than our solar system. Its weight is comparable to some smaller galaxies. Its halo is matter literally being ripped apart and accelerated to near light speed as it disappears, forever, into a gravitational prison from which there is no escape.
- 📱🚜 It’s Your iPhone. Why Can’t You Fix It Yourself?“‘Right-to-repair’ is a bit of a misnomer. The owner of a device generally has the legal right to repair it. The issue is whether the manufacturer allows people and independent businesses to obtain the necessary information, tools and parts to do the repairs.” By the NYT Editorial Board, no less.
- 👑🐺🐲 Why ‘Game of Thrones' Isn’t Medieval—and Why That Matters. “What Martin actually gives us is a fantasy version of what the historian Alfred Crosby called the Post-Columbian exchange: the globalizing epoch of the 16th and 17th centuries. A world where merchants trade exotic drugs and spices between continents, where professional standing armies can number in the tens or hundreds of thousands, where scholars study the stars via telescopes, and proto-corporations like the Iron Bank of Braavos and the Spicers of Qarth control global trade. It’s also a world of slavery on a gigantic scale, and huge wars that disrupt daily life to an unprecedented degree.”
- 🌏 Infographic: Mapping the Spread of Words Along Trade Routes. “Throughout history, trade has been accompanied by what linguists call Wanderwörter—words borrowed from one language to another across vast distances, often along trade routes.”
- 🔬The engineering of living organisms could soon start changing everything - Synthetic biology. This long read (41 min) at The Economist looks really interesting but I'm just passing it on for now, I haven’t read it yet. However, the illustration and collage work by Mark Weaver is very much my jam.
- 🇨🇳🤑 China, home to the world’s biggest cryptocurrency mining farms, now wants to ban them completely. “China’s top economic planning body has proposed new rules that would see the closure of all local cryptocurrency mining facilities if enacted – a move that would potentially end the country’s dominance in the energy-hungry, yet lucrative industry.” Good.
- 🐺🇳🇱 Wolves return to Netherlands after 140 years. “A male has also been seen in the area so the first Dutch wolf pack could be months away. They are still collecting data on the second female.” And not through human intervention.
- 😸🤖 Open Source robotic cat. Like a mini Boston Dynamics robot, except it’s a playful learning tool, not a killer robot soon running after you.
- Rebirth: Introducing photorealism. Short movie made with the Unreal game engine. Bonkers.
- ✨ Roadmap to Alpha Centauri. “Pick your favorite travel mode — big, small, light, dark, or twisted”
Three short films raising important issues of surveillance, set a few months (days? minutes? arrived?) in the future(s). Since this is an academic project, I also found it quite interesting that they provide facilitator guides and media packs for use in class and to publicize events people might hold to discuss the stories and issues. Quite secondary to their message but I loved the way they represent screen interactions and would love for my voice assistant to be named Zola 🙃.
In all aspects of life, personal information is collected and analyzed by organizations that produce various outcomes—surveillance is not simply good or bad, helpful or harmful, but it is never neutral. These three short films were created to raise awareness about how large organizations use data and how these practices affect life chances and choices. We need to consider these implications, and critically examine the logics and practices within big data systems that underpin, enable, and accelerate surveillance.
The GAFA spreading their influence ever further, building their moats by laying down their cables.
In the last five years, the cables that are partly owned by Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon has risen eight-fold, and there are more such cables in the pipeline. These content providers also consume over 50% of all international bandwidth and TeleGeography projects that by 2027 they could consume over 80%. […]
Experts on antitrust argue that in the age of big tech, consumer welfare should not be the only factor taken into consideration while identifying antitrust behaviour. They suggest that any company stifling competition or making a ‘transaction motivated at the time by avoidance of competition is a good candidate for divestiture after the fact.’ Does the foray by these content providers into undersea cables classify as antitrust behaviour and should there be regulations to prevent this from happening?
The de-geeking and mainstreaming of D&D seems to be complete and Annalee Newitz has an excellent take on why she’s playing again, partially in response to the awfulness of social media. (Also, there’s a bunch of “nerdy-ass voice actors” playing D&D on Twitch and some of their videos on YouTube have 10 million views and they raised $12 million on Kickstarter for an animated series. 🤯)
“Yes, I’m going to get together with people face-to-face, without any hearting or retweeting, and we’re going to eat chips and fight those damn cultists who are trying to resurrect the evil, five-headed dragon queen Tiamat.” […]
But D&D isn’t only about inventing a more badass version of myself, with wings and magic powers instead of sneakers and a laptop. I was also drawn to the idea of building a social group whose baseline assumption was that we’d see one another regularly. There’s a sense of purpose to the gathering.
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