The Digital Maginot Line. ShareTown. Ruining the Internet. Solar geoengineering. Meanwhile spaces. InSight. — No.59

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The Digital Maginot Line

Lots to think about in this piece by Renee DiResta making a parallel between the French Maginot Line (which was bypassed by the German Blitzkrieg) and today’s infrastructure defences being bypassed by influence campaigns. In the same way, “we” are currently working on preventing fake news and troll campaigns, when the next attack vectors will likely be different. Covers 45, Brexit, Duterte, misc trolls, Russian trolls, McLuhan, Arendt, DARPA, and a couple of perspective shifting quotes. “The solution to this problem requires collective responsibility among military, intelligence, law enforcement, researchers, educators, and platforms.” Which sounds… unlikely?

The campaigns are often perceived as organic online chaos driven by emergent, bottom-up amateur actions when a substantial amount is, in fact, helped along or instigated by systematic, top-down institutional and state actions. This is a kind of warm war; not the active, declared, open conflict of a hot war, but beyond the shadowboxing of a cold one. […]

Combatants evolve with remarkable speed, because digital munitions are very close to free. In fact, because of the digital advertising ecosystem, information warfare may even turn a profit. […]

In a warm information war, the human mind is the territory. If you aren’t a combatant, you are the territory. And once a combatant wins over a sufficient number of minds, they have the power to influence culture and society, policy and politics. […]

This capability gap is eminently exploitable; why execute a lengthy, costly, complex attack on the power grid when there is relatively no cost, in terms of dollars as well as consequences, to attack a society’s ability to operate with a shared epistemology?

Algorithmic distribution systems will always be co-opted by the best resourced or most technologically capable combatants. Soon, better AI will rewrite the playbook yet again — perhaps the digital equivalent of Blitzkrieg in its potential for capturing new territory. […]

We have to move away from treating this as a problem of giving people better facts, or stopping some Russian bots, and move towards thinking about it as an ongoing battle for the integrity of our information infrastructure – easily as critical as the integrity of our financial markets.

Welcome to ShareTown!

I’m always drawn to these kinds of projects, and need to dive deeper in the processes involved. This one is “a future townscape that explores the changing relationship between citizens, technology, and local government.” Following a workshop run by the always sharp and thoughtful folks at Strange Telemetry, the discussions were interwoven into ten stories about citizens which you can explore on this map, each story details how it would be organized, the role of local government, use of tech, and reference points.

Our fictional town and its cast of characters sets out an unashamedly positive vision of a preferred future in which interactions between citizens and local government are balanced and collaborative, and data and digital platforms are deployed for public benefit rather than private gain. […]

If, as theatre-maker Annette Mees says, the future is fictional and the fictions created about it help us set our direction of travel, then the making of stories about the future we want should be something we can all be involved in – not just the media, politicians, or brands.


Facebook and Google’s Targeted Advertising Is Ruining the Internet and Breaking the World

If you’ve been paying attention to these kinds of developments and line of thinking, you won’t be hugely surprised by most of it but worth a read as it attaches a few things together in a telling portrait of our current surveillance capitalism situation.

Zuboff predicts that if left unchecked, surveillance capitalism will be just as destructive as previous variants of capitalism have been, though in wholly new ways. “We are talking about the unilateral claiming of private human experience as raw material for product development and market exchange,” she said. “Industrial capitalism claimed nature for itself, and only now are we faced with the consequences of that undertaking. In this new phase of capitalism’s development, it’s the raw material of human nature that drives a new market dynamic, in which predictions of our behavior are told and then sold. The economic imperatives of this new capitalism produce extreme asymmetries of knowledge and the power that accrues from that knowledge. This is unprecedented territory with profound consequences for 21st century society.” […]

Targeted advertising causes us to experience the internet, and therefore the world, in different ways based on what the surveillance capitalism assemblage thinks it knows about us. This not a recipe for fairness, equality, or a just society. […]

Targeted advertising provides tools for political advertisers and propagandists to micro-segment audiences in ways that inhibit a common understanding of reality.

Palate cleanser: Digital Authoritarianism Is Rising. Here’s What That Means. After the state of the tech world, the state of the world it enables.

This is the eighth year in a row that global digital freedom has declined, according to think tank Freedom House’s annual Freedom on the Net report. The report covered 65 countries that represent 87 percent of the world’s internet users; while the study found improvements in 19 countries, it also found that 26 countries took a step backwards. […]

Researchers found that at least 17 countries approved or proposed laws to fight fake news and manipulation of social media. While these are both serious problems, the report notes that the regulation to fight these ills has been used by authoritarian governments to undermine legitimate criticism.


Things moved quickly, as Gideon Lichfield showed on Twitter. Here’s a sequence (pun intended) over 24 hours.

Whether they were born, whether some of the protesting is for show, is somewhat moot. This will happen and laws and directives will be ignored, it’s “just” a question of scale.


Solar geoengineering could be ‘remarkably inexpensive’

This feels very much like playing with things we don’t quite understand but then again, on most days, even this kind of crazy scheme seems more likely than politicians around the world suddenly acting in a sufficient and concerted manner. And don’t forget this Julian Oliver thread from last week on adjacent ideas.

“We show that a hypothetical deployment programme, while both highly uncertain and ambitious, would be technically possible,” said Gernot Wagner from Harvard University. “It would also be remarkably inexpensive, at an average of around $2bn to $2.5bn per year.” […]

The programme would begin with 4,000 flights a year and end with 60,000 flights a year by almost 100 aircraft.

Our car-free future will be blocked by Comcast tactics

From the people at Transit app, whose business model is based on open APIs so yes, ultimately self-serving but also 100% correct. Bigtech has already destroyed much of the API ecosystem and open web we had not that long ago, lets hope cities push in the openness direction and bring “Bigtransport” with them.

Bad digital infrastructure will make it harder for riders to make car-free trips. It will encourage monopolies, higher prices, and introduce needless friction. It’s the Comcast future of mobility. […]

[W]ith mobility companies yanking support for open APIs: no shared vehicle locations, no transparent prices, no way to plan or book a multi-modal trip across providers. It would make multi-modal transport way less convenient than it already is—and car ownership, as attractive as ever. […]

The rise of the ‘meanwhile space’: how empty properties are finding second lives

Temporary urbanism, meanwhile spaces, different names for some super interesting project across the world, this piece at the Guardian looks at a few in Paris and London. By the way, in Montréal Entremise [fr] is up to some good, check them out.

Les Grands Voisins is an example of a “meanwhile space”: a disused site temporarily leased or loaned by developers or the public sector to local community groups, arts organisations, start-ups and charities.

  • Great Twitter thread by Katharine Hayhoe, answering the inaccurate statements (lies) made by a number of politicians and pundits about The Fourth US National Climate Assessment. Bringing the facts, the science, and even the cute videos.
  • As corals decline, a new kind of reef emerges. “Even as corals die, sponges proliferate. Coral reefs become sponge reefs.” A couple of examples “off the coast of Brazil and the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.”
  • Clean Power Sees First Win Over Fossil Fuels in Emerging Markets. “Developing countries have added more clean power capacity than fossil fuel generation for the first time ever, charging ahead of wealthier nations in the global green energy push, according to Bloomberg NEF.”


InSight ?

Watch It Live: NASA’s InSight Probe Lands on Mars Today. Not live anymore but still viewable. Pay attention to the second, 3 min video, which is very well done to explain how InSight landed. The post is on and he also links to A mole will land on Mars at The Oatmeal. (The header image up top is a Mars sunset found here but seems to be by Curiosity back in 2015.)

  • What Einstein meant by ‘God does not play dice’. “But Einstein’s was a God of philosophy, not religion. When asked many years later whether he believed in God, he replied: ‘I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.’”
  • How Giant, Intelligent Snails Became a Marker of Our Age. “[T]he giant African snail, reveals humans’ impact on the world and will create fossils that are “robust and frequent … large enough to be rapidly detectable, and characteristic enough to be easily identified.” These snails are part of our lasting legacy on Earth.”

? Hat tip this week to nicolasnova and Matthieu Dugal probably responsible for a couple of included links each and a few more good reads besides. (Merci!)