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futuribile / curating futures - Issue #8

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Aloha, Welcome to this new issue of futuribile / curating futures, written in-between airports and tr
 
July 3 · Issue #8 · View online
futuribile / curating futures
Aloha,
Welcome to this new issue of futuribile / curating futures, written in-between airports and trains, striving to contextualise technology in the wider societal picture.
First thing first, application to the Next Generation Internet Awards is now open! NGI Awards recognise and reward outstanding contributions to a better (secured, empowering, un-monopolised) digital life, under three main categories: research excellence, innovative startups, and cultural influencers. You can apply by submitting a simple one-page description of your contribution to the Next Generation Internet. Alternatively, you can nominate other outstanding ideas/projects etc. that you think deserve support and recognition. If you need guidance just get in touch! It’s an amazing opportunity to get visibility and support to further develop your work.
Women presence and representation in tech was a recurring topic of my wanderings. I had the pleasure to discuss with Manuela Catrina, Rumanian State Secretary for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who made me discover that in Central Europe there is a fair (around 30%) female presence in science and technology curricula. 2017 Eurostat data put Romania at 4th place in terms of the proportion of female ICT students, after Bulgaria, Belgium and Greece. Further down the career, the proportion of women ICT specialist sees Bulgaria again first, followed by Romania, Latvia and Finland. This happens mostly because culturally (family influence and social pressure on one side, the communist background on the other) a woman in science or tech is absolutely… normal. You can read more about the reasons here (thanks Ioana from Mozilla for the sources!). The Digital4Her conference - organised under the aegis of Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society - made a strong point about female inclusion (great to have a Commissioner so committed to it!) and how to “engineer” it. Interestingly, the audiovisual sector, where most of our popular imaginary is formed, was featured very prominently in the conference. Still, I am scratching my head. First, the conference looked like a girls-only club. While I strongly believe reciprocal reinforcement and sharing of experiences is great, it won’t solve the problem: men must be part of the discussion and probably it is not that interesting for them to attend events where women shout out how important they are.  Secondly,  too much focus on STEM instead of STEAM, and on “girls coding” initiatives. I am not downplaying the importance to have more women developing technology, that would be a gamechanger. But, this approach narrows down the problem to technical competences, while it’s the broader culture to be problematic. If managers and decision-makers are men,  having all the technical team female will likely reproduce what happened at the end of the ‘60ties with the definition of software engineering as a discipline: the creative and hi-level jobs were taken by men, women landed repetitive technical tasks. Last but not least, while tackling gender disparity in tech is 200% an urgent matter, making it a female/male dichotomy is very reductive. Feminism at his best is making sure every voice can be expressed and blossom, so that everybody (men included) can benefit from a healthier environment. In your office, or at the next conference, look around you: we are still drowning in white, heterosexual and Western privilege. Again, not to downplay the importance of every single initiative for more women in tech, but I am afraid we need to make the fight more inclusive, and men (also - especially! - the white engineers) must be part of it. Can we please build diversity instead of squeezing women everywhere just for the sake of it? 

Marta Arniani
PS for the newcomers: In the previous issue you can find a lot of sources about the discussion of a new European Copyright Law, which was pre-approved and is now discussed by the whole European Parliament this Thursday. A couple of articles are very very dangerous for free information circulation and open source software. Please do get informed and sign at least this petition! (almost 700 000 Europeans did so)

Clash of the Titans: Alexa VS la mamma
Blockchain ta mère
The promised land of blockchain is to get rid of intermediaries and middle-men. That will happen for sure. But, what about the intermediaries necessary to set up a decentralised system? Check out this Harvard Business Review article about what blockchain can’t do:
At the interface between the offline world and its digital representation, the usefulness of the technology still critically depends on trusted intermediaries to effectively bridge the “last mile” between a digital record and a physical individual, business, device, or event.
Blockchain technology is changing the fashion industry, namely in the traceability of products in the supply chain. The next step could be a shift from a supply chain to a demand chain: it would mean clothing production moves back to local, distributed hubs.
The cryptocurrency industry in Switzerland desperately needs accounts in normal banks to function properly. #fuckthesystem?
Reading list
A wonderful long read about the rhetoric of tech humanism and a proposal for thinking about ourselves as cyborgs, in order to acknowledge our close, existential and atavic relationship with technology:
In other words, “time well spent” means Facebook can monetise more efficiently. It can prioritise the intensity of data extraction over its extensiveness. This is a wise business move, disguised as a concession to critics. Shifting to this model not only sidesteps concerns about tech addiction – it also acknowledges certain basic limits to Facebook’s current growth model. There are only so many hours in the day. Facebook can’t keep prioritising total time spent – it has to extract more value from less time.
(…) To say that we’re all cyborgs is not to say that all technologies are good for us, or that we should embrace every new invention. But it does suggest that living well with technology can’t be a matter of making technology more “human”. This goal isn’t just impossible – it’s also dangerous, because it puts us at the mercy of experts who tell us how to be human. It cedes control of our technological future to those who believe they know what’s best for us because they understand the essential truths about our species.
The cyborg way of thinking, by contrast, tells us that our species is essentially technological. We change as we change our tools, and our tools change us. But even though our continuous co-evolution with our machines is inevitable, the way it unfolds is not. Rather, it is determined by who owns and runs those machines. It is a question of power.
There is an alternative. If being technological is a feature of being human, then the power to shape how we live with technology should be a fundamental human right.
Speaking of… 5 ways to upgrade your body and augment your digital identity, pancreas (my favourite, it’s called Artificial Pancreas System and it aims at reducing the burden and victims of Type 1 diabetes), ski slope style, chitchat, and hearing. And also: a short video by the Guardian on how the future of prosthetics is redefining humanity.
50 shades of fairness: Computer scientists and statisticians have devised numerous mathematical criteria to define what it means for a classifier or a model to be fair. All these criteria are laden with values and politics, and that’s why any attempt to make technical sense of the complex, shifting social understanding of fairness tends to be…unfair. A tutorial about 21 fairness definitions and their politics
This article on Nature raises several interesting points about AI bias: public bodies need to learn and get trained in how to ask for predictive systems to private companies. Also,  the best way to test whether an algorithm is biased along certain lines — for example, whether it favors one ethnicity over another — requires knowing the relevant attributes about the people who go into the system: But the GDPR’s restrictions on the use of such sensitive data make it very “complicated”. Last but not least, a topic I care a lot about: algorithms rely on quantifiable elements and lose the qualitative sides that make our social life:
For example, an algorithm such as COMPAS might purport to predict the chance of future criminal activity, but it can only rely on measurable proxies, such as being arrested. And variations in policing practices could mean that some communities are disproportionately targeted, with people being arrested for crimes that might be ignored in other communities. “Even if we are accurately predicting something, the thing we are accurately predicting might be the imposition of injustice”.
If you think about it, any ethical approach to technology needs to put more effort into defining beneficiaries: Subject-less statements are too imprecise to truly be called “principles” or “ethics”. If they are to be useful, and can be taken seriously, we need to know both who they will be good for and who they will harm. You can also read some critical perspectives on Artificial Intelligence and human rights.
(Video) The world’s first 5G distributed concert took place simultaneously in Berlin and London.
Mariana Mazzucato on the relationship between our data and the definition of public value: 
The contribution of internet platforms to national income (as measured, for example, by GDP) is represented by the advertisement-related services they sell. But does that make sense? Their advertising activities are counted as a net contribution to national income, while the more valuable services they provide to users are not.
The Indian government has created a task force to support the creation of a national policy on e-commerce. Its next commitment is to explore ways to prevent Indian data from being controlled or mined by entities outside the Country. This is part of India’s effort to land a privacy law and to leverage compliance to the European GDPR as a competitive advantage.
The Norwegian Consumer Council has just released the report Deceived by Design, where it analyses how default settings in Facebook, Google and Windows 10 are laden with privacy intrusion, misleading wording, hard-to-reach privacy-friendly choices and take-it-or-leave-it choices.
On a positive final note: why putting so much cement in your concrete when you can use carrots from the garbage? Circular economy magic.
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That’s all, thanks for your attention. If you liked it, spread the word and invite somebody else to subscribe! I will be talking in a panel titled “Re-decentralising the Internet” at Future Fest this Saturday, get in touch if you will be there.
Aloha,
Marta
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