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futuribile / curating futures - Issue #24 / Everyday geopolitics: #cloud, #IoT and #smart spaces

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Aloha, A while ago I organised a panel discussion around the working concept of “spaces in-between”,
 
October 2 · Issue #24 · View online
futuribile / curating futures
Aloha,
A while ago I organised a panel discussion around the working concept of “spaces in-between”, an attempt to put a name on what is left out of the pure binary logic of algorithms and pretentiously “objective” data-driven inferences. At the time I was mainly thinking of social implications. What happens to us as individuals and groups when our interactions and our sense of self are dominated by quantification and efficiency? Which spaces of liberty are left to express the complexity of humanity? Now reading recent news I can’t help thinking of that working concept again to describe how technology interacts with the spaces we live in, and namely how its invisibility expresses economic and political tensions.
Indeed, Germany disclosed its goal to become the EU main cloud provider (and incidentally leverage it to catch up with its delay on AI 🤹🏼‍♀️): the project is named Gaia-X, it is supported by France and quite timely with Ursula Von der Leyen digital sovereignty priority. So far the main cloud players are US-based and they are the default option for most EU businesses, especially startups. No real next generation of EU businesses can be put in place until this hemorrhage of data does not stop. It’s also a lot of money: a recent projection is that Europe’s public cloud market is expected to grow at a 22% rate until 2023. 📈
Meanwhile, Amazon is preparing Sidewalk, a new wireless standard relying on low bandwidth 900 MHz spectrum, with longer range and better building penetration than Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. In parallel it also released a rich new range of all-encompassing devices, which paired with Sidewalk will build a nice self-contained ecosystem. #IoTArmageddon (On a linguistic note, this is not the first tech project that utilises the term “sidewalk” to build something that is totally the opposite of the randomness, public role and freedom granted so far by this piece of urban infrastructure. 🙄)
Microsoft, instead, is releasing Dynamics 365 Connected Store, a combination of computer vision, cameras, and IoT sensors to track customers inside stores and personalise recommendations based on their browsing and buying behavioural data. Another piece in the real-life cookies puzzle.
The physical proximity of the cloud infrastructures (check out also the latest issue of Culture Machines about the nature of data centers); the range and security of autonomous discussions in which interconnected objects engage; the degree of liberty (although the notion is shrinking to un-surveillance) in the commercial public spaces we frequent daily; even the way these projects are named. These are all different levels of everyday geopolitics challenges. It’ not “in the cloud”, it’s here and now and it requires all our attention.
Aloha,
 Marta Arniani

“Evolution,” by Christoph Niemann
“Evolution,” by Christoph Niemann
The workforce awakens
Social struggles and movements are the latest victims of the commodification of everything. From brands overexposure at prides to tech companies raping concepts like community and social good, a lot of battles are neutralised into merchandising and marketing. Nonetheless, there’s a social category that holds an unprecedented competitive advantage: tech workers. As the executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out,
These giants have become overconfident that they can change the rules on users—removing more and more power from them—without losing their profits or their market share. But there is an area where they do sharply compete: for tech talent. Top talent can make or break a company, and firms work hard to beat out each other in recruiting staff. Once hired, they invest significant time and expense toward keeping the best workers from jumping ship. So if you are working somewhere and you worry about the impact of the tools or services you are building, now is the time to get together with your coworkers to start lobbying for change.
Since last November (the first big Google employees walkout) tech workers are more and more organised: if you want to get your head around it, here you can find resources about how social movements and public pushback have shaped digital technology. The tech industry is famous for high salaries and unlimited material perks for its employees, but this is not the case for contractors, so it made the news that employees from HCL, a Google subcontractor, unionised. A good contextualisation of the HCL case is provided by April Glaser on Slate:
It’s worth distinguishing between the different strains of activism in tech right now. A lot of workers are trying to hold their employers to ethical standards, like the Googlers who successfully demanded that the company nix a drone-related artificial intelligence contract with the U.S. Department of Defense. Others want their employers to improve the purportedly utopian workplaces they’ve boasted about for years, like the Googlers who walked out over how the company has dealt with sexual harassment allegations. The HCL workers belong to a third category, one more familiar to union drives: They want better protections and bigger paychecks.
Companies which obstacle the organisation of workers risk now a lot in terms of reputation, as it is happening to Kickstarter after the firing of two lead people involved in the movement. Current Affairs reports a first-hand boycotting experience:
It means that we now have to cease using Kickstarter for our fundraising efforts. Who can possibly partner with a company that is actively and proudly trying to union-bust? Why should we give 5 percent of our supporters’ money to a corporation that will use it to hire lawyers and P.R. professionals to keep its workers from exercising their rights? Kickstarter has made it quite clear that it doesn’t want our business. It has given a giant middle finger to its union-supporting project creators.
Blockchain ta mère
Bitcoin Rap Battle Debate: Hamilton vs. Satoshi
Shots
Rebelling with care: exploring open technologies for commoning healthcare. #mustread1
Readable smart contracts and other wonders in the Zenroom white paper. #mustread2
A human-centric digital manifesto for Europe.
From 2021, firms will have to make household appliances longer-lasting, and they will have to supply spare parts for machines for up to 10 years. Europe signs a big step forward for the right to repair, although campaigners say it does not go far enough as only professionals - not consumers - will be able carry out the repairs.
“I was asked to give a speech. As I reflected on what got me to this place, I realized I needed to reckon with how I have benefited from men whose actions have helped uphold a patriarchal system that has hurt so many people. I needed to face my past in order to find a way to create the space to move forward.” Dana Boyd’s bold speech for 2019 Barlow/Pioneer Award.
Meet Version Museum, a visual history of technology platforms old versions.
When we watch TV, our TVs watch us back and track our habits. This practice has exploded recently since it hasn’t faced much public scrutiny. A thread full of resources about the topic.
Does Europe have a product management problem?
A little gem about the inconveniences of hyperspecialisation and jargon: “These are people who have – in some cases over decades – built their own theoretical frameworks, developed personal philosophies of science, invented their own, idiosyncratic way of expressing themselves. Along the way, they have become incomprehensible for anyone else. But they didn’t notice.” The author (a theoretical physicist) points out how having a “contextualiser” is as important as the message you want to convey.
Oh, dear!
Only Men
This is shocking: describing the same symptoms as a 59 year old male or female smoker gets you two different diagnoses on @babylonhealth app. The man is warned that he could be having a heart attack; the woman is probably just anxious/depressed (ie it's all in her head) https://t.co/VkKyIJPAF4
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That’s all for this month! Hit reply to get in touch, forward and share to support my work.
Aloha,
Marta
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