We can’t own information. Attention-as-experience. AI recommendations. Location tracking. Hickel v Nordhaus. Kim Stanley Robinson. — No.61

I try to not do this too often but a quick reminder that you can support Sentiers by becoming a Patron. Pitching in over the next couple of weeks would be super appreciated and useful to round out this first quarter of “patronizing.” Also very useful and appreciated is if you can forward to a friend or share on social.

In another bit of admin; I’m taking the holidays off, issue No.62 will be coming at you January 13th. Happy holidays!

We can’t own information

David Brin argues that it’s impossible to prevent our surveilling and the collecting of our data, that instead of looking for “darkness” we should focus on obtaining sousveillance and control. According to him, as in other parts of society, trying to hide things prevents them from thriving. Interesting to contrast with a number of the recommendations from the AI Now Institute (see first piece in the Tech section) which does believe in blocking this collection of data, and to read the piece right after, at the NYT on location apps that are sharing opaquely collected data about our every movement.

In The Transparent Society I point out that all our great, positive-sum “arenas” – like markets, democracy, science and justice – thrive amid openness and light, but wither when shadows prevail. […]

What gave us this window of freedom was not preventing surveillance, but insisting on sousveillance… looking back at power. Stripping the mighty naked, so we can supervise. Because it matters much less what they can know about you than what they can do to you! […]

It is the “control” part that can still be prevented, via the method we used with increasing effectiveness for 200 years — answering surveillance with sousveillance.

Attention is not a resource but a way of being alive to the world

The defining and claiming of language is very powerful. In this case, the author argues that amidst the talk about the attention economy and the reclaiming of said attention, we must not forget that our attention is something more than just what is “robbed” from us through this economy and its apps. We have two kinds of attention and must remember to exercise our attention-as-experience. A line of thought quite adjacent to the calls for mindfulness, but coming at it from a slightly different angle.

However, conceiving of attention as a resource misses the fact that attention is not just useful. It’s more fundamental than that: attention is what joins us with the outside world. ‘Instrumentally’ attending is important, sure. But we also have the capacity to attend in a more ‘exploratory’ way: to be truly open to whatever we find before us, without any particular agenda. […]

‘[W]hat we attend to is reality’: the simple but profound idea that what we pay attention to, and how we pay attention, shapes our reality, moment to moment, day to day, and so on. […]

American Zen teacher David Loy characterises an unenlightened existence (samsara) as simply the state in which one’s attention becomes ‘trapped’ as it grasps from one thing to another, always looking for the next thing to latch on to. Nirvana, for Loy, is simply a free and open attention that is completely liberated from such fixations.

Tech

After a Year of Tech Scandals, Our 10 Recommendations for AI

The AI Now Institute’s annual report, focusing on 10 recommendations for AI. Lots of good directions to consider and keep thinking on in there. Parts that especially drew my attention: the sector-specific approach, affect recognition, governance, trade secrecy, and the detailed accounting of the “full stack supply chain” which is not something I’d seen elsewhere.

At the core of these cascading AI scandals are questions of accountability: who is responsible when AI systems harm us? How do we understand these harms, and how do we remedy them? Where are the points of intervention, and what additional research and regulation is needed to ensure those interventions are effective? […]

Communities should have the right to reject the application of these technologies in both public and private contexts. Mere public notice of their use is not sufficient, and there should be a high threshold for any consent, given the dangers of oppressive and continual mass surveillance. […]

Linking affect recognition to hiring, access to insurance, education, and policing creates deeply concerning risks, at both an individual and societal level. […]

This should include rank-and-file employee representation on the board of directors, external ethics advisory boards, and the implementation of independent monitoring and transparency efforts. […]

The full stack supply chain also includes understanding the true environmental and labor costs of AI systems. This incorporates energy use, the use of labor in the developing world for content moderation and training data creation, and the reliance on clickworkers to develop and maintain AI systems.

Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret

One of those articles where we already know most of what’s referred to but reading (and scrolling through the visuals) everything attached together is a good reminder of the current situation and its excesses.

Several of those businesses claim to track up to 200 million mobile devices in the United States — about half those in use last year. The database reviewed by The Times — a sample of information gathered in 2017 and held by one company — reveals people’s travels in startling detail, accurate to within a few yards and in some cases updated more than 14,000 times a day. […]

The mobile location industry began as a way to customize apps and target ads for nearby businesses, but it has morphed into a data collection and analysis machine. […]

  • How Doug Engelbart Pulled off the Mother of All Demos.
  • Dungeons and Dragons, not chess and Go: why AI needs roleplay.
    “These experiences have none of the open-ended collaboration of D&D. Which got me thinking: do we need a new test for intelligence, where the goal is not simply about success, but storytelling? What would it mean for an AI to ‘pass’ as human in a game of D&D? Instead of the Turing test, perhaps we need an elf ranger test?”
  • Helena Sarin: Why Bigger Isn’t Always Better With GANs And AI Art.
    I love this! “The second way artists can protect against homogeneity in AI art is to ignore the computational arms race and focus more on training models using your own hand-crafted data sets. By training GANs on your own artwork, you can be assured that nobody else will come up with the exact same outputs.”
  • Delphi. “[A] pioneering interdisciplinary review of emerging technologies as seen through the perspectives of experts from the fields of science and technology, ethics, economics, business and law.”

Milieu

Climate Change Is Stealing Our Children’s Futures 📹

Fabulous short talk by 15-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg at COP24. Come for the 🔥, stay for the polite (shamed?) clapping by the audience she just schooled.

The Nobel Prize for Climate Catastrophe

Jason Hickel deconstructs William Nordhaus’ pro-growth views, and does quite a good job of showing that for developed countries theres is just no relation anymore between wellbeing and GDP growth. If we start properly assessing growth and who it serves, we can understand much more easily, and find a path towards a changed economy away from carbon. “[I]t comes down to a much more obvious choice: between living in a more equitable society, on the one hand, and risking climate catastrophe on the other.”

A discount rate of zero means that future generations are valued equally to the present; a high discount rate means that future generations are valued less, or “discounted,” compared with nearer generations. […]

While Nordhaus has spent most of the past four decades calling for gradualism to preserve the conditions for economic growth, the IPCC calls for radical and immediate action in order to preserve the conditions for life. Growth versus life. The conflict between economics and science has never been clearer. […]

Indeed, growthism is hegemonic to the point of transcending ideology. Politicians on the left and right alike hold it up as the single most important policy objective; they may quarrel about how to make growth happen, and how to distribute its yields, but on the question of growth itself there’s no daylight between them. […]

Europe’s GDP per capita is 40 percent less than that of the United States, and yet it has better social indicators in virtually every category. Costa Rica has higher life expectancy than the United States and happiness levels that rival Scandinavia, with one-fifth of America’s GDP per capita. […]

People like Nordhaus are ready to risk everything—literally—for the sake of something that we don’t really even need.

To Slow Down Climate Change, We Need To Take On Capitalism

Kim Stanley Robinson laying out our current situation and a combination of things we could do to try and extricate our way out of it. Of interest because he’s one of a few people now trying to frame climate change around a challenge to remake society, including reducing inequality. Also echoed in the green new deal piece last week and overlapping to some degree with Thomas Piketty’s group which this week presented a plan for ‘a fairer Europe.’

The future has crashed into the present, and everyone who’s willing to look can see what we’re headed for. […]

And that [capitalist] system’s oversimple algorithm, which measures priceless things in terms of quarterly profit and shareholder value, is mindlessly chewing up the biosphere and the lives of everyone in it. […]

So climate change and capitalism are two parts of the same problem; they are effect and cause. And capitalism is not only driving climate change, but also our response to it — by influencing government policy, and the development of new technology, and our basic understanding of the options open to us as we fight for a planet that can sustain life. We need to fix our economic systems, meaning our political systems, in order to fix climate change.

Miscellany

The Economy Killed Millennials, Not Vice Versa

When you adjust for spending power, there is no difference between generations.

Millennials aren’t doing in the economy. It’s the economy that’s doing in Millennials. […]

In the biggest picture—from cars and houses to restaurants and grocers—Millennials aren’t serial killers. They’re serial scapegoats.

Scientists identify vast underground ecosystem containing billions of micro-organisms

We know nothing. + This is awesome!

“The strangest thing for me is that some organisms can exist for millennia. They are metabolically active but in stasis, with less energy than we thought possible of supporting life.” […]

“We must ask ourselves: if life on Earth can be this different from what experience has led us to expect, then what strangeness might await as we probe for life on other worlds?”