Tags: politics

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Spinning jenny. — Ethan Marcotte

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.

How can we incentivise the digital world to make safer services?

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

Fantasies of the Future: Design in a World Being Eaten by Software / Paul Robert Lloyd

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?

Paul Ford: Facebook Is Why We Need a Digital Protection Agency - Bloomberg

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.

Facebook and the end of the world

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.

“Please keep politics out of your talk.” – The future is like pie.

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.

I, for one. — Ethan Marcotte

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.

On Weaponised Design - Our Data Our Selves

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.

The Internet Isn’t Forever

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.

Design’s Lost Generation – Mike Monteiro – Medium

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.

No one’s coming. It’s up to us. – Dan Hon – Medium

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?

Privacy could be the next big thing

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.

Dude, you broke the future! - Charlie’s Diary

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.

Legends of the Ancient Web

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.

Science fiction when the future is now

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.

Rated zero. — Ethan Marcotte

Ethan points out the tension between net neutrality and AMP:

The more I’ve thought about it, I think there’s a strong, clear line between ISPs choosing specific kinds of content to prioritize, and projects like Google’s Accelerated Mobile Project. And apparently, so does the FCC chair: companies like Google, Facebook, or Apple are choosing which URLs get delivered as quickly as possible. But rather than subsidizing that access through paid sponsorships, these companies are prioritizing pages republished through their proprietary channels, using their proprietary document formats.

The Medium - daverupert.com

I have to keep reminding myself that I do have some control. I can build The Medium I want. I can cling to what’s good.

This Future Looks Familiar: Watching Blade Runner in 2017 | Tor.com

If you subtract the flying cars and the jets of flame shooting out of the top of Los Angeles buildings, it’s not a far-off place. It’s fortunes earned off the backs of slaves, and deciding who gets to count as human. It’s impossible tests with impossible questions and impossible answers. It’s having empathy for the right things if you know what’s good for you. It’s death for those who seek freedom.

A thought-provoking first watch of Blade Runner …with an equally provocative interpretation in the comments:

The tragedy is not that they’re just like people and they’re being hunted down; that’s way too simplistic a reading. The tragedy is that they have been deliberately built to not be just like people, and they want to be and don’t know how.

That’s what really struck me about Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go: the tragedy is that these people can’t take action. “Run! Leave! Go!” you want to scream at them, but you might as well tell someone “Fly! Why don’t you just fly?”

A good science fiction story… - daverupert.com

Dave applies two quotes from sci-fi authors to the state of today’s web.

A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.

—Frederik Pohl

The function of science fiction is not only to predict the future, but to prevent it.

—Ray Bradbury

Party Discipline | Tor.com

There are some delightfully dark touches to this Cory Doctorow coming-of-age near-future short story of high school students seizing the means of production.