Viral Outrage Is Collapsing Our Worlds | The Atlantic

Source: Viral Outrage Is Collapsing Our Worlds | The Atlantic, by Conor Friedersdorf

The ability to slip into a domain and adopt whatever values and norms are appropriate while retaining identities in other domains is something most Americans value, both to live in peace amid difference and for personal reasons.

I wonder whether ongoing debates about matters as varied as Facebook user-data practices, “the right to be forgotten,” NSA data collection, and any number of public-shaming controversies are usefully considered under the umbrella framework of How is new technology affecting our ability to keep our various worlds from colliding when we don’t want them to, and what, if anything, should we do about that?

What would the implications be of adopting the norm that it is often wrong, or only rarely appropriate, to rob an individual of the ability to slip into a given domain and adopt whatever values and norms are appropriate while retaining their identities in other domains?

What would be the worst consequences? How might we shift the cultural equilibrium to value domain-slipping more highly while recognizing its practical and moral limits? What tradeoffs are involved?

The digital revolution isn’t over but has turned into something else | Edge

Source: The digital revolution isn’t over but has turned into something else | Edge, by George Dyson

Once it was simple: programmers wrote the instructions that were supplied to the machines. Since the machines were controlled by these instructions, those who wrote the instructions controlled the machines.

We imagine that individuals, or individual algorithms, are still behind the curtain somewhere, in control. We are fooling ourselves.

Nature uses digital coding for the storage, replication, recombination, and error correction of sequences of nucleotides, but relies on analog coding and analog computing for intelligence and control.

Digital computers deal with integers, binary sequences, deterministic logic, algorithms, and time that is idealized into discrete increments. Analog computers deal with real numbers, non-deterministic logic, and continuous functions, including time as it exists as a continuum in the real world. … Digital computing, intolerant of error or ambiguity, depends upon precise definitions and error correction at every step. Analog computing not only tolerates errors and ambiguities, but thrives on them. Digital computers, in a technical sense, are analog computers, so hardened against noise that they have lost their immunity to it. Analog computers embrace noise; a real-world neural network needing a certain level of noise to work.

Nature’s answer to those who sought to control nature through programmable machines is to allow us to build machines whose nature is beyond programmable control.

The Uncharity of College: The Big Business Nobody Understands, by Conrad Bastable

Source: The Uncharity of College: The Big Business Nobody Understands, by Conrad Bastable

How Colleges Make More Money Than God By Giving It Away

A very brief summary of what’s to come in this essay:

  • College degrees are more valuable than ever in post-industrial economies, so applicants to top-tier schools are up 240% over the last 25 years
  • Meanwhile, available spots at top-tier colleges in America have increased just 2% over the last 25  years
  • Microeconomics 101: Fixed Supply + Increased Demand = Increased Price
  • That’s the obvious part
  • The non-obvious part is that this is intentional
  • Because the Charity-status ( 501(c)(3) )of Colleges in America depends on more-than-half of their students being unable to afford the education (read: “receiving financial aid”)
  • That Charity-status protects the Investment Returns of College Endowments from Uncle Sam & the IRS
  • Investment Returns Compound over time, and there is no more powerful force on Earth — anyone not playing the game to maximize Compound-returns will lose to everyone who is
    • Investment Returns already generate more revenue than undergrad tuition income at: Princeton (911% more), Harvard (529% more), Yale (254% more), MIT (118% more), Stanford (115% more), Brown (29% more), Duke (13% more), Dartmouth (9% more), and U Chicago (6% more)
    • Undergrad tuition brings in just 10% – 20% of total revenue at the Ivy League / Top-10 schools not listed above. Undergrad Tuition is not more than a quarter of revenue at any of these schools.
  • Thus: if Colleges want to keep their Investment Returns tax-free, Tuition MUST remain unaffordable for at least 50% of undergrads

Tuition is meaningless income to MIT now — a drop in the bucket, just 3.2% of their income comes from undergraduate tuition — but so long as the Tuitions are unaffordable for 58% of undergraduates, the Investment returns on $16.4 billion dollars are tax free.

On the age of computation in the epoch of humankind | Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

Source: On the age of computation in the epoch of humankind, by Christoph Rosol, Benjamin Steininger, Jürgen Renn, & Robert Schlögl

tl;dr: To paraphrase Homer Simpson, “To Computation! The cause of… and solution to… humanity’s resource problems.”

 

Digital technologies do not only provide the basic infrastructure to control the industrial metabolism, they also are first-rate consumers of resources. Through the entwinement of the digital sphere with the physical world and actual energy and material cycles, digital communication has become tightly coupled to the current dynamics of wear and tear of earthly resources. No computational infrastructure can exist without the prior transformation of matter and no information without the transformation of energy.

The asymmetry of signals and effects should therefore not be misinterpreted. Information technology is the opposite of an immaterial technology. Even the smartest device needs dumb metals. At least 40 chemical elements are used in every smartphone, which means we carry around one-third of the periodic table in our pockets. What seems to be an almost immaterial business of zeros and ones makes use of more chemical elements than every previous technology in history.

Smart data technologies appear to many to offer ways out of the energy and resource dilemma. … However, in undertaking such endeavours, rebound effects should be a concern. As the well-known Jevons’ paradox states, increasing efficiency will likely lead to an increase in consumption in response to lower prices. One will have to see if smart, adjustable technologies create a difference to that rule.

Digital technologies have greatly contributed to a frenzy of unsustainable resource exploitation and consumption, the generation of waste and political ambivalence, yet they appear as viable solutions to ameliorate those problems. The rapid and radical change that has occurred to the Earth system as a result of the impacts of industrialized societies has been accompanied – if not leveraged – by rapid and radical changes in information technologies and digital media. Yet still, the hope is that their potential and collaborative scalability for a rational counter approach to untenable developments is enormous.

The Information World War

Source: The Digital Maginot Line | ribbonfarm, by Renee DiResta

The Information World War has already been going on for several years. We called the opening skirmishes “media manipulation” and “hoaxes”, assuming that we were dealing with ideological pranksters doing it for the lulz (and that lulz were harmless).

In reality, the combatants are professional, state-employed cyberwarriors and seasoned amateur guerrillas pursuing very well-defined objectives with military precision and specialized tools.

Combatants evolve with remarkable speed, because digital munitions are very close to free. In fact, because of the digital advertising ecosystem, information warfare may even turn a profit. There’s very little incentive not to try everything: this is a revolution that is being A/B tested. The most visible battlespaces are our online forums — Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube — but the activity is increasingly spreading to old-school direct action on the streets, in traditional media outlets, and behind closed doors, as state-sponsored trolls recruit and manipulate activists, launder narratives, and instigate protests.

The combatants want to normalize the idea that the platforms shouldn’t be allowed to set rules of engagement because in the short term, it’s only the platforms that can.

Meanwhile, regular civilian users view these platforms as ordinary extensions of physical public and social spaces – the new public square, with a bit of a pollution problem. Academic leaders and technologists wonder if faster fact checking might solve the problem, and attempt to engage in good-faith debate about whether moderation is censorship. There’s a fundamental disconnect here, driven by underestimation and misinterpretation. The combatants view this as a Hobbesian information war of all against all and a tactical arms race; the other side sees it as a peacetime civil governance problem.

ultimately the information war is about territory — just not the geographic kind. In a warm information war, the human mind is the territory. If you aren’t a combatant, you are the territory. And once a combatant wins over a sufficient number of minds, they have the power to influence culture and society, policy and politics.

The 2014-2016 influence operation playbook went something like this: a group of digital combatants decided to push a specific narrative, something that fit a long-term narrative but also had a short-term news hook. They created content … then activated collections of bots and sockpuppets

Since running spammy automated accounts is no longer a good use of resources, sophisticated operators have moved on to new tactics. … Combatants are now focusing on infiltration rather than automation: leveraging real, ideologically-aligned people to inadvertently spread real, ideologically-aligned content instead.

The entities best suited to mitigate the threat of any given emerging tactic will always be the platforms themselves, because they can move fast when so inclined or incentivized. The problem is that many of the mitigation strategies advanced by the platforms are the information integrity version of greenwashing; they’re a kind of digital security theater

The key problem is this: platforms aren’t incentivized to engage in the profoundly complex arms race against the worst actors when they can simply point to transparency reports showing that they caught a fair number of the mediocre actors.

Platforms cannot continue to operate as if all users are basically the same; they have to develop constant awareness of how various combatant types will abuse the new features that they roll out, and build detection of combatant tactics into the technology they’re creating to police the problem. … They must recognize that they are battlespaces, and as such, must build the policing capabilities that limit the actions of malicious combatants while protecting the actual rights of their real civilian users.

AI-generated audio and video deepfakes will erode trust in what we see with our own eyes, leaving us vulnerable both to faked content and to the discrediting of the actual truth by insinuation. Authenticity debates will commandeer media cycles, pushing us into an infinite loop of perpetually investigating basic facts. Chronic skepticism and the cognitive DDoS will increase polarization, leading to a consolidation of trust in distinct sets of right and left-wing authority figures – thought oligarchs speaking to entirely separate groups.

An admirable commitment to the principle of free speech in peace time turns into a sucker position against adversarial psy-ops in wartime. We need an understanding of free speech that is hardened against the environment of a continuous warm war on a broken information ecosystem. We need to defend the fundamental value from itself becoming a prop in a malign narrative.

We have to move away from treating this as a problem of giving people better facts, or stopping some Russian bots, and move towards thinking about it as an ongoing battle for the integrity of our information infrastructure

More: Common-Knowledge Attacks on Democracy, by Henry John Farrell and Bruce Schneier