Packed, packed days this week, but good things happening. If you are subscribed to Sentiers at Work, the first real issue is coming in a few days. If not a member yet, have a look. And for everyone, as always, using the link at the upper right and sharing broadly is always very much appreciated.

Don’t Believe Every AI You See

M.C. Elish and danah boyd of the Data & Society Institute going over some of the issues with the current state of AI and how such algorithms could be made more ethically and ethical. Most importantly here, they posit that “in nearly every instance the imagined capacity of a technology does not match up with current reality. As a result, public conversations about ethics and AI often focus on hypothetical extremes.”

They propose 3 questions to “surface everyday ethical challenges raised by AI.”

  1. “What are the unintended consequences of designing systems at scale based on existing patterns in society?”
  2. “When and how should AI systems prioritize individuals over society, and vice versa?”
  3. “When is introducing an AI system the right answer—and when is it not?”

And yet, AI is not, and will not be, perfect. To think of it as such obscures the fact that AI technologies are the products of particular decisions made by people within complex organizations. AI technologies are never neutral and always encode specific social values. […]

When it comes to AI and ethics, we need to create more robust processes to ask hard questions of the systems we’re building and implementing. In a climate where popular cultural narratives dominate the public imaginary and present these systems as magical cure-alls, it can be hard to grapple with the more nuanced questions that AI presents.

🎙 Whitney Phillips explains how T***p controls the media

Fantastic discussion (podcast) between Whitney Phillips, scholar of online trolls, and Ezra Klein. It’s presented as explaining 45 but really, it’s a fascinating history of trolling, LoLz, the transition to the broader internet culture, then to culture period, and the weaponization of their methods.

She was studying trolling when it was a tiny sideshow. And she was there, studying it, as online trolling got amplified by algorithmic platforms and a click-hungry media. As Gamergate made it a political movement. Then, most importantly, she was there, watching, as the media manipulation tactics that she had seen perfected by the trolls became the playbook for how Trump controls the media’s agenda, and the national conversation.

How do you use the internet mindfully?

Excellent lineup of collaborators for this book. A bit surprised I didn’t know about The Creative Independent (which is published by Kickstarter??), “A growing resource of emotional and practical guidance for creative people.” Lots of stuff to browse through, beyond the book.

More than ever, creative people find their attention pulled in many directions by digital and networked technologies. Staying up-to-date and responsive to so many forms of online communication often feels mandatory in order to keep working. But, it can be both exhausting and dispiriting to build a creative practice while “extremely online.” With this compilation of essays produced in collaboration with Are.na, the platform for connecting ideas, we asked artists to share their approaches to using the internet more mindfully and creatively.

And from the intro to the book, on the Are.na Blog.

Ideas are intersections between ourselves and something else, whether that’s a book, a conversation with a friend, or the subtle suggestion of a tree. Ideas can literally arise out of clouds (if we are looking at them). That is to say: ideas, like consciousness itself, are emergent properties, and thinking might be more participation than it is production. […]

Each encounter with the sprawling, extravagant intelligence of the human network is revelatory in its own way.

Greetings from Silicon Beach

At Anthropology News, the LA-SF comparison is not that interesting to me but I like the terroir analogy to encapsulate the different qualities of different tech centres, the idea of a new rising tech place being a good opportunity for a more diverse scene to emerge, and the broader view of “being in tech” the author has observed in Silicon Beach (bleh).

In asking what technology is in LA, I propose thinking about whether there is such a thing as “technological terroir.” Just as local differences between wines and cheeses are studied, sought after, and even cultivated, might the same be true of technology? How might the salty air and imagineering of Silicon Beach texture VR? How might a different sense of technology promote greater diversity in the pool of tech workers? […]

Because neither VR nor technology had clear leaders in LA, here was opportunity. The women I have met during fieldwork are young and old, black and white, straight and queer, and everywhere between these binaries. In this city of fantasy, everyone is well cast to lead this new field. […]

[In LA] Technology is not strictly programming or engineering, but it encompasses working with—storytelling with—emerging tools. It’s not that tech isn’t here, it’s that tech is different here.

Tech

China’s brightest children recruited to develop AI ‘killer bots’

To every issue, its Black Mirror story. Basically grabbing smart, patriotic, weapons-loving kids and teaching them how to make killer robots. What could possibly go wrong?

A group of some of China’s smartest students have been recruited straight from high school to begin training as the world’s youngest AI weapons scientists.

Pichai of Google: ‘Technology Doesn’t Solve Humanity’s Problems’

Good quote, good sentiment. How much does that make it down the ranks in terms of directive and philosophy? Hard to say.

Technology doesn’t solve humanity’s problems. It was always naïve to think so. Technology is an enabler, but humanity has to deal with humanity’s problems. I think we’re both over-reliant on technology as a way to solve things and probably, at this moment, over-indexing on technology as a source of all problems, too.

Milieu

Does economic growth need to end?

Short read on growth. A good part of the more affirmatively pro environment, anti fossil fuels crowd is often very much for de-growth and for curtailing capitalism. It’s usually my case. But we mustn’t be dogmatic and too hooked on formulas. The problem is the current (im)balance. Maybe we could grow some aspects of society, perhaps even some financial ones, without throwing ever more carbon in the air and destroying ecosystems. Which is why I like the example and framing below.

Consider the compact, self-repairing, mobile, renewable-resource-powered chemical reactor that we call a “cow”. Courtesy of evolution, it is vastly more impressive than human-designed facilities. This elegance, suggests Mr Romer, tells us that there is plenty of room for us to do things better.

On the more “extreme” end, I’m ambivalent about this one and don’t quite have a set opinion yet but worth a read, if only for the closed system vs solar power view: The Secret of Eternal Growth.

We have no idea where the tipping point lies

Something important to remember, brought to you by a George Monbiot thread. We don’t really know at what point things start crashing down, we just know it’s close and urgent.

1.5C is an arbitrary figure. There is no guarantee that this is a “safe” level of global heating, below the threshold between one climatic state and another. It could be 1.383C. Or 1.649C. Because these are highly complex systems, we have no idea where the tipping point lies. […]

It means we must treat the threat of irreversible climate breakdown as a global emergency, with immediate and drastic measures to leave fossil fuels in the ground, get livestock off the land, allow the rapid drawdown of carbon through reforestation.

Miscellany

‘Afrofuturism is not for Africans living in Africa’

Quite an interesting view on the currently hot micro genre. Found via this thread / series of quotes by Nanjira who’s bio has this nice turn of phrase: “Itinerant African, claiming spaces and narratives not imagined for we.”

Afrofuturism is an escape for those who find themselves in the minority and divorced or violently removed from their African roots, so they imagine a ‘black future’ where they aren’t a minority and are able to marry their culture with technology. That is a very important story and it means a lot to many people. There are so many wonderful writers from the diaspora dealing with those feelings or complexities that it would be insincere of me to parrot what they are doing. […]

It would be disingenuous of me to take Afrofuturism wholesale and pretend that it is ‘my size’. What I want for Africans living in Africa is to imagine a future in their storytelling that deals with issues that are unique to us.

A Frozen Super-Earth May Orbit Barnard’s Star

Now, another exhaustive search of our solar system’s next-nearest neighbor, Barnard’s Star, just shy of six light-years distant, has uncovered a candidate planet there, too—a bigger, colder super-Earth provisionally dubbed Barnard’s Star b. Achieved by an international team of more than 60 astronomers using observatories from around the world. It opens the floodgates for future investigations of—and comparisons between—the two familiar-but-alien planets closest to our solar system.