Chris is putting his examination of interfaces in science fiction on pause while he examines a more pressing matter for today’s political climate—an examination of depictions of fascism in science fiction:
Facebook doesn’t have a mind-control problem, it has a corruption problem. Cambridge Analytica didn’t convince decent people to become racists; they convinced racists to become voters.
Prompted by his time at Clearleft’s AI gathering in Juvet, Chris has been delving deep into the stories we tell about artificial intelligence …and what stories are missing.
And here we are at the eponymous answer to the question that I first asked at Juvet around 7 months ago: What stories aren’t we telling ourselves about AI?
What’s happening right now at the US border is heartbreaking and inexcusable. We’re donating 25% of all profits today and tomorrow (June 19 & 20) to RAICES, to help reunite detained immigrant parents and children.
A hand-wringing, finger-pointing litany of hindsight, published with 11 tracking scripts attached.
- Start With Hippie Good Intentions …
- … Then mix in capitalism on steroids.
- The arrival of Wall Streeters didn’t help …
- … And we paid a high price for keeping it free.
- Everything was designed to be really, really addictive.
- At first, it worked — almost too well.
- No one from Silicon Valley was held accountable …
- … Even as social networks became dangerous and toxic.
- … And even as they invaded our privacy.
- Then came 2016.
- Employees are starting to revolt.
- To fix it, we’ll need a new business model …
- … And some tough regulation.
- Maybe nothing will change.
- … Unless, at the very least, some new people are in charge.
During the Industrial Revolution, as new machines were invented to increase output, business owners often dreamed of an entirely automated workforce—of a factory without workers. I assume their workers had different dreams.
Ethan thinks through the ethical implications of increasing automation and efficiency über alles:
I can’t stop thinking about how much automation has changed our industry already. And I know the rate of automation is only going to accelerate from here.
At the very least, maybe it’s worth asking ourselves what might happen next.
A smart look back at historical examples of regulation and what we can learn from them today, by Justine Leblanc:
- Railways in the UK: Public interest as a trigger for regulation
- Engineering in Canada: Accountability as a trigger for regulation
- The automotive industry in the USA: Public outrage as a trigger for regulation
The transcript of a terrific talk by Paul, calling for a more thoughtful, questioning approach to digital design. It covers the issues I’ve raised about Booking.com’s dark patterns and a post I linked to a while back about the shifting priorities of designers working at scale.
Drawing inspiration from architectural practice, its successes and failures, I question the role of design in a world being eaten by software. When the prevailing technocratic culture permits the creation of products that undermine and exploit users, who will protect citizens within the digital spaces they now inhabit?
The word “leak” is right. Our sense of control over our own destinies is being challenged by these leaks. Giant internet platforms are poisoning the commons. They’ve automated it.
I’d love to see some change, and some introspection. A culture of first, do no harm. A recognition that there are huge dangers if you just do what’s possible, or build a macho “fail fast” culture that promotes endangerment. It’s about building teams that know they’ll make mistakes but also recognize the difference between great businesses opportunities and gigantic, universe-sized fuck ups.
I recently received this very instruction about speaking at an upcoming event. I honestly don’t know how I could talk about universality, progressive enhancement, and user experience without it being political. So I interpreted the request to be about partisanship rather than politics:
Sometimes when people hear the term “political,” they understand it as “partisan.” To be political is to acknowledge the lived experiences of people outside of yourself. To be partisan is to advocate for the beliefs or propaganda of a specific party affiliation.
Ethan adds his thoughts to my post about corporations using their power to influence the direction of the web.
Heck, one could even argue the creation of AMP isn’t just Google’s failure, but our failure. More specifically, perhaps it’s pointing to a failure of governance of our little industry. Absent a shared, collective vision for what we want the web to be—and with decent regulatory mechanisms to defend that vision—it’s unsurprising that corporate actors would step into that vacuum, and address the issues they find. And once they do, the solutions they design will inevitably benefit themselves first—and then, after that, the rest of us.
If at all.
A catalogue of design decisions that have had harmful effects on users. This is a call for more inclusive design, but also a warning on the fetishisation of seamlessness:
The focus on details and delight can be traced to manifestos like Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, which propose a dogmatic adherence to cognitive obviousness and celebrates frictionless interaction as the ultimate design accomplishment.
A terrific piece by Maria Bustillos on digital preservation and the power of archives, backed up with frightening real-world examples.
Because history is a fight we’re having every day. We’re battling to make the truth first by living it, and then by recording and sharing it, and finally, crucially, by preserving it. Without an archive, there is no history.
Mike pours his heart out on Ev’s blog.
I’m not entirely sure if I agree with him about licensing or certification for designers (and developers?), but I absolutely 100% agree on the need for unionisation.
We need to be held accountable for our actions. We’ve been moving fast. We’ve been breaking things. Sometimes on purpose. Sometimes out of ignorance. The effects are the same. The things we’re building are bigger than they used to be, and have more reach. The moment to slow down is here. Because what we’re breaking is too important and too precious. Much of it is irreplaceable.
A terrific piece by Dan Hon on our collective responsibility. This bit, in particular, resonated with me: it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately:
We are better and stronger when we are together than when we are apart. If you’re a technologist, consider this question: what are the pros and cons of unionizing? As the product of a linked network, consider the question: what is gained and who gains from preventing humans from linking up in this way?
A brilliant talk by Stuart on how privacy could be a genuinely disruptive angle for companies looking to gain competitive advantage over the businesses currently in the ascendent.
How do you end up shaping the world? By inventing a thing that the current incumbents can’t compete against. By making privacy your core goal. Because companies who have built their whole business model on monetising your personal information cannot compete against that. They’d have to give up on everything that they are, which they can’t do. Facebook altering itself to ensure privacy for its users… wouldn’t exist. Can’t exist. That’s how you win.
The beauty of this is that it’s a weapon which only hurts bad people. A company who are currently doing creepy things with your data but don’t actually have to can alter themselves to not be creepy, and then they’re OK! A company who is utterly reliant on doing creepy things with your data and that’s all they can do, well, they’ll fail. But, y’know, I’m kinda OK with that.
The transcript of a talk by Charles Stross on the perils of prediction and the lessons of the past. It echoes Ted Chiang’s observation that runaway AIs are already here, and they’re called corporations.
History gives us the perspective to see what went wrong in the past, and to look for patterns, and check whether those patterns apply to the present and near future. And looking in particular at the history of the past 200-400 years—the age of increasingly rapid change—one glaringly obvious deviation from the norm of the preceding three thousand centuries—is the development of Artificial Intelligence, which happened no earlier than 1553 and no later than 1844.
I’m talking about the very old, very slow AIs we call corporations, of course.
An absolutely fantastic talk (as always) from Maciej, this time looking at the history of radio and its parallels with the internet (something that Tom Standage touched on his book, Writing On The Wall). It starts as a hobbyist, fun medium. Then it gets regulated. Then it gets used to reinforce existing power structures.
It is hard to accept that good people, working on technology that benefits so many, with nothing but good intentions, could end up building a powerful tool for the wicked.
Six excellent mini essays from Lauren Beukes, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ken Liu, Hannu Rajaniemi, Alastair Reynolds and Aliette de Bodard.
I particularly Kim Stanley Robinson’s thoughts on the function of science fiction:
Here’s how I think science fiction works aesthetically. It’s not prediction. It has, rather, a double action, like the lenses of 3D glasses. Through one lens, we make a serious attempt to portray a possible future. Through the other, we see our present metaphorically, in a kind of heroic simile that says, “It is as if our world is like this.” When these two visions merge, the artificial third dimension that pops into being is simply history. We see ourselves and our society and our planet “like giants plunged into the years”, as Marcel Proust put it. So really it’s the fourth dimension that leaps into view: deep time, and our place in it. Some readers can’t make that merger happen, so they don’t like science fiction; it shimmers irreally, it gives them a headache. But relax your eyes, and the results can be startling in their clarity.