This week → Data as the new soil, not oil ⊗ Curatorial governance ⊗ Days of futures past ⊗ Liminal dust up ⊗ The most important AI model of the decade
A year ago → A favourite in issue No.181 was Everyone should decide how their digital data are used — not just tech companies by Jathan Sadowski, Salomé Viljoen and Meredith Whittaker.
The shape of my ‘work life’ is set to change in August. I expect to keep the same writing time set aside for the newsletter and have no plan to stop Sentiers. However, making that part of my time more clearly self-sustaining would be fantastic. More subscribers means more supporting members, more supporting members means a more sustainable model. All of this to say that if lots of readers each send a new subscriber or two my way over the next few weeks, it would get me closer to that balance.
In the same vein, I’ve been getting some new readers through The Sample, and their emails have been regularly pointing me in fun directions. Every week, I receive one article from a random blog or newsletter that matches up with my interests. Sign-up here to try it out, and it will also help to get Sentiers in front of more people.
Finally, Sentiers is a media partner of the PRIMER22 conference, “the conference designed to prepare you for the future,” which will be held online in September. Readers of the newsletter can get a ticket here and use the code P22PA15 to get 15% off.
Micah L. Sifry interviewing Jerry Michalski about “how we need to build a ‘betterverse,’ not the metaverse.” This is one of those click through and explore pieces, lots of links to background or to nodes of his “brain” (a mind-map of the people, ideas, articles and encounters he’s had for more than 20 years).
The soil metaphor is to represent that we need better managed data, collective data that we can nourish and grow new ideas from, instead of the black goo of data oil, today’s leading paradigm for data. One can see the ‘betterverse,’ as growing from that, as “some kind of layer or protocol that enables people sharing their knowledge with others in ways that accrete up to collective knowledge.”
Pair this with the other piece below, about curation, and you have two people talking about roughly the same thing in compatible ways. One comes at it from a mindmap of ideas, the other from music curation, both are interested in finding a way for multiple people to collaborate on a corpus of knowledge, which they could grow collectively, and within which they could delegate to specialists, who would be responsible for a topic, whether it's radio spectrum and telecommunications policy or South Korean artists.
In it’s most developed form, my interpretation of Michalski’s vision would be of thousands of people proposing, developing, and expanding their thinking through “linky prose” shared online (think public digital gardens), which could be used to work on solutions and proposals that could then, using liquid democracy, trickle “back up into journalism, science, education, governance, and elections, because then people in each of these fields are motivated to figure out how to show their work, how to solve things together.”
More → For another tangent, Michalski mentions mushrooms, regenerative agriculture, and the Wood Wide Web, which always reminds me of Claire L. Evans’ piece The Word for Web Is Forest and of mother nodes. Their two ideas are not directly connected, but are very much in the same blurry grouping of ‘how could the internet be better and more useful.’
One big reason to have a betterverse which is actually about the serious issues we face as a society is to negotiate what blend of ingredients will help us improve the world. Is it holacracy and distributed finance plus simple group processes, folding in indigenous ways of solving problems? […]
[T]his betterverse idea is the place where we can conduct some of these conversations, share research, share big questions, collect up into smaller communities of high trust and move these ideas forward, which then might attract other people to say, “Oh, wow, those Game B people. They've done a lot of good work on these topics over here. They speak for me. […]
We’ll shift from lobbying to the distributed, slow building of credibility as we actually work to improve society together. […]
There's a thing called liquid democracy that says, what if we each could proxy our votes? For example, I could proxy my vote over to David Reed, who could speak for me on all issues about radio spectrum and telecommunications policy. I trust him implicitly, he's a genius on those things. And if he's publishing openly what he thinks and why he's voting this way, or that way, he speaks for me. Lather, rinse, repeat at scale, and suddenly we have a platform that doesn't rely on elections every two or four years, but instead is an ongoing conversation about how we fix problems in the world. That’s a world I’d like to help build.
Via Discord wiz Keely (seriously, I think she must have a neuralink implant to be this usefully active in various communities), an Interview with Tony Lashley. I’m not really a music person, so this is not the usual type of curation I pay attention to, but Lashley has a very even-keeled and well thought-out opinion on curation, who curates what, who trusts whom, how to find longterm value, DAOs, Web3, citations and attention, and systems of voting and delegation. (If you skipped over the previous piece, go back, the two pair together.)
I think we are starting to wake up to the contemporary over-indexing towards the voice of the crowd, when it comes to the distillation of that being an algorithmic culture and understanding. […]
I think synthesis is going to continue to be the name of the game. In the grand arc of history, compared to the past, the crowd will continue to get more power. But in the recent arc of internet history, I actually think experts are going to get more power, but it's just going to be a different type of expert. It’s going to be an expert through the proving of data — an expert through action, rather than an expert through appointment. […]
[B]uilding systems that synthesize and create repeatable processes for synthesizing the best of all those sources of information. I think that's what people are really craving. […]
How do you create systems of voting and delegation that allow people to have their individual voices heard, but also [that] are not swayed by cascades of information where one person says something and so everybody else says something? I think voting systems of delegates, and systems of creating new experts are important early steps.
“Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.”
There are a number of important points in this piece from the Real Life Magazine newsletter. But the quote above needs to be kept in mind. The article is largely written as if the negative aspects and impacts of AI are done with nefarious purposes. They are, but mostly as it pertains to making money or with a blatant disregard for humans. To me, doing borderline evil sh/t because you don’t care is not exactly the same as trying to destroy the world.
If you read it while replacing ‘AI’ with ‘AI created by a corporation, using data harvested for their purpose, within neoliberalism,’ then it’s a much more useful piece, imho. Everything written in there is true, but it’s not the whole truth. It’s not AI ‘as it has to be,’ it’s AI as it’s currently leveraged. (See BLOOM further down, for a different example.)
Algorithmic systems don’t simply start with data and “the facts,” as though these are just lying around, unwarped by the intentions of whoever was in a position to gather them. “The grammar of prediction tends to prefer particular kinds of data and relations over others: a preference driven not purely on epistemic grounds, but by economic and institutional conditions that make some datasets and problems more available than others,” Hong notes. “Reality” doesn’t automatically translate into some “correct” data set. It always exceeds what can be measured, and what is measured becomes a kind of argument for a particular understanding of reality. […]
Prediction is as much a way of thinking and talking about how we make facts, and who declares those facts about whom, as it is a set of calculative techniques. The struggle over these concepts – and the moral attitudes, affective orientations, and other pictures of the world embedded into them – shape our perceptions of what kind of technological arrangement is ‘inevitable’, or what kinds of reform, abolition, and alternatives are considered ‘plausible’.
Liminal dust up → Great article by Samantha Culp about a war between world builders and purists on r/creepy (and off). Be sure to check out Kane Pixels’ stuff. “What better way to keep extending those extended universes than ensuring there are enough deep wells of lore to be fracked as needed? ... the Backrooms phenomenon and its various camps illuminate this same struggle, between narrative excess and the longing for mystery, for an artistic encounter with the truly unknown.”
The most important AI model of the decade → “BLOOM (BigScience Language Open-science Open-access Multilingual) is unique not because it’s architecturally different than GPT-3, but because it’s the starting point of a socio-political paradigm shift in AI that will define the coming years on the field — and will break the stranglehold big tech has on the research and development of large language models (LLMs).”
Futures, foresights, forecasts & fabulations → How the internet became a doom loop. This one by Charlie Warzel could have easily been a featured article but I didn’t feel like doing that with something about social media induced doom. However, my impression is that a growing number of people are reflecting on the futures, and I encourage you to read this piece “about the past” as part of the reason why. “Constantly absorbing and commenting on things that have just happened sounds to me like a recipe for feeling powerless. Online, I frequently feel both stuck in the past but presented with a grim projection of the future. There is very little focus on the present, which is a place where we derive agency. We can act now.” ⊗ The European Commission’s 2022 Strategic Foresight Report ⊗ Mega Scenarios, a toolkit for the future of California. ⊗ Futures Frequency”* by Sitra is a workshop method for building alternative futures. ⊗ Future Lives by Policy Horizons Canada explores life course transformations.
No.227 Asides ⊕ See Note
- 🇨🇭 🔋 💧 🤩 Switzerland’s 20 million kWh water battery is now operational. “… the equivalent of 400,000 electric cars, and is aimed at helping stabilize the energy grid in Switzerland and other connected grids in Europe”
- 🇰🇷 🚢 🤖 Hyundai's autonomous ship is the first to make a transoceanic journey. “By making ships autonomous, the maritime industry thinks it could make the seas safer, too, while also making shipping cleaner and more efficient.”
- 🇦🇺 🪱 ♻️ These kinds of discoveries are multiplying. ‘Superworms’ may hold the key to world's trash crisis. “A bunch of small but hungry bugs might hold the key to saving the planet thanks to their uncanny ability to devour polystyrene — the material behind plastic foam.”
- 🇩🇪 💯 💪🏼 🚙 German Court Rules SUV Owners Can Be Fined More for Breaking Traffic Laws. “A court in Frankfurt, Germany, ruled earlier this month that an SUV driver who ran a red light should be charged nearly twice the normal fine as someone in a smaller car due to the increased risk his vehicle posed to pedestrians.”
- 🇵🇷 ☀️ 🏠 Puerto Ricans are powering their own rooftop solar boom. “Residents and shop owners are installing solar-plus-battery systems in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Will the government get on board?”
- 🇺🇸 🐻 💪🏼 The Comanagement of Bears Ears Is an Important Step in Tackling Climate Change. “The BLM, U.S. Forest Service, and Five Tribes of the Intertribal Coalition signed a cooperative management agreement for Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument. It marks a shift in our history at a time when we’ve never needed to collaborate more.”
- 🇨🇴 💪🏼 🌊 Colombia’s shift to the left: A new ‘pink tide’ in Latin America?. “Left-wing Gustava Petro’s election victory in Colombia signals the rise of a new brand of socialism in the region.”
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