Making government as a platform real. Common Cyborg. — No.51

Finishing this up later than usual, I hope everything’s in order! Big Sentiers week with the launch of a new website where you can see the archive of all issues and refer people for signing up. Only a couple of things are surfaced right now but there are a few other ideas being built behind the scenes. I also sent out the β (beta) version of Sentiers at Work, hit reply if you’d like to have a look (and fill in the poll afterwards). From the intro to the publication:

The two broad foci will be technological transformation and a framing I used in a previous publication; learning constantly to become future proof. Whether it’s on a personal or organizational level, we need to constantly be learning and adapting to changing, evolving, and ever more complex landscapes. These briefings will try to answer those challenges and better equip your and your team.

Making government as a platform real

Long read (26 min) by Tom Loosemore, one of the founders of the “legendary” Government Digital Service (GDS) in the UK. It’s an edit of a talk he gave for Code for America soon after leaving GDS. His big lesson? “We weren’t bold enough. We weren’t nearly bold enough. Not even close.” Which, considering their accomplishments and influence around the world, is saying something. He runs us through the original mission of the service and his version of “government as platform.”

If you want a natively digital nation, or a state, or a city, or whatever, my message today is you actually need to be bold enough to create some new institutions; institutions that are of the internet, not on the internet. […]

If there are going to have to be new institutions, we need to understand what shape they are, how they would relate to each other, what ways of working they might adopt? What would the institutional architecture look like for an accountable, digital nation? Not a nation that’s simply digitised existing paper silos, but a natively digital nation. […]

Data is the new foundation of our digital nation. It should be authoritative, canonical, easy to test and check, and have integrity. And for personal data, only available to services that have gained the consent of the user or citizen. […]

This points towards a very big idea. That government provides APIs, platforms, standards and data which not only improve public services, but which can also be relied on by a jurisdiction’s private and 3rd sectors. Government providing a solid, reliable suite of Internet-era infrastructure on top of which both public and private value can flourish.

Government as a platform; not just government on a platform. […]

The biggest cost is the political capital to challenge existing institutional silos, closed mind-sets, and entrenched power bases. As a politician or as a senior civil service leader, you are going to have to cause a lot of pain for a lot of people to be able to realise this dream. Very few will take the risk. That’s what’s holding us back.

Common Cyborg

The author, an actual cyborg (i.e. someone who was amputated and uses a prosthetic leg), explains how a lot of the talk around the word cyborg does a disservice to, and badly represents, her and others because of its appropriation by those she calls “tryborgs”: people who use the word to fantasize about some voluntary implementation of tech on their bodies, as opposed to real cyborgs who need the tech to live. Also, a rare person arguing about Donna Haraway’s ideas about cyborgs while also being another person calling (in a way) the singularity a religion.

They like us best with bionic arms and legs. They like us deaf with hearing aids, though they prefer cochlear implants. It would be an affront to ask the hearing to learn sign language. Instead they wish for us to lose our language, abandon our culture and consider ourselves cured. They like exoskeletons, which none of us use. They would never consider cyborg those of us with pacemakers or on dialysis, those of us kept alive by machines or made ambulatory by wheelchairs, those of us on biologics or anti-depressants. They want us shiny and metallic and in their image. […]

They [tryborgs] have tried to be cyborgs, but they are stuck on the attempt, like a record skipping, forever trying to borg, and forever consigned to their regular un-tech bodies. They are fake cyborgs. They can be recognized because, while they preach cyborg nature, they do not actually depend on machines to breathe, stay alive, talk, walk, hear or hold a magazine. They are terribly clumsy in their understanding of cyborgs because they lack experiential knowledge. […]

Related: Have a look back at No.45 for some more thinking on cyborgs.


News Site to Investigate Big Tech, Helped by Craigslist Founder

I’m expecting some very strong and important work to come from The Markup. The bottom quotes on how they will work are especially interesting.

The site will explore three broad investigative categories: how profiling software discriminates against the poor and other vulnerable groups; internet health and infections like bots, scams and misinformation; and the awesome power of the tech companies. The Markup will release all its stories under a creative commons license so other organizations can republish them, as ProPublica does. […]

[T]he newsroom would be guided by the scientific method and each story would begin with a hypothesis. […]

At The Markup, journalists will be partnered with a programmer from a story’s inception until its completion.

Facebook Is Giving Advertisers Your Shadow Contact Information

Even if you make efforts to protect your privacy, Facebook will still build a shadow profile—in part by cross-referencing your contact info uploaded by friends—and offer it up to advertisers as targeting options.

“I think that many users don’t fully understand how ad targeting works today: that advertisers can literally specify exactly which users should see their ads by uploading the users’ email addresses, phone numbers, names+dates of birth, etc, in describing this work to colleagues, many computer scientists were surprised by this, and were even more surprised to learn that not only Facebook, but also Google, Pinterest, and Twitter all offer related services. Thus, we think there is a significant need to educate users about how exactly targeted advertising on such platforms works today.”

Why I’m done with Chrome

A few weeks ago Google shipped an update to Chrome that fundamentally changes the sign-in experience. From now on, every time you log into a Google property (for example, Gmail), Chrome will automatically sign the browser into your Google account for you. It’ll do this without asking, or even explicitly notifying you.


Lakes are bubbling and hissing with a dangerous greenhouse gas, methane, as the Arctic thaws

The ? article for this week. It’s been known for a while that this was a risk but it’s still a bit mind boggling to see permafrost thawing and a lake bubbling like this. Make sure to scroll through the whole thing, great visual essay and the animated gifs of the bubbling lake are quite something.

Overall, if Walter Anthony’s findings are correct, the total impact from thawing permafrost could be similar to adding a couple of large fossil-fuel-emitting economies — say, two more Germanys — to the planet. And that does not take into account the possibility of more lakes like Esieh, which appears to be a different phenomenon from thermokarst lakes, emitting gases faster.

Shoreline Maps of the World

A series of world maps that emphasize Earth’s oceans over the continents. Reminds me of something I read a few years back about the reenforcing colonial effect of the way maps are drawn, with Europe up top and at the centre. Can’t find the one I’m thinking of but How the north ended up on top of the map and Five maps that will change how you see the world thread similar ideas, and the second one has a West Wing scene embedded so bonus points there.

Puerto Rico is a tax-haven for rich mainlanders and is also too broke to survive hurricanes: are these facts possibly related, somehow?

Quick take at Boing Boing on the much longer GQ piece by Jesse Barron.

3,000 funerals later, Puerto Rico is a symbol of looter capitalism, where lethal incompetence, deliberate blindness, crony capitalism, and are the only official response to natural disasters that plunged American citizens into months of darkness, the second-longest power-outage in human history.


The Ravens at the Tower of London Are More Than Symbols

There’s a guy at the Tower of London with the title Raven Master, he’s got a Twitter account and just released a book! (Clipped wings though :-/)

Ravens are strangely magical birds. Partly that magic is made by us. They have been seen variously as gods, tricksters, protectors, messengers, and harbingers of death for thousands of years. But much of that magic emanates from the living birds themselves. Massive black corvids with ice-pick beaks, dark eyes, and shaggy-feathered necks, they have a distinctive presence and possess a fierce intelligence.


I so ? places like this!! In Istanbul, “a transdisciplinary innovation platform, powered by its two parts: creative hub and strategic design studio.” Look at this fantastic space they developed. (Via James Bridle.)

Your gut is directly connected to your brain, by a newly discovered neuron circuit

[A] new study reveals the gut has a much more direct connection to the brain through a neural circuit that allows it to transmit signals in mere seconds. The findings could lead to new treatments for obesity, eating disorders, and even depression and autism—all of which have been linked to a malfunctioning gut.

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