Response to Joe Brewer

Joe recently posted a long article that resonated with me, with the rather forbidding title, ‘Why I am no longer attempting to build a rigorous science of social change‘. I don’t know Joe, but have been aware of other posts and essays of his for some time. I connected with these because of seeing the name of the organisation he has co-founded; The Center for Applied Cultural Evolution, which immediately gave me the feeling that we had followed many common thought paths –  a feeling that has been reinforced by everything I have read of his since.

Briefly, what I sensed we share is a certainty that all that we humans really have is each other and our shared culture – that it is past time for us to take responsibility for our own development, and to seek to do this in the wisest, most sane way possible – using the best discoverable integration of our rationalising endeavours and our capacity for humanity. That despite full awareness of the provisional, incomplete and patchy status of both these resources, we are nevertheless at a point in our civilisational development when, for all sorts of reasons, it is both possible and necessary to begin this work.

Screenshot 2018-06-03 14.23.34

This is not the place to rehearse this conviction. If you share it, then read on. If it resonates with you, but you want more detail, then you may wish to read elsewhere before continuing.

Continue reading “Response to Joe Brewer”

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.”

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”

Games and Game-Theory – the trouble with paradigms…

First of a few posts with my own thoughts arising from the recent New Scientist ‘Instant Expert’ event.

gametheory
credit: xkcd.com

Games and Game Theory appear to be the ruling paradigm for the current AI top dogs. Both Irina Higgins and Simon Lucas made clear cases for the choice of gaming environments as AI training grounds, and referenced Game Theory, too.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to argue with them – but I do think it is worth examining the assumptions that underlie gaming approaches and Game Theory, and considering these as they relate to the problem spaces which we dearly wish that AI could help us with. As you might guess, I am not sanguine… Continue reading “Games and Game-Theory – the trouble with paradigms…”

Security as an Overhead isn’t working

We’re building a medical app. Of course, Therapy-Smarter isn’t collecting deeply intimate data – just basic contact information, some physiotherapist’s notes, exercise prescriptions and exercise performance data – but nevertheless, medical data is medical data- it’s inherently sensitive, and any company that cares about its reputation needs to take data privacy – and thus data security – very seriously indeed.

HealthITbreaches

So, we’ve been thinking about it fairly hard – but not in a technical way; it’s a specialist domain and we assume that we will need to pay people who know what they are doing to advise us on best practice and  then get them to assess our implementation.

No, we’ve been thinking hard about security in terms of business culture, because it seems painfully clear that this is where security weaknesses really come from. That’s right – I’m saying that security weaknesses have much more to do with business culture than they have to do with engineering.

Continue reading “Security as an Overhead isn’t working”

Artisanal coding culture

I am not a coder.

To qualify this statement, consider a parallel: I understand a fair amount about the techniques that are used to form, shape and join timber, both theoretical and from practical experience, as a designer and maker on a number of scales. But I would never call myself a carpenter, because I have worked alongside carpenters, and have a deep respect for what a skilled carpenter can do.

By the same standards, I’m not a coder, although I do have some understanding, some experience and I hope some of the analytical ability. I certainly have the same respect.

Artisanal coding cultures have had little chance to develop real depth; human culture has a pace that, speed up as we might, is still tied to the pace of organic life, and information technology, by that yardstick, is barely three generations old. On top of that, while wood has remained wood, and steel remains steel, digital culture has undergone successive revolutions – largely hardware driven – with software following behind, catch-as-catch-can.

Nevertheless (even while understanding much of the content on only the surface level), I am convinced that the c2.com wiki maintained by Ward Cunningham has material that will prove to be significant in the development of a coding cultural tradition. The interchanges there are distilled, terse, limpid and at the same time open to an almost metaphysical dimension to the practice – a preparedness to take a step back and consider the inherent qualities of how algorithmic implementation is.

Explore at will.