Much of our courage and support comes from the people we read and talk to and love online, often on the very networks that expose us—and our friends—to genuine enemies of freedom and peace. We have to keep connected, but we don’t have to play on their terms.
I like Mike’s “long zoom” view here where the glass is half full and half empty:
Several years from now, I want to be able to look back on this time the same way people look at other natural disasters. Without that terrible earthquake, we would have never improved our building codes. Without that terrible flood, we would have never built those levees. Without that terrible hurricane, we would have never rebuilt this amazing city. Without that terrible disease, we would have never developed antibodies against it.
It doesn’t require giving any credit to the disaster. The disaster will always be a complete fucking disaster. But it does involve using the disaster as an opportunity to take a hard look at what got us here and rededicate our energy towards things that will get us out.
A weekly list of short, concrete actions to defend the weak, rebuild civic institutions, and fight right-wing extremism. For UK people.
A service for US citizens that suggest five phone calls they can make at any time—based on their location—to influence their representatives.
Calling is the most effective way to influence your representative. 5 Calls gives you contacts and scripts so calling is quick and easy. We use your location to give you your local representatives so your calls are more impactful.
An excellent location-based resource for US citizens looking to make a difference in the 2018 midterm elections.
You, the software engineers and leaders of technology companies, face an enormous responsibility. You know better than anyone how best to protect the millions who have entrusted you with their data, and your knowledge gives you real power as civic actors. If you want to transform the world for the better, here is your moment. Inquire about how a platform will be used. Encrypt as much as you can. Oppose the type of data analysis that predicts people’s orientation, religion, and political preferences if they did not willingly offer that information.
When a solid 67% of your soul is engaged with battles elsewhere, how do you continue on with our ongoing, non-revolutionary work?
A resource for American citizens put together by former congressional staffers. If you’re a US citizen wondering how you can resist Trump’s agenda, this should provide solid advice on what action you can take.
Ten years on from Afonso Cuarón’s masterpiece.
This article examines what I thought was the most interesting aspect of Rogue One—the ethical implications for technologists.
Don’t dismiss this essay just because it’s about a Hollywood blockbuster. Given the current political situation, this is deeply relevant.
Software is politics, because software is power.
The transcript of a tremendous talk by Richard Pope.
A very smart way of matching up the amount of money you spend on entertainment to contributions to causes you care about.
Over 40 million Americans subscribe to Netflix, which means that ~$400 million dollars are taken out of our accounts monthly. Many Americans don’t even notice this. Imagine what could happen if we set up as many automatic contributions to help nonprofits do what they need to do.
The view that more information uncritically produces better decisions is visibly at odds with our contemporary situation.
A superb piece of research and writing by James, skewering the technological determinism that underlies the current faith in “big data.” At best, this misplaced trust is inaccurate; at worst, it is deadly.
To the algorithmic imagination, the practice of journalism and the practice of terrorism appear to be functionally identical.
A gripping history lesson of the internet and the ARPANET before it, emphasising the role of government funding.
Silicon Valley often likes to pretend that innovation is the result of entrepreneurs tinkering in garages. But most of the innovation on which Silicon Valley depends comes from government research, for the simple reason that the public sector can afford to take risks that the private sector can’t.
It’s precisely the insulation from market forces that enables government to finance the long-term scientific labor that ends up producing many of the most profitable inventions.
Today we have an internet effectively controlled by a small number of private companies.
Instead of trying to escape the bigness of the Internet, we should embrace it — and bring it under democratic control. This means replacing private providers with public alternatives where it’s feasible, and regulating them where it’s not.
There is nothing in the pipes or protocols of the Internet that obliges it to produce immense concentrations of corporate power. This is a political choice, and we can choose differently.
People who excel at software design become convinced that they have a unique ability to understand any kind of system at all, from first principles, without prior training, thanks to their superior powers of analysis. Success in the artificially constructed world of software design promotes a dangerous confidence.
Great stuff as usual from Maciej, ending with a rallying cry for us to pay attention to history:
This is not the first time an enthusiastic group of nerds has decided to treat the rest of the world as a science experiment. Earlier attempts to create a rationalist Utopia failed for interesting reasons, and since we bought those lessons at a great price, it would be a shame not to learn them.
There is also prior art in attempts at achieving immortality, limitless wealth, and Galactic domination. We even know what happens if you try to keep dossiers on an entire country.
If we’re going to try all these things again, let’s at least learn from our past, so we can fail in interesting new ways, instead of failing in the same exasperating ways as last time.
Absolutely brilliant stuff from Mandy (again). A long hard at today’s tech industry’s narrow approach to bots and artificial intelligence compared to some far more interesting and imaginative approaches in fiction:
- Ann Leckie’s superb Imperial Radch series,
- Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, and
- Alex Garland’s Ex Machina.
So in addition to frightening ramifications for privacy and information discovery, they also reinforce gendered stereotypes about women as servants. The neutral politeness that infects them all furthers that convention: women should be utilitarian, performing their duties on command without fuss or flourish. This is a vile, harmful, and dreadfully boring fantasy; not the least because there is so much extraordinary art around AI that both deconstructs and subverts these stereotypes. It takes a massive failure of imagination to commit yourself to building an artificial intelligence and then name it “Amy.”
This a magnificent piece of writing from James …all about pieces of metal fabric.
A single technology – the vacuum-deposition of metal vapour onto a thin film substrate – makes its consecutive and multiple appearances at times of stress and trial: at the dawn of the space age, in orbit and on other planets, at the scene of athletic feats of endurance, in defence and offence in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, on the beaches of the European archipelago. These are moments of hope as well as failure; moments when, properly utilised, technological progress enables us to achieve something which was beyond our capabilities before. And yet: we are still pulling bodies from the water wrapped in material which was meant to send us into space.
It’s a PDF and it’s an academic paper, but this rousing call to arms is a remarkably clear and engrossing read.
With few exceptions, the atomic scientists who worked on disarmament were not the same individuals as those who built the bomb. Their colleagues—fellow physicists—did that. Cryptographers didn’t turn the Internet into an instrument of total surveillance, but our colleagues—fellow computer scientists and engineers—did that.
It concludes with a series of design principles for the cryptographic community:
- Attend to problems’ social value. Do anti-surveillance research.
- Be introspective about why you are working on the problems you are.
- Apply practice-oriented provable security to anti-surveillance problems.
- Think twice, and then again, about accepting military funding.
- Regard ordinary people as those whose needs you ultimately aim to satisfy.
- Be open to diverse models. Regard all models as suspect and dialectical.
- Get a systems-level view. Attend to that which surrounds our field.
- Learn some privacy tools. Use them. Improve them.
- Stop with the cutesy pictures. Take adversaries seriously.
- Design and build a broadly useful cryptographic commons.
- Choose language well. Communication is integral to having an impact.
We need to erect a much expanded commons on the Internet. We need to realize popular services in a secure, distributed, and decentralized way, powered by free software and free/open hardware. We need to build systems beyond the reach of super-sized companies and spy agencies. Such services must be based on strong cryptography. Emphasizing that prerequisite, we need to expand our cryptographic commons.
One failure mode is ‘I have run out of paper’, another is ‘my data has been sold to a company I don’t trust’, another is ‘my country has been invaded and they’ve seized all the servers’.
These are things to be designed for. These are user needs too. They have to be embraced.