mfioretti: algorithms*

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  1. Mothball public housing, food assistance, Medicaid, and the rest, and replace them with a single check. It turns out that the tech investors promoting basic income, by and large, aren't proposing to fund the payouts themselves; they'd prefer that the needy foot the bill for everyone else.

    "The cost has to come from somewhere," Hawkins explained, "and I think the most logical place to take it from is government-provided services."

    This kind of reasoning has started to find a constituency in Washington. The Cato Institute, Charles Koch's think tank for corporate-friendly libertarianism, published a series of essays last August debating the pros and cons of basic income. That same week, an article appeared in the Atlantic making a "conservative case for a guaranteed basic income." It suggested that basic income is actually a logical extension of Paul Ryan's scheme to replace federal welfare programs with cash grants to states—the Republican Party's latest bid to crown itself "the party of ideas." Basic income is still not quite yet speakable in the halls of power, but Republicans may be bringing it closer than they realize.

    If a basic income were too low, people wouldn't be able to quit their jobs, but employers would still lower their wages. It could incline more businesses to act like Walmart, letting their workers scrape by on government programs while they pay a pittance. Workers might get money for nothing, but they'd also find themselves with dwindling leverage in their workplaces.

    If we were to fund basic income only by gutting existing welfare, and not by taxing the rich, it would do the opposite of fixing inequality; money once reserved for the poor would end up going to those who need it less. Instead of being a formidable bulwark against poverty, a poorly funded basic-income program could produce a vast underclass more dependent on whoever cuts the checks. And as out-there as the idea can seem, Weeks's leftist critics complain that it's still a tweak, a reform. "It's not going to signal the end of capitalism," she recognizes.

    Like pretty much all the shortcut solutions Silicon Valley offers, basic income would have its perks, but it isn't enough to solve our real problems on its own. There's still no substitute for organizing more power in more communities—the power to shape society, not just to fiddle with someone else's app. Social Security, for instance, came to be thanks to the popular struggles of the 1930s, and it carried huge swaths of old people out of poverty. Obamacare, a set of reforms mostly written by the industry it was meant to regulate, has turned out to be a far more mixed bag.

    A basic income designed by venture capitalists in Silicon Valley is more likely to reinforce their power than to strengthen the poor. But a basic income arrived at through the vision and the struggle of those who need it most would help ensure that it meets their needs first. If we're looking for a way through the robot apocalypse, we can do better than turn to the people who are causing it.
    http://www.vice.com/read/something-for-everyone-0000546-v22n1
    Voting 0
  2. proprio ora che avevamo appena imparato a usarlo discretamente, forse è Facebook ad abbandonarci, dal momento che non rivestiamo alcun interesse economico. O almeno così pare in questo momento: Facebook ci ha già abituato a repentini cambiamenti nel layout, nella visualizzazione dei contenuti e così via.

    Considerato tutto, l’idea di impostare i miei corsi su diversi strumenti mi pare oggi ancora più corretta. La scelta di privilegiare Facebook è stata strumentale e, in quanto tale, può benissimo essere messa in discussione. Può essere messa in discussione – a mio parere – persino l’idea divenuta nel frattempo divenuta dominante che uno degli obiettivi della comunicazione via social media sia l’engagement (ma questo sì che è un discorso complesso e lo lasciamo per un’altra volta). Quello che si può fare ora, invece, è sapere che è il momento di ricominciare a esplorare strade nuove, o di percorrere le vecchie con uno sguardo più attento.

    Ad esempio.

    Monitorare i dati di utilizzo generale: Facebook cresce ancora, ma lo fa fra tutte le classi di età? Calibrare gli sforzi: 12 post alla settimana valgono davvero la pena se Facebook non li mostra al mio pubblico? Continuare comunque a pubblicare contenuti di qualità: tutto sommato, mi pare che questo piccolo decalogo abbia ancora senso. Esplorare strumenti social alternativi: fino a pochi mesi avrei dissuaso la maggioranza dei bibliotecari a utilizzare Twitter per le loro biblioteche, ora sarei disposta a ripensarci (il profilo su Twitter della biblioteca ha, nell’ultimo anno, raggiunto un numero di follower piuttosto vicino a quello dei liker della pagina Facebook). Ricordare che non ci sono regole fisse: la comunicazione funziona bene con strumenti diversi, per persone diverse, in contesti diversi. Ricordare che il web non è il solo social, e che esistono strumenti come i siti (che forse abbiamo trascurato) e i blog (che non abbiamo mai seriamente iniziato a usare) che hanno un potere intrinseco di durata sul web e sui quali restiamo molto più indipendenti nelle nostre scelte rispetto a piattaforme destinate inevitabimente a sorgere e a tramontare.
    http://nonbibliofili.wordpress.com/20...3/09/che-succede-alle-pagine-facebook
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  3. Facebook, la grande piattaforma dalla quale era insensato restare fuori un paio di anni fa, è passata come un meteorite sulle pagine e ha prodotto l’estinzione di intere specie di aggiornamenti di stato, facendo del nostro lavoro qualcosa che abita dalle parti degli “algorithmic pariah” (è lungo, leggetelo lo stesso). In attesa del prossimo balzo evolutivo, dunque, che cosa funziona oggi su Facebook e – contemporaneamente – che immagine rispecchiata della biblioteca ci restituisce?
    http://nonbibliofili.wordpress.com/20...a-selezione-naturale-secondo-facebook
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  4. Here’s what he didn’t say: A “dislike” button on Facebook would dissuade people from posting, liking, and sharing as freely as they might otherwise. For a company that trades in data about users’ behavior, more behavior is almost always better. Its algorithms optimize for “engagement,” which includes posts, likes, clicks, shares, and comments. Among the metrics Facebook does not optimize for: honesty, exchange of ideas, critical thinking, or objective truth.

    Seeing dislikes on other people’s posts might dissuade you from mindlessly liking them yourself. Seeing dislikes on your own posts might make you think harder about what you’re sharing. Either way, it’s a barrier to engagement and, as such, an impediment to Facebook’s growth.

    And just imagine how the brands that pay Facebook’s bills would feel about seeing dozens, hundreds, tens of thousands of dislikes on their own posts. Zuckerberg would have a lot to answer for on his next earnings call with investors
    http://www.slate.com/articles/technol...y_mark_zuckerberg_won_t_allow_it.html
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  5. we live in the over-developed world. Somehow we overshot some point of transformation. A transformation that didn’t happen, perhaps couldn’t happen. But in having failed to take that exit, we end up in some state of over-development. In the over-developed world, the commodity economy is feeding on itself, cannibalizing itself.


    you can forget that under-developed world exists if you live in the bubble of the over-developed world. Some of us don’t have to do the manual version of precarious labor, at least. But there is a sense in which some characteristics of that labor have actually found their way into the over-developed world as well.

    Viewed from inside the bubble of New York, the paradox of digital labor these days is the way that tech enables the over-development of under-development. Technologies are shaped by the struggle over their form. It was not given from an essence that the digital would end up as control over labor rather than control by labor. But in the current stage of conflict and negotiation, the over-development of under-development seems to me to describe a tendency for labor.

    In any case, labor isn’t the only class struggling in and against the digital. I still think there is a difference between being a worker and being a hacker. I think of hacker as a class category: there is a hacker class. Hackers are those whose efforts are commodifed in the form of intellectual property. What they make can be turned into copyrights, patents or trademarks.
    There is of course an under-developed world, sometimes in intimate proximity to the over-developed one. You can find it even here in New York City. One can critique the orientalism of the fact that Willets Point, Queens is known among New Yorkers as ‘little Calcutta’, but it really is a place without paved roads, running water, and with mostly off the books, illegal or precarious jobs.

    The hacker class is distinguished by a few qualities. It usually means working with information, but not in a routine way. It is different from white-collar labor. It is about producing new arrangements of information rather than ‘filling in the forms.’

    The ruling class of our time, what I call the vectoral class, needs both these kinds of hack. The vectoral class needs the almost-routine innovation. The existing commodity cycles demand it. As our attention fades and boredom looms, there has to be some just slightly new iteration of the old properties: some new show, new app, new drug, new device.

    What is interesting at the moment are the strategies being deployed to spread the cost and lower the risk of this routine innovation. This is what I think start-up culture is all about. It spreads and privatizes the risk while providing privileged access to innovation that is starting to prove its value to the vectoral class, whose ‘business model’ is to own, control, flip, litigate, and – if absolutely necessary – even build out new kinds of intellectual property.

    For worker and hacker alike, there is a struggle to achieve some kind of class consciousness, and a social consciousness even beyond that, against the atomizing affect of the time. I just don’t think it is quite the same class consciousness.

    For labor, it is always a matter of solidarity and equality. For the hacker, class consciousness is always modulated by the desire for difference, for distinction, for recognition by one’s real peers. It is a sensibility that can be captured by the bourgeois individualism propagated by the vectoral class, but it is not the same thing. Winning the stock-option lottery is not the same thing as the respect of one’s peers. Nor does it translate into any agency in giving form to the world.

    Two tasks present themselves, then. The first is to think the worker and hacker as distinct classes but which have a common project. The second is to think that common project as building a different world. Can this infrastructure we keep building out, this second and third nature, actually be the platform for building another one? Can it be hacked?

    The Anthropocene calls not so much for new ways of thinking as for new ways of practicing knowledge. When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. And it is likely to get weird — in this lifetime, or the next. That’s why I think we could start working now, not on theory of the Anthropocene, but theory for the Anthropocene. One could do worse, I think, than imagine and practice again something like a tektology and a proletkult – a tektology for hackers, a proletkult for cyborgs. Let’s build a world, and live in it.
    http://dismagazine.com/disillusioned/...rk-digital-labor-and-the-anthropocene
    Voting 0
  6. We then now need to contextualise the subliminal stimuli into the hectic, hyper-connected society we currently live in.

    Mobile is taking over and we live surrounded by screens. Just ten years ago it was impossible to imagine that seeking, comparing and eventually booking a holiday package via mobile device was even possible.

    Planned obsolescence is the non-mantra that pushes us to buy a new 600 quid smart-thingy every 6–8 months as the case is now lighter than it used to be and they have expanded the memory or the screen is 25% higher performing.

    To say something is “old” means you’ve bought it six months ago.

    Technology has extended the sense of what is possibile in a way and at a pace that our average brain cannot cope with.

    Those who refine the highest performing formula of the most popular online platforms and define what the goals are of a performing algorithm acquire a political nature. In this hyper-connected society, those who manage the few most populated platforms can decide through their honed algorithms what is relevant and what is not. And with such scarcity of time available, as we rush from a “like” to another, our daily life is dramatically impacted by the results that these algorithms show us.

    I decided to write this post after reading this brilliant piece by Zeynep Tufekci and also a couple of tweets by Salvatore Iaconesi, especially this one.

    Zeynep argues that despite sharing the same contacts on Twitter and Facebook, after being overwhelmed by tweets about what was going on in Ferguson, the night of the 13 August she checked her Facebook — populated by her same Twitter contacts — and realised that there was no trace of the live drama in the Missouri town.

    The following morning: (emphasis mine)

    This morning, though, my Facebook feed is also very heavily dominated by discussion of Ferguson. Many of those posts seem to have been written last night, but I didn’t see them then. Overnight, “edgerank” –or whatever Facebook’s filtering algorithm is called now — seems to have bubbled them up, probably as people engaged them more.

    But I wonder: what if Ferguson had started to bubble, but there was no Twitter to catch on nationally? Would it ever make it through the algorithmic filtering on Facebook? Maybe, but with no transparency to the decisions, I cannot be sure.


    Eli Parisier in his famous TED talk dated 2011 — followed up by a book, argues that these personalised algorithms, designed to provide us with the most relevant information we seek, tend to produce a final negative outcome: we end up surrounded by content and people which/who tend to be aligned with our vision of the world. In this way we (un)consciously build up safe bubbles which lack conflict and diversity, narrowing down our outlook of the world.
    https://medium.com/@Innovandiamo/the-...wer-that-shape-our-lives-ad7ff2a7a353
    Voting 0
  7. Buzzfeed reported that one of Uber’s executives had already looked up without permission rides taken by one of its own journalists. And according to The Washington Post, the company was so lax about such sensitive data that it even allowed a job applicant to view people’s rides, including those of a family member of a prominent politician. (The app is popular with members of Congress, among others.)

    After the Uber executive’s statements, many took note of a 2012 post on the company’s blog that boasted of how Uber had tracked the rides of users who went somewhere other than home on Friday or Saturday nights, and left from the same address the next morning. It identified these “rides of glory” as potential one-night stands. (The blog post was later removed.)

    Uber had just told all its users that if they were having an affair, it knew about it. Rides to Planned Parenthood? Regular rides to a cancer hospital? Interviews at a rival company? Uber knows about them, too.

    Uber isn’t alone. Numerous companies, from social media sites like Facebook to dating sites like OKCupid, make it their business to track what we do, whom we know and what our typical behaviors and preferences are. OKCupid unashamedly announced that it experimented on its users, sometimes matching them with incompatible dates, just to see what happened.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/08/opinion/we-cant-trust-uber.html
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  8. There was once a very financially-rewarding global business built on selling people’s bodies.

    We called it slavery.

    Today, we frown upon that particular practice in polite company. It’s about time to ask ourselves, however, what are we to call the business of selling everything about a person that makes them who they are apart from their body?

    If the question makes you feel uncomfortable, good.

    If just thinking about it makes you feel uncomfortable, imagine how living within a system where this business model is a monopoly will make you feel. Then imagine what a society shaped by its ramifications will look like. Imagine its effects on equality, human rights, and democracy.

    You don’t have to try too hard to imagine any of this because we are already living in the early days of just such a world today.

    And yet it’s still early enough that I’m hopeful we can challenge the unfettered progress of this Silicon Valley model that is toxic to our human rights and threatens the very pillars of democracy itself.

    The digital imperialism of Silicon Valley robs us of the ownership and control of our most personal and intimate spaces while simultaneously depriving us of a core democratic instrument: the public sphere.

    The Silicon Valley model fosters the illusion of expanding the public sphere into the virtual realm while actually contributing to its destruction. It does so by replacing traditionally public spaces with privately-owned digital alternatives of its own design.

    We see Twitter, for example, as a public sphere that furthers democratic ideals. It looks very much like a global park where everyone gets a Speakers’ Corner. In reality, however, it is actually a private space much like a shopping mall.

    Just as the owners of a shopping mall are well within their rights to throw me off their private property if they don’t like the message on the t-shirt I’m wearing, Twitter is well within its rights to decide what you can and cannot say on its private property. It is not a public sphere. It is not part of the commons.

    Twitter is as much a public space as a McDonald’s
    https://aralbalkan.com/notes/the-camera-panopticon
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  9. Bitcoin sometimes appears akin to an illegal immigrant, trying to decide whether to seek out a rebellious existence in the black-market economy, or whether to don the slick clothes of the Silicon Valley establishment. The latter position – involving publicly accepting regulation and tax whilst privately lobbying against it – is obviously more acceptable and familiar to authorities.

    to many onlookers Bitcoin is just a passing curiosity, a damp squib that will eventually suffer an ignoble death by media boredom. It is a mistake to believe that, though. The core innovation of Bitcoin is not going away, and it is deeper than currency.

    What has been introduced to the world is a method to create decentralised peer-validated time-stamped ledgers. That is a fancy way of saying it is a method for bypassing the use of centralised officials in recording stuff. Such officials are pervasive in society, from a bank that records electronic transactions between me and my landlord, to patent officers that record the date of new innovations, to parliamentary registers noting the passing of new legislative acts.

    commercial banks collectively act as a cartel controlling the recording of transaction data, and it is via this process that they keep score of ‘how much money’ we have. To create a secure electronic currency system that does not rely on these banks thus requires three interacting elements. Firstly, one needs to replace the private databases that are controlled by them. Secondly, one needs to provide a way for people to change the information on that database (‘move money around’). Thirdly, one needs to convince people that the units being moved around are worth something.

    To solve the first element, Bitcoin provides a public database, or ledger, that is referred to reverently as the blockchain. There is a way for people to submit information for recording in the ledger, but once it gets recorded, it cannot be edited in hindsight. If you’ve heard about bitcoin ‘mining’ (using ‘hashing algorithms’), that is what that is all about. A scattered collective of mercenary clerks essentially hire their computers out to collectively maintain the ledger, baking (or weaving) transaction records into it.

    Within the Bitcoin system, a set of powerful central intermediaries (the cartel of commercial banks, connected together via the central bank, underwritten by government), gets replaced with a more diffuse network intermediary, apparently controlled by no-one in particular.

    What is Facebook? Isn’t it just a company that you send information to, which is then stored in their database and subsequently displayed to you and your friends? You log in with your password (proving your identity), and then can alter that database by sending them further messages (‘I’d like to delete that photo’). Likewise with Twitter, Dropbox, and countless other web services.

    we give groups like Facebook huge amounts of information. Indeed, they set themselves up as information honeytraps in order to create a profit-making platform where advertisers can sell you things based on the information. This simultaneously creates a large information repository for authorities like the NSA to browse. This interaction of corporate power and state power is inextricably tied to the profitable nature of centrally held data.

    The blockchain can record contracts between free individuals, and if enforcement mechanisms can be coded in to create self-enforcing ‘smart contracts’, we have a system for building encoded law that bypasses states.

    Bitcoin and other blockchain technologies, though, are empowering right now precisely because they are underdogs. They introduce diversity into the existing system and thereby expand our range of tools. In the minds of hardcore proponents, though, blockchain technologies are more than this. They are a replacement system, superior to existing institutions in every possible way. When amplified to this extreme, though, the apparently utopian project can begin to take on a dystopian, conservative hue.

    the ‘empowerment’ here does not stem from building community ties. Rather it is imagined to come from retreating from trust and taking refuge in a defensive individualism mediated via mathematical contractual law.

    The myth of political ‘exit’

    Back in the days of roving bands of nomadic people, the political option of ‘exit’ was a reality. If a ruler was oppressive, you could actually pack up and take to the desert in a caravan.

    but The bizarre thing about the concept of ‘exit to the internet’ is that the internet is a technology premised on massive state and corporate investment in physical infrastructure, fibre optic cables laid under seabeds, mass production of computers from low-wage workers in the East, and mass affluence in Western nations. If you are in the position to be having dreams of technological escape, you are probably not in a position to be exiting mainstream society. You are mainstream society.

    What he is really trying to do is to invoke one side of the crypto-anarchist mantra of ‘privacy for the weak, but transparency for the powerful’.

    That is a healthy radical impulse, but the conservative element kicks in when the assumption is made that somehow privacy alone is what enables social empowerment. That is when it turns into an individualistic ‘just leave me alone’ impulse fixated with negative liberty. Despite the rugged frontier appeal of the concept, the presumption that empowerment simply means being left alone to pursue your individual interests is essentially an ideology of the already-empowered, not the vulnerable.

    It is only when we think in these terms that we start to see Bitcoin not as a realm ‘lacking the rules imposed by the state’, but as a realm imposing its own rules. It offers a form of protection, but guarantees nothing like ‘empowerment’ or ‘escape’.

    Technology often seems silent and inert, a world of ‘apolitical’ objects. We are thus prone to being blind to the power dynamics built into our use of it.

    This is where the concept of becoming ‘enslaved to technology’ emerges from. If you do not buy into it, you will be marginalised, and thatis political.

    This is important. While individual instances of blockchain technology can clearly be useful, as a class of technologies designed to mediate human affairs, they contain a latent potential for encouraging technocracy. When disassociated from the programmers who design them, trustless blockchains floating above human affairs contains the specter of rule by algorithms. It is a vision (probably accidently) captured by Ethereum’s Joseph Lubin when he says “There will be ways to manipulate people to make bad decisions, but there won’t be ways to manipulate the system itself”.

    Don’t decentralised blockchains offer the ultimate prospect of protected property rights with clear rules, but without the political interference?

    This is essentially the vision of the internet techno-leviathan, a deified crypto-sovereign whose rules we can contract to. The rules being contracted to are a series of algorithms, step by step procedures for calculations which can only be overridden with great difficulty. Perhaps, at the outset, this represents, à la Rousseau, the general will of those who take part in the contractual network, but the key point is that if you get locked into a contract on that system, there is no breaking out of it.

    Contracts, in essence, resemble algorithms, coded expressions of what outcomes should happen under different circumstances. On average, they are written by technocrats and, on average, they reflect the interests of elite classes.

    The point I am trying to make is that you do not escape the world of big corporates and big government by wishing for a trustless set of technologies that collectively resemble a technocratic crypto-sovereign. Rather, you use technology as a tool within ongoing political battles, and you maintain an ongoing critical outlook towards it. The concept of the decentralised blockchain is powerful. The cold, distrustful edge of cypherpunk, though, is only empowering when it is firmly in the service of creative warm-blooded human communities situated in the physical world of dirt and grime.

    Perhaps this means de-emphasising the focus on how blockchains can be used to store digital assets or property, and focusing rather on those without assets. For example, think of the potential of blockchain voting systems that groups like Restart Democracy are experimenting with. Centralised vote-counting authorities are notorious sources of political anxiety in fragile countries. What if the ledger recording the votes cast was held by a decentralised network of citizens, with voters having a means to anonymously transmit votes to be stored on a publicly viewable database?

    We do not want a future society free from people we have to trust, or one in which the most we can hope for is privacy. Rather, we want a world in which technology is used to dilute the power of those systems that cause us to doubt trust relationships. Screw escaping to Mars.
    http://furtherfield.org/features/arti...leviathan-politics-bitcoin-blockchain
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  10. Here’s an obvious, yet poorly understood fact: a single social network could have a major influence on who gets to control our government in the future.

    This isn’t an accusation of corporate conspiracy or a condemnation of a technology company’s power grab – this is just a reality born out of the fact that Facebook has become ubiquitous in our daily lives. Facebook is where most of us now go to see what issues our friends are discussing. It’s become a window into understanding what the people closest to us care about. As a result, the design, policies, and algorithms chosen by the company are having a major impact on how elections are run and how the electorate gets their information. A study the company conducted on its users found that increasing exposure to hard news “measurably increased civic engagement.”

    That leaves Facebook in a peculiar and unenviable position – no matter what its intentions are, even minor decisions will have political impacts.

    Every product change it makes leads to a set of winners and losers, and often these have their own unintended effects. A small alteration in deciding what types of stories get promoted, or what types of behaviors are highlighted, could potentially sway the outcome of an election somewhere. There is nothing it can do to make every side happy, and even doing nothing is a decision that has its own consequences.
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/tarunwadh...haping-who-will-win-the-next-election
    Voting 0

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