On vision, path-dependency, agility – and bears.

A friend sent me a rather wonderful description of an ideal future – one where we knew how to live well on the planet, at ease with each other and our reality, with the positive aspects of incredible technology incorporated and wisely integrated into our humanity – in short, a vision.

And I reacted against it. Certainly not in terms of the spirit, and not in terms of much of the detail. But because of the detail.

Continue reading “On vision, path-dependency, agility – and bears.”

PIVOT!

This blog was started as a pivot – from a vocational career as a bricks-and-mortar architect into the terra incognita of the digital realm.

Lacking qualifications, experience; a track record, deep skills, but at the same time confident that I had much to offer, as well as much to learn, I dove in

.. and now it’s time to pivot again – on this blog at least. From being a commentary, mostly from the outside, looking in at the digital, I’m now involved in some projects, and embarking on others; my interests, my views, my intentions are much clearer – at once more focused and more ambitious.

So from now on there will be more about what I’m involved with, often from a more political, more social point of view.

Alternative currencies – Simbi and the Flying Brick

Credit: danyythemartian – DeviantArt

The Flying Brick was the printed directory of the Brixton LETS Scheme (this isn’t the image we used – the original is lost in the mists of time – or a cardboard box in the attic).

LETS stood for Local Exchange and Trading Scheme. Brixton LETS was started in the second wave of alternative, local currency schemes in 1992 in Brixton, South London, and I’m proud to say I was one of the founding group, and one of the team that ran the scheme in its heyday over the following few years.

The idea was that members would trade together using our own local currency – the Brick (what else?) – which was a ‘virtual’ currency – a number in a database, with no physical existence. And that this currency would have different rules to ‘normal’ money, specifically: Continue reading “Alternative currencies – Simbi and the Flying Brick”

Trust Aggregation, reputation economies and privacy

Last night I listened to this feature on the excellent BBC World Service – Hacking the Vote – pegged on claims by companies hawking their services to political parties that they know enough about a great many individuals to be able to create specific pyschological profiles and thus enable carefully crafted messages to be shown to them, to get them to vote for the candidate paying for the service.

The shocking reminder of the extent to which data is being collected on all of us and put to murky use in the shadows prompted this post.

It’s not about data privacy, particularly – although I personally make my online life stupidly difficult by using a vpn, by installing the anti-tracking, anti java-script, anti adverts, anti-everything extensions I can find to my browsers in an attempt to at least put some road-bumps down for those who would treat my as a statistical profit centre. With the self-defeating result that half the sites I use won’t work unless I grant them freedom to do it all anyway.

It’s about a way that we, as individuals, might be able to use that data for our own purposes. If it’s all being collected and used to manipulate us anyway, why shouldn’t it work for us, a little?

Aggregated trust scores

There have been several attempts at building tools that provide reputation metrics, trust scores – think credit ratings on steroids.

The idea being that individuals will sign up to aggregator sites, and give them access to various kinds of trust/social standing scores. The aggregator sites will then publish trust metrics on individuals, to be used by all sorts of people. Employers, potential service users, lenders, contacts, dating matches.

If anyone manages to crack this (it’s not easy – see this dead indiegogo site for peeple), then individuals will spend more effort curating these than they do on their credit rating. Lawsuits will be brought over harsh ratings using defamation laws drafted decades before the internet was even imagined.

The trust aggregator metric that is itself trusted will be the locus of immense influence.  If that doesn’t already sound scary, there’s another big problem.

Continue reading “Trust Aggregation, reputation economies and privacy”

AI and the Zone of Hubris

AI progress and a landscape of problem conditions

I’ve mentioned this ‘Zone of Hubris’ idea in a couple of earlier posts, and it’s time I made it clear what I mean by this slightly over-blown phrase.

The basic idea is that the sort of AI we are making at the moment is being developed against a range of problems with very clear success metrics, and relatively high levels of available information. Recent rapid progress is giving rise to significant confidence in our ability to begin to address really useful problems with the aid of AI (nothing in this post relates to currently imaginary super-intelligent Artificial General Intelligence).

This is likely to lead us to seek to apply our shiny new successes more ambitiously – as well we should. But we need to be aware that we have been sharpening these tools in a particular arena, and that it is not at all certain that they will work well in different circumstances.

“Well, of course..” you might say; “we’re quite aware of that – that’s exactly how we’ve been proceeding – moving into new problem domains, realising that our existing tools don’t work, and building new ones”. Well yes, but I would suggest that it hasn’t so much been a case of building new tools, as it is has been about refining old ones. As is made clear in some earlier posts, most of the building blocks of today’s AI were formulated decades ago, and on top of that, there appears to have been fairly strong selection for problem spaces that are amenable to game/game-theoretic approaches.

‘Hubris’ is defined as ‘excessive or foolish pride or self-confidence‘. Continue reading “AI and the Zone of Hubris”

Project for a Progressive Ethics

ethicsdoodleI’ve been going to quite a few events recently which broadly come under the heading of futurism – indeed many of them have been through a reliably high quality meetup group actually called London Futurists.

These meetings deal with more-or-less mind-boggling speculations and predictions of things like robots taking all the jobs, artificial intelligences surpassing human capacities, people hacking their own or their children’s biology through genetic or prosthetic modifications, and similar subjects. Sci-fi stuff, you might think …

Continue reading “Project for a Progressive Ethics”

A better nation?

“Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.”—Alasdair Gray

Inspiring idea … but what does a better nation look like? How does it work?

Read this.

In my post TechnoLiberation a few weeks ago, I rather vaguely proposed that the new political/economic paradigm would come up from underneath, that it would be predicated on enormous numbers of people using information technology to create new forms of interaction that worked for humans, that superseded the current models, rather than did battle with them.

Paul Mason’s new book, for which the article is a pre-publication taster menu, makes a much stronger, more detailed, and compelling case that the beginnings of this transformation are under way already – that the economics of information underpin all sorts of human initiatives, on a wide number of fronts, that offer tentative blueprints for ‘a better nation’ in the making.

A better nation – and one which people in technology can easily imagine that they are working in the early days of.