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 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

Intermediated of the world, unite! | Radio Bruxelles Libera

I have the pleasure to report here the English translation of the article that Stefano Quintarelli, a pioneer of the Italian Internet, wrote for Il Foglio some days ago. I have been astonished by t…

Source: Intermediated of the world, unite! | Radio Bruxelles Libera, by Innocenzo Genna
English translation of: Intermediati digitali, unitevi | Il Foglio, by Stefano Quintarelli (Italian)

We can no longer limit the analysis to capital and labor, we must also include information in the equation and the digital revolution that expresses it.

In just a few years, the traditional capital-labor conflict has been wrapped and dominated by another conflict, a conflict with information that, through the control of intermediation, presses on both. … We are observing a monopolization in the domination of the relevance of the immaterial dimension over the material dimension, in the creation and distribution of wealth, with a rising conflict between intermediaries and intermediated, with the compression of rights and guarantees for large social bodies and with a significant political influence.

The info-plutocracy of the intermediators is based on a centralized control of information, both in terms of data (privacy implications are an epiphenomenon) and of processes with which such data are collected, processed, communicated and used.

Beginning in the 90s of the last century, … By choice, no pro-competitive rules were introduced because it was believed that they would slow down and possibly stall development. Rules were introduced regarding intellectual property and system violation, editorial responsibility, child protection, and investigations of justice, but not in terms of user contendability and competition. Entrepreneurs have learned to exploit this regulation to their advantage by using intellectual property laws to impose restrictive contractual conditions for their users, exploiting network effects … to limit the mobility of users.

The conflict between intermediators and intermediaries induced by the digital revolution of the twenty-first century develops in the relationship between information and production (understood as the product of capital and labor) and is starting a social confrontation between a model of management of centralized information that has developed in recent years (and supported by large technological multinationals) and a decentralized model promoted by some avant-gardes (philosophical, technological, political, etc.), a debate with profound differences between those who advocate closed systems and environments and those who fight for decentralization, to foster greater competition and the possibility for users contestability.

In some cases it has been proposed to build “state champions” (such as a public search engine, or a social network or a public platform for professional bidding). In other cases it was also proposed to consider social networking as a non-duplicable social infrastructure and someone even proposed nationalization. These are hypotheses that bring to my mind the Soviet response to the pressures of industrialization through state-owned companies.

I believe we need to respond as Western society has responded to the industrial revolution, that is, with more market oriented interventions, favouring less concentration of information and regulation of negative externalities. I believe we should not give in to the logic of the inevitability of closed systems and we must stand firmly on the side of openness.

To tackle the digital revolution we need a comprehensive package of measures that are based on the principles of what we have already done in the period of the industrial revolution: new forms of taxation, innovations in welfare, workers’ rights, public guarantee controls for consumers and, fundamentally, increased competition, procompetitive rules, user contendibility, interoperability of services, etc.

But this can hardly happen without an awareness of this new conflict of intermediation between information on the one hand and production (that is, the combination of capital and labor) on the other and without this awareness becoming translated into political action. In order for this political action to take place, it is necessary for the intermediaries to demand it by coalescing into awareness: “Intermediated of the world, unite!”.

Traceability | Communications of the ACM

Source: Traceability | Communications of the ACM, by Vinton G. Cerf

The ability to trace bad actors to bring them to justice seems to me an important goal in a civilized society. The tension with privacy protection leads to the idea that only under appropriate conditions can privacy be violated. By way of example, consider license plates on cars. They are usually arbitrary identifiers and special authority is needed to match them with the car owners (unless, of course, they are vanity plates like mine: “Cerfsup”). This is an example of differential traceability; the police department has the authority to demand ownership information from the Department of Motor Vehicles that issues the license plates. Ordinary citizens do not have this authority.

If we are to accomplish the simultaneous objectives of protecting privacy while apprehending those engaged in harmful or criminal behavior on the Internet, we must find some balance between conflicting but desirable outcomes. … In most societies today, it is accepted that we must be identifiable to appropriate authorities under certain conditions (consider border crossings, traffic violation stops as examples). While there are conditions under which apparent anonymity is desirable and even justifiable (whistle-blowing, for example) absolute anonymity is actually quite difficult to achieve and might not be absolutely desirable given the misbehaviors apparent anonymity invites.