Ethics for data. Dynamicland Geokit. Fossil fuels policy. — No.46

This week features a good look at ethics for data, there’s some awesome mapping fun happening at Dynamicland, deeper thinking behind restrictive supply-side policies for fossil fuels, some Doctorow and some Morozov in tech, and two artsy pieces in miscellany.

Quite a bit of an uptick on Mastodon this week, showing some actual promise but we’ll see how everyone keeps it up. Since a lot of the nostalgia for back in the day is for when things were on a more human scale, I’m unsure how much we should market our users and instances but you’re welcome to hit reply if you want to know my Masto user.

Data’s day of reckoning (with ethics)

So far I’ve mostly included articles around ethics when the author was either someone studying ethics and critiquing mishaps, or reporting of horrible results. This one by Mike Loukides, Hilary Mason, and DJ Patil is more “from the inside” of developer circles and does a good job of making a parallel with security and how both are insufficiently present in education. They also include a good checklist companies can use, and various cultural and policy changes that could bolster the inclusion of ethical reflexions and enforcement measures in industry.

It’s data’s day of reckoning. The shape of the future will depend a lot on what we do in the next few years. We need to incorporate ethics into all aspects of technical education and corporate culture; we need to give people the freedom to stop production if necessary, and to escalate concerns if they’re not addressed; we need to incorporate diversity and ethics into hiring decisions; and we may need to consider regulation to protect the interests of individual users, and society as a whole.

Notes from Dynamicland: Geokit

I’ve linked to Dynamicland before; “a new computational medium where people work together with real objects in the real world, not alone with virtual objects on screens.” This is a long article about a crazy application for it; Geokit. It lets users search for locations, zoom in and out of maps, zoom on the zoom, overlay data, start from a printed map and lots more. Two thirds of the article go into the programming of the kit, do at least click through to the article though to read the first third and look at the short videos. Watching Dyamicland demos feels like it must have if you had the chance to visit Xerox PARC back in the day.

Fossil fuel supply: why it’s time to think seriously about cutting it off

Two ideas I hadn’t hear of; the specificity of restrictive supply-side (RSS) climate policies and mapping all possible policies in quadrants. David Roberts at Vox takes an enlightening look at a paper by Fergus Green and Richard Denniss, explaining the advantages of RSS measures. My big question would be how this works when high fossil fuel consumption is in some countries but extracted in a different set of countries. If the EU wants to use RSS policies, how do they restrict production in the UAE or US??

By contrast, RSS policies target a relatively small number of sources, rely on data that is already gathered for other purposes, and by definition cover all downstream consumers. They are much easier to verify, which makes them politically potent both domestically and internationally (see below). […]

[E]nables proposals to be framed in ways that are more resonant with voters and more resilient to counter-attack by opposing interest groups; facilitates alliance-building among diverse groups with wide-ranging concerns about fossil fuels; and facilitates network-building among groups at different advocacy- and policy-relevant scales. […]

Since the Paris Agreement’s success is predicated on states’ gradual escalation of their commitments over time, commitments to implement supply-side policies offer major advantages as a ‘currency’ of international climate cooperation. […]

✕ Tech

There is a leftwing way to challenge big tech for our data. Here it is.

Honestly, I’m not quite sure what Morozov is on about, it’s liked he stopped half-way through his argument. But, there might be something to his assigning the discourse of “big tech as digital feudalism” to the right, and dismissing the “rentier” argument. It leaves room on the left for a better discourse around data… maybe.

On Facebook, all roads lead to data extractivism. […]

Big tech is capitalism at its best or, rather, worst; to speak of the onset of “digital feudalism” is to pine for a capitalism that never existed. […]

The city is a symbol of outward-looking cosmopolitanism – a potent answer to the homogeneity and insularity of the nation state. Today it is the only place where the idea of exerting meaningful democratic control over one’s life, however trivial the problem, is still viable. […]

And this last quote, where I like where he’s going but it’s the extent of his “argument”:

The true challenge for the data distributist left is, thus, to find a way to distribute power, not just data. It must mobilise the nation state to turn cities into the harbingers of a new, radical democracy keen on deploying socialised big data and artificial intelligence in the interests of citizens.

Telling the Truth About Defects in Technology Should Never, Ever, Ever Be Illegal. EVER.

Somewhat “inside baseball” in the specificity of cases Doctorow is talking about but since it relates to tech security, it’s an important and well explained issue. I.e. how companies in the US are leveraging two over broad laws to “protect” their code from security researchers. Important:

The point is that almost every company is a “tech company” — from medical implant vendors to voting machine companies.

Technology stories should not be about the technologies

Related to the above because of this insight:

Everything that’s written as a tech story is actually a story about some other negotiation of power.”

(The rest of that interview with Ingrid Burrington is also good, on tech journalism, art, data, and some magic.)

✕ Milieu

The car century was a mistake. It’s time to move on.

Nothing new for readers here but I thought the below quote was a good, succinct, way of putting it. Also, there’s a video at the beginning about Québec city, supposedly the old town is the largest car-free district in North-America. First time I hear it described thusly.

Cars were never necessary in cities, and in many respects they worked against the fundamental purpose of cities: to bring many people together in a space where social, cultural and economic synergies could develop. Because cars require so much space for movement and parking, they work against this objective — they cause cities to expand in order to provide the land cars need. Removing cars from cities would help to improve the quality of urban life. […]

Good public transport coupled with fast, safe, pleasant walking and bicycling can easily meet the need for movement within our cities.

Convertible streets and floating unis

These two from Pop-Up City are interesting for the visuals more than anything but still, worth a share: Modular Street Can Switch From Traffic Lane To Sidewalk In Seconds and The University Of The Future Is Floating (not really).

AI identifies heat-resistant coral reefs in Indonesia

Lots of images + pattern recognition more than anything intelligent but cool.

Coral reefs provide food security to half a billion people and contribute around US$375 billion per year to the global economy. If they collapse globally, the ocean fishing industry will collapse with them.

✕ Miscellany

The Great Chinese Art Heist

Long piece about various Chinese interests trying to repatriate Chinese art looted through the years, including a number of high profile museum heists suspected of being Chinese backed. I’m expecting at some point there will be a movie based on these stories, likely including the billionaire Huang Nubo.

But the thefts that were made public bear striking similarities. The criminals are careful and professional. They often seem to be working from a shopping list—and appear content to leave behind high-value objects that aren’t on it. […]

Their desires adhere to a nationalistic logic: The closer an object’s connection to China’s ignominious defeats, the more significant its return. In recent years, vases, bronzeware, and a host of other items from the Old Summer Palace have all sold for millions. Behind these purchases is almost always a well-connected Chinese billionaire eager to demonstrate China’s modern resurgence on the world stage. […]

Huang Nubo has a similarly patriotic interest in China’s art. Tall and broad-shouldered, with a ruddy complexion and close-set eyes, he’s the kind of billionaire who makes other billionaires jealous: He’s an accomplished adventurer, one of the few people alive to have visited both the North and South Poles and summited the world’s seven tallest peaks (he’s topped Everest three times). When I met him at his office in Beijing, he had just returned from an expedition in western China, where he’d reached the top of the world’s sixth-tallest mountain.”

The first piece of AI-generated art to come to auction

I find that the author believes too much in the word “intelligence” as it’s applied in current AI but covers interesting projects and I’m noting it for the last bit of the second quote, highlighted.

But we found that portraits provided the best way to illustrate our point, which is that algorithms are able to emulate creativity. […]

But if you consider the whole process, then what you have is something more like conceptual art than traditional painting. There is a human in the loop, asking questions, and the machine is giving answers. That whole thing is the art, not just the picture that comes out at the end. You could say that at this point it is a collaboration between two artists — one human, one a machine. And that leads me to think about the future in which AI will become a new medium for art.

(Via Matthieu Dugal.)