Big Data Futures: Ecology and Anarchy

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Murray Bookchin’s The Ecology of Freedom was a book about anarchism. It just didn’t call it that.

We live in a perpetual reckoning. It’s a strange place in some respects, and not very forgiving. It’s a place where everything is counted, everything is measured, billed, quantified. I’m talking, of course, about the digital space that we inhabit today, where our politics and our societies function and grow, where our families meet, our groceries are procured, and our priests broadcast Mass.

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The Temper of the Machine

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Temper – Tempus – Temporal: Machines are clocks, but they have no temper.

I had the pleasure this week of addressing the Royal Irish Academy on the subject of Digital Citizenship, which, rather than addressing the narrow construct of person-state relationship, instead took in a broad sweep of life in the digital world. Part of a series themed around the constitution, it focused on issues of growing up a teenager in the digital world, data protection (there were a lot of lawyers in the room, not least my fellow presenter Oisín Tobin of Mason Hayes & Curran), privacy, artificial intelligence and the politics of all that. In two hours, it was a hurried skip across disciplines and dystopias, which illustrated in equal measure the interest and enthusiasm people have for addressing the issue (there was barely a seat left in the hall), and the strange paucity (it seems to me, at least) of opportunities that there are to pursue in particular the ethical, policy, and political implications of our digital lives. Convened by Dr John Morrison, the Academy Chair of the Ethical, Political, Legal and Philsophical Committee, and expertly chaired by Dr Noreen O’Carroll, perhaps this is the beginning of an attempt to address that.

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Postmodernism and the Neoliberal Failure

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Milton Friedman: Bean Counter

“So aren’t computers just better at everything?” I asked.

“When a 90-year old woman is trapped in a collapsed and dangerous building, we choose to send several healthy young men in there to save her. It makes no sense. An AI wouldn’t do it. But we couldn’t live with ourselves if we didn’t.”

My work on the politics of automation has led me to some fascinating conversations, not least that observation on pervasive automation. It highlights a humanity that rests beyond mere calculus, markets and rationality. In the same way as a creationist invites the physicist to explain what came before the Big Bang, we all have this nagging sense that there is a whole lot more that we don’t know; about consciousness, being, and society; about what it means to be human. Continue reading

Algorithmic Governance and its Discontents

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Dr Rónán Kennedy Chairs a session at the Algorithmic Governance workshop at NUI Galway

I had the privilege to participate in a workshop on algorithmic governance this past Friday at my alma mater, the National University of Ireland, Galway, under the supervision of Dr Rónán Kennedy and Dr John Danaher of the Law Faculty. and co-funded by the Colleges of Business and Public Policy. It’s part of a wider program of research grandly titled ‘Algocracy and the Transhumanist Project‘, which promises to tread some fascinating pathways. Comprehensive synopses of the event have already been published by Dr Danaher and one of the speakers Dr Muki Haklay, so I won’t re-do their work, but instead refer to one of the particularly interesting themes that emerged from the work.

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The Political Philosophy of The Blockchain

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The blockchain is a computerised public ledger that assures contracts and other transactions. It could save us all!

Property, and – as philosophers might refer to it – the claim to possession and ownership of externalities, has long been a source of some disquiet. Jean Jacques Rousseau in the Second Discourse (The Discourse on Inequality) begins the second part with the dramatic opening line ‘[t]he first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society.’ Plato before him and Marx later both advocated collectivisation, but Rousseau was no communist. The reality of what man had become made such reconstruction impractical. Yet the concept of property has led to inequalities that threaten capitalist society. Slavoj Zizek suggested that ‘…today’s global capitalism [may] contain antagonisms which are sufficiently strong to prevent its indefinite reproduction…’ including what he called ‘…the inappropriateness of private property…‘ especially intellectual property. Rousseau’s prescription was The Social Contract, and the abstraction of the General Will, an investiture of political legitimacy in the sovereign.

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The Idea of France

Delacroix's <i>Liberty Leading the People</i>

Delacroix’ Liberty Leading the People. She – Liberty – is so much more than the country: she is the ideal and the aspiration, the unadulterated guiding principle. Her path remains clear; but have the people stopped following her?

As Francois Hollande transitions from the bureaucratic administrator of the Fifth French Republic to a wartime leader in the latest instalment of the rolling war on terror, decisions are being made about France. The latest pronouncements – from overbearing surveillance measures introduced in the Summer in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings, to the most recent introduction of a three month state of emergency in order to deal with the Paris attacks – diminish democratic governance and accountability, in the short-sighted interests of expediency and national security. But this disaffected progression is not new; perhaps the January and November attacks were more overtly offensive than before, and appear more obvious inflection points, but we must go back ten years to the riots of 2005 to try and understand what is happening. Furthermore, the decisions being made today are not merely reflective of missteps taken in the past, but instructive as to the kind of France that is emerging for the future. And for France, we can read Europe, and Western Liberalism.

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The Data Commodity: Fetish or Fiction?

Shoshana Zuboff

Shoshana Zuboff, Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School

Shoshana Zuboff’s ‘Big Other’ and ‘Surveillance Capitalism’ as Future Economic Models

Shoshana Zuboff’s recently published article on what she has termed Information Civilization is a compact and helpful analysis of the kind of internet economies that are emerging in the early twenty-first century. This blog post is a commentary on that text. She takes Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian as her foil, referencing his two articles Computer Mediated Transactions (2010) and Beyond Big Data (2013).

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Postcapitalism and the State

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The graphics on the Guardian piece deserve reproduction. Mason argues no less than the evolution of a new kind of human, based on a ‘postcapitalist’ future.

Paul Mason‘s imminent book ‘Postcapitalism’ is plugged this weekend in the Guardian with an extended essay on the subject.  Accompanied by some excellent graphics, some of which I’ve reproduced here, the broad thesis is that capitalism as we know it is ending, and that we are moving into a ‘sharing economy’, but at its heart is a Marxist argument about information and power.  Mason goes so far as to argue that the changes we are witnessing herald the arrival of a new kind of human being, a sort of cocktail of Marxist proletarianism, social Darwinism, and Kurzweilian posthumanism.

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A Note on #Grexit

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(from The Telegraph (UK))

With the Eurozone crisis in full swing, and ‘Grexit’ now seeming inevitable, the differences between France and Germany seem stark. In particular, the position of Germany appears to have veered significantly from the position it had taken at least in the aftermath of unification, and certainly at the time of the Maastricht Treaty. This is troublesome on many levels, not least the inevitable parallels that will be drawn between a belligerent and newly assertive Germany, and its inter-war counterpart.

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Data Protection Régimes

data protectionThe Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) recently doubled its budget, and is busy hiring and building capability.  It’s an encouraging sign, the function had been significantly under-resourced in recent times; but one wonders whether there needs to be more done.  The DPC is responsible for three areas right now – privacy in relation to Internet Services companies like Facebook and Google; privacy in relation to state organisations like the Gardaí; and privacy in relation to private national companies who possess data.  That all three domains are vested in this single organisation says something for the breadth of work that these guys have to take on. But nowhere in their mandate does it suggest that they may have a role in commercial or security issues, for which there is no competent authority in the state, and certainly no strategy to address them.

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