robertogreco + poland   16

Remarks at the SASE Panel On The Moral Economy of Tech
"I am only a small minnow in the technology ocean, but since it is my natural habitat, I want to make an effort to describe it to you.

As computer programmers, our formative intellectual experience is working with deterministic systems that have been designed by other human beings. These can be very complex, but the complexity is not the kind we find in the natural world. It is ultimately always tractable. Find the right abstractions, and the puzzle box opens before you.

The feeling of competence, control and delight in discovering a clever twist that solves a difficult problem is what makes being a computer programmer sometimes enjoyable.

But as anyone who's worked with tech people knows, this intellectual background can also lead to arrogance. 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.

Today we are embarked on a great project to make computers a part of everyday life. As Marc Andreessen memorably frames it, "software is eating the world". And those of us writing the software expect to be greeted as liberators.

Our intentions are simple and clear. First we will instrument, then we will analyze, then we will optimize. And you will thank us.

But the real world is a stubborn place. It is complex in ways that resist abstraction and modeling. It notices and reacts to our attempts to affect it. Nor can we hope to examine it objectively from the outside, any more than we can step out of our own skin.

The connected world we're building may resemble a computer system, but really it's just the regular old world from before, with a bunch of microphones and keyboards and flat screens sticking out of it. And it has the same old problems.

Approaching the world as a software problem is a category error that has led us into some terrible habits of mind.

BAD MENTAL HABITS

First, programmers are trained to seek maximal and global solutions. Why solve a specific problem in one place when you can fix the general problem for everybody, and for all time? We don't think of this as hubris, but as a laudable economy of effort. And the startup funding culture of big risk, big reward encourages this grandiose mode of thinking. There is powerful social pressure to avoid incremental change, particularly any change that would require working with people outside tech and treating them as intellectual equals.

Second, treating the world as a software project gives us a rationale for being selfish. The old adage has it that if you are given ten minutes to cut down a tree, you should spend the first five sharpening your axe. We are used to the idea of bootstrapping ourselves into a position of maximum leverage before tackling a problem.

In the real world, this has led to a pathology where the tech sector maximizes its own comfort. You don't have to go far to see this. Hop on BART after the conference and take a look at Oakland, or take a stroll through downtown San Francisco and try to persuade yourself you're in the heart of a boom that has lasted for forty years. You'll see a residential theme park for tech workers, surrounded by areas of poverty and misery that have seen no benefit and ample harm from our presence. We pretend that by maximizing our convenience and productivity, we're hastening the day when we finally make life better for all those other people.

Third, treating the world as software promotes fantasies of control. And the best kind of control is control without responsibility. Our unique position as authors of software used by millions gives us power, but we don't accept that this should make us accountable. We're programmers—who else is going to write the software that runs the world? To put it plainly, we are surprised that people seem to get mad at us for trying to help.

Fortunately we are smart people and have found a way out of this predicament. Instead of relying on algorithms, which we can be accused of manipulating for our benefit, we have turned to machine learning, an ingenious way of disclaiming responsibility for anything. Machine learning is like money laundering for bias. It's a clean, mathematical apparatus that gives the status quo the aura of logical inevitability. The numbers don't lie.

Of course, people obsessed with control have to eventually confront the fact of their own extinction. The response of the tech world to death has been enthusiastic. We are going to fix it. Google Ventures, for example, is seriously funding research into immortality. Their head VC will call you a "deathist" for pointing out that this is delusional.

Such fantasies of control come with a dark side. Witness the current anxieties about an artificial superintelligence, or Elon Musk's apparently sincere belief that we're living in a simulation. For a computer programmer, that's the ultimate loss of control. Instead of writing the software, you are the software.

We obsess over these fake problems while creating some real ones.

In our attempt to feed the world to software, techies have built the greatest surveillance apparatus the world has ever seen. Unlike earlier efforts, this one is fully mechanized and in a large sense autonomous. Its power is latent, lying in the vast amounts of permanently stored personal data about entire populations.

We started out collecting this information by accident, as part of our project to automate everything, but soon realized that it had economic value. We could use it to make the process self-funding. And so mechanized surveillance has become the economic basis of the modern tech industry.

SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM

Surveillance capitalism has some of the features of a zero-sum game. The actual value of the data collected is not clear, but it is definitely an advantage to collect more than your rivals do. Because human beings develop an immune response to new forms of tracking and manipulation, the only way to stay successful is to keep finding novel ways to peer into people's private lives. And because much of the surveillance economy is funded by speculators, there is an incentive to try flashy things that will capture the speculators' imagination, and attract their money.

This creates a ratcheting effect where the behavior of ever more people is tracked ever more closely, and the collected information retained, in the hopes that further dollars can be squeezed out of it.

Just like industrialized manufacturing changed the relationship between labor and capital, surveillance capitalism is changing the relationship between private citizens and the entities doing the tracking. Our old ideas about individual privacy and consent no longer hold in a world where personal data is harvested on an industrial scale.

Those who benefit from the death of privacy attempt to frame our subjugation in terms of freedom, just like early factory owners talked about the sanctity of contract law. They insisted that a worker should have the right to agree to anything, from sixteen-hour days to unsafe working conditions, as if factory owners and workers were on an equal footing.

Companies that perform surveillance are attempting the same mental trick. They assert that we freely share our data in return for valuable services. But opting out of surveillance capitalism is like opting out of electricity, or cooked foods—you are free to do it in theory. In practice, it will upend your life.

Many of you had to obtain a US visa to attend this conference. The customs service announced yesterday it wants to start asking people for their social media profiles. Imagine trying to attend your next conference without a LinkedIn profile, and explaining to the American authorities why you are so suspiciously off the grid.

The reality is, opting out of surveillance capitalism means opting out of much of modern life.

We're used to talking about the private and public sector in the real economy, but in the surveillance economy this boundary doesn't exist. Much of the day-to-day work of surveillance is done by telecommunications firms, which have a close relationship with government. The techniques and software of surveillance are freely shared between practitioners on both sides. All of the major players in the surveillance economy cooperate with their own country's intelligence agencies, and are spied on (very effectively) by all the others.

As a technologist, this state of affairs gives me the feeling of living in a forest that is filling up with dry, dead wood. The very personal, very potent information we're gathering about people never goes away, only accumulates. I don't want to see the fire come, but at the same time, I can't figure out a way to persuade other people of the great danger.

So I try to spin scenarios.

THE INEVITABLE LIST OF SCARY SCENARIOS

One of the candidates running for President this year has promised to deport eleven million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, as well as block Muslims from entering the country altogether. Try to imagine this policy enacted using the tools of modern technology. The FBI would subpoena Facebook for information on every user born abroad. Email and phone conversations would be monitored to check for the use of Arabic or Spanish, and sentiment analysis applied to see if the participants sounded "nervous". Social networks, phone metadata, and cell phone tracking would lead police to nests of hiding immigrants.

We could do a really good job deporting people if we put our minds to it.

Or consider the other candidate running for President, the one we consider the sane alternative, who has been a longtime promoter of a system of extrajudicial murder that uses blanket surveillance of cell phone traffic, email, and social media to create lists of people to be tracked and killed with autonomous aircraft. … [more]
culture  ethics  privacy  surveillance  technology  technosolutionism  maciegceglowski  2016  computing  coding  programming  problemsolving  systemsthinking  systems  software  control  power  elonmusk  marcandreessen  siliconvalley  sanfrancisco  oakland  responsibility  machinelearning  googlevntures  vc  capitalism  speculation  consent  labor  economics  poland  dystopia  government  politics  policy  immortality 
june 2016 by robertogreco
What History Teaches Us About Walls - The New York Times
"It is lost to history whether Hadrian, Qin Shi Huang or Nikita Khrushchev ever uttered, “I will build a wall.”

But build they did, and what happened? The history of walls — to keep people out or in — is also the history of people managing to get around, over and under them. Some come tumbling down.

The classic example is the Great Wall of China. Imposing and remarkably durable, yes, yet it didn’t block various nomadic tribes from the north. History is full of examples of engineering thwarted by goal-oriented rank amateurs. But Donald Trump has promised to build a wall on the United States-Mexican border that he says will be big, beautiful, tall and strong, and he says Mexico will pay for it.

Here’s some more historical perspective on walls."
walls  borders  border  us  mexico  israel  palestine  germany  history  2016  photography  donaldtrump  china  spain  españa  morocco  melilla  hadrian'swall  england  moscow  russia  vaticancity  korea  southkorea  northkorea  romania  roma  warsaw  poland  india  bangladesh  cyprus  ireland  northernireland  mauritania 
may 2016 by robertogreco
Ranking countries by the worst students - The Hechinger Report
"But recently the OECD decided to analyze the past decade of test scores in a new way, to see which nations do the best job of educating their struggling students, and what lessons could be learned. This is important because low-performing students are more likely to drop out of school, and less likely to obtain good jobs as adults. Ultimately, they put more strains on social welfare systems and brakes on economic growth. The results were released on February 10, 2016 in an OECD report, “Low-Performing Students: Why They Fall Behind and How To Help Them Succeed.”

It turns out that many of the top performing nations or regions also have the smallest numbers of low-performing students. Fewer than 5 percent of 15-year-olds in Shanghai (China), Hong Kong (China), South Korea, Estonia and Vietnam scored at the lowest levels on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests in math, reading and science.

In the United States, by contrast, 29 percent of students scored below a basic baseline level in at least one subject, and 12 percent students score below a basic baseline level on all three tests — math, reading and science. The latter number amounts to half a million 15-year-olds who can’t do the basics in any subject. The worst is math. More than a million U.S. 15-year-olds can’t reach the baseline here. The OECD calculated that if all American 15-year-olds reached a baseline level of performance, then the size of the U.S. economy could gain an additional $27 trillion over the working life of these students.

Of course, the United States has relatively higher poverty rates than many nations in this 64-country analysis. One might expect more low performers given that our number of disadvantaged students in public schools surpasses 50 percent. But the interesting thing is that there wasn’t as tight a connection between low performance and poverty as we might expect. Some countries contend with higher poverty levels, but do better — Vietnam, for example, where only 4 percent of students were low performers in all subjects. Meanwhile, some other countries with lower poverty rates nonetheless have a bigger problem of low performers. For example, France, Luxembourg and Sweden all had higher percentages of low-performing students than the United States did.

Poor children around the world, on average, are between four and five times more likely to become low performers in school than children who grew up in a wealthier homes among more educated parents. But in the United States, poverty seems to seal your educational fate more. A socioeconomically disadvantaged American student is six times more likely to be a low performer than his or her socioeconomically advantaged peer. Here’s a stark figure: 41 percent of disadvantaged students in the United States were low performers in mathematics in 2012, while only 9 percent of advantaged students were.

In South Korea, by contrast, only 14 percent of disadvantaged students were low performers in math. In neighboring Canada, it was only 22 percent of the poorest students who scored the worst.

The report highlighted countries that had significantly reduced their share of low performers in math between 2003 and 2012. They were Brazil, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Tunisia and Turkey.

“What do these countries have in common? Not very much,” admitted Andreas Schleicher, director of the education division at the OECD. “They are about as socioeconomically and culturally diverse as can be.”

Also, each country had embarked upon different reforms to improve educational outcomes at the bottom. But Schleicher sees hope in the fact that these countries succeeded at all, proving that poverty isn’t destiny and that schools can make a difference. “All countries can improve their students’ performance, given the right policies and the will to implement them,” Schleicher said."
education  schools  rankings  2016  pisa  standardizedtesting  testing  jillbarshay  poverty  us  southkorea  estonia  vietnam  hongkong  china  shanghai  france  luxembourg  sweden  brazil  brasil  germany  italy  poland  portugal  tunisia  turkey  diversity 
february 2016 by robertogreco
Amanda Ripley: Ask the kids on Vimeo
"Amanda Ripley is an investigative journalist who writes about human behavior and public policy. For Time Magazine and the Atlantic, she has chronicled the stories of American kids and teachers alongside groundbreaking new research into education reform. “Kids have strong opinions about school. We forget as adults how much time they sit there contemplating their situation.”"
amandaripley  journalism  education  us  finland  korea  southkorea  poland  comparison  pisa  2012  schools  schooling  poverty  math  science 
february 2013 by robertogreco
From Master Plan to No Plan: The Slow Death of Public Higher Education | Dissent Magazine
"The standard political criticism of the for-profit industry is that it exists only to vacuum up government subsidies; that it is a problematic byproduct of government actions. This diagnosis is perfectly in line with the Reaganite complaint against government interference in the workings of the market. If we look at California, however, we see that this critique has it backward. For-profit education flooded the market only after the state began to abandon its responsibility to create sufficient institutional capacity in the public system. The problem is not government action, but inaction. As the government gave up its Master Plan responsibility to educate California students, the for-profit sector expanded to fill the demand."

"While Proposition 13 dramatically limited the total revenue in the state‘s coffers, the prison boom diminished the percentage of total funds available for higher education."
funding  publiceducation  neoliberalism  capitalism  public  johnaubreydouglass  poland  korea  brazil  richardblum  government  higheredbubble  privatization  tuition  2012  mikekonczal  aaronbady  studentdebt  priorities  prisons  money  education  california  proposition13  uc  history  ronaldreagan  highered  forprofit  schooltoprisonpipeline  brasil  universityofcalifornia  from delicious
october 2012 by robertogreco
Mapping the World's Most Seductive Shrines to Coffee - Claire Cottrell - The Atlantic
"We've rounded up some of the most beautiful purveyors of coffee around the world in virtual guide form, meaning not only have we included the eye candy you know and love, but we've also added addresses and handy links to Google Maps."

[Little Nap Coffee Stand - Tokyo, Japan]
2012  toronto  switzerland  basel  porto  portugal  silverlake  hungary  busapest  brooklyn  bluebottlecoffee  sanfrancisco  oregon  portland  tokyo  sweden  denmark  telaviv  paris  poland  nyc  losangeles  us  japan  architecture  design  intreriors  openstudioproject  glvo  srg  coffee  cafes  from delicious
october 2012 by robertogreco
Białowieża Forest (Idle Words)
"One August morning in 2010 I woke up before dawn to go bushwhacking near the Belarussian border. My guide…was waiting outside to take me into one of the last patches of primeval wilderness in Europe, Białowieża Forest."

"The forest is sensitive to small changes in microclimate & soil chemistry. They determine which species of tree will grow best, & the trees in turn affect everyting else. Some of them engage in ruthless chemical warfare, dropping leaves or seeds that poison the soil for their rivals, or attracting animals to trample the competition. Others suction up water at a prodigious rate to dry out their neighbors. The forest is one giant monument to plant’s inhumanity to plant."

"Apart from a blade of bisongrass, each bottle of this vodka also includes an implicit raised middle finger to the Latin alphabet, in the form of the magnificent Polish word źdźbło (blade of grass). That last vowel represents the rest of the word laughing at you after you have tried to pronounce it."
bisongrass  europe  history  hunting  wilderness  primevalwilderness  microclimates  2010  2012  białowieżaforest  forest  forests  poland  maciejceglowski  maciejcegłowski 
february 2012 by robertogreco
10 Everyday Acts of Resistance That Changed the World by Steve Crawshaw and John Jackson — YES! Magazine
"The military junta that ruled Uruguay from 1973 was intolerant in the extreme. Hundreds of thousands fled into exile. Political opponents were jailed. Torture was a regular occurrence. On occasion, even concerts of classical music were seen as subversive threats.

But a remarkable small protest took place at soccer games throughout the twelve long years of military rule.

Whenever the band struck up the national anthem before major games, thousands of Uruguayans in the stadium joined in unenthusiastically. This stubborn failure to sing loudly was rebellion already. But, from the generals’ point of view, there was worse to come.

At one point, the anthem declares, Tiranos temblad!—“May tyrants tremble!” Those words served as the cue for the crowds in the stadium to suddenly bellow it in unison as they waved their flags. After that brief, excited roar, they continued to mumble their way through to the end of the long anthem…"
uruguay  via:steelemaley  1973  protest  democracy  freedom  resistance  ireland  us  poland  1982  1880  uk  1984  burma  1990s  liberia  2003  kenya  2009  denmark  1943  israel  2002  words  1993  from delicious
april 2011 by robertogreco
Stanisław Lem - Wikipedia
"His works explore philosophical themes; speculation on technology, the nature of intelligence, the impossibility of mutual communication and understanding, despair about human limitations and humankind's place in the universe. They are sometimes presented as fiction, but others are in the form of essays or philosophical books. Translations of his works are difficult due to passages with elaborate word formation, alien or robotic poetry, and puns. Multiple translated versions of his works exist."
stanislawlem  scifi  sciencefiction  books  polish  poland  from delicious
december 2010 by robertogreco
Rogue Semiotics » Love’s lemmas [On the death of Stanislaw Lem]
"Lem…didn’t really see himself as doing science fiction.

Reading Lem in English was always a curious experience. Whole books are predicated on fecund streams of puns, portmanteau words & neologisms. He was fortunate in his translators, but the suspicion always lingered in the mind…that perhaps there was no Polish original, & that the translation was a free-flying construct boiling out from the mind of the biggest computer in the world.

But Lem was real, despite being denounced to the FBI by the increasingly paranoid Philip K. Dick as being a collective of communist writers aiming to subvert the USA.

Lem was also second only to Borges in his creation of imaginary books. I recall my surprise on finally reading Solaris & finding that much of it is a survey of various (invented) books. There ought to be a term for this tendency: bibliofantasism? What’s unarguable is that a list of books invented by Lem would be almost as interesting as his books themselves."
borges  stanislawlem  scifi  sciencefiction  writing  toread  portmanteau  neologisms  polish  poland  translation  obituaries  communism  bibliofantasism  imaginarybooks  books  from delicious
december 2010 by robertogreco
Op-Ed Columnist - The Glory of Poland - NYTimes.com
"Poland should shame every nation that believes peace and reconciliation are impossible, every state that believes the sacrifice of new generations is needed to avenge the grievances of history. The thing about competitive victimhood, a favorite Middle Eastern pastime, is that it condemns the children of today to join the long list of the dead.
poland  russia  eu  history  politics  war  rogercohen  israel  palestine 
april 2010 by robertogreco

related tags

1990s  2000s  2010s  aaronbady  activism  afghanistan  africa  algeria  amandaripley  animals  architecture  argentina  asia  australia  austria  bangladesh  basel  belarus  belgium  białowieżaforest  bibliofantasism  bisongrass  bluebottlecoffee  bolivia  books  border  borders  borges  brasil  brazil  britain  brooklyn  bulgaria  burma  busapest  cafes  california  canada  capitalism  chalresfréger  chile  china  classideas  coding  coffee  communism  comparison  computing  congo  consent  control  costumes  cuba  culture  cyprus  czechrepublic  democracy  denmark  design  diversity  dominicanrepublic  donaldtrump  drc  dystopia  economics  ecuador  education  egypt  elonmusk  england  españa  estonia  ethics  eu  europe  finland  food  forest  forests  forprofit  france  freedom  funding  fur  gender  germany  ghana  glvo  googlevntures  government  hadrian'swall  haiti  health  highered  higheredbubble  history  honduras  hongkong  hungary  hunting  imaginarybooks  immortality  india  indonesia  internet  intreriors  ireland  israel  italy  ivorycoast  japan  jillbarshay  johnaubreydouglass  jordan  journalism  kenya  korea  labor  latinamerica  leapfrogging  lebanon  liberia  lithuania  losangeles  luxembourg  macau  macedonia  machinelearning  maciegceglowski  maciejceglowski  maciejcegłowski  marcandreessen  math  mauritania  melilla  mexico  microclimates  middleeast  mikekonczal  military  mobile  money  morocco  moscow  neoliberalism  neologisms  nethelands  nigeria  northernireland  northkorea  norway  nyc  oakland  obituaries  online  openstudioproject  oregon  pakistan  palestine  paraguay  paris  perú  philippines  phones  photography  pisa  poland  policy  polish  politics  portland  portmanteau  porto  portugal  poverty  power  primevalwilderness  priorities  prisons  privacy  privatization  problemsolving  programming  proposition13  protest  public  publiceducation  rankings  rations  resistance  responsibility  richardblum  rogercohen  roma  romania  ronaldreagan  russia  sanfrancisco  schooling  schools  schooltoprisonpipeline  science  sciencefiction  scifi  scotland  serbia  shanghai  siliconvalley  silverlake  slovakia  smarthphone  software  southkorea  spain  speculation  srg  standardizedtesting  stanislawlem  studentdebt  surveillance  sweden  switzerland  systems  systemsthinking  technology  technosolutionism  telaviv  telephone  testing  thailand  tokyo  toread  toronto  tradition  translation  tuition  tunisia  turkey  uc  uganda  uk  ukraine  universityofcalifornia  uruguay  us  vaticancity  vc  venezuela  via:steelemaley  vietnam  walls  war  warsaw  wearable  wearables  web  westbank  wilderness  women  words  writing 

Copy this bookmark:



description:


tags: