summing up 92

summing up is a recurring series on topics & insights that compose a large part of my thinking and work. drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

Crapularity Hermeneutics, by Florian Cramer

The problem of computational analytics is not only in the semantic bias of the data set, but also in the design of the algorithm that treats the data as unbiased fact, and finally in the users of the computer program who believe in its scientific objectivity.

From capturing to reading data, interpretation and hermeneutics thus creep into all levels of analytics. Biases and discrimination are only the extreme cases that make this mechanism most clearly visible. Interpretation thus becomes a bug, a perceived system failure, rather than a feature or virtue. As such, it exposes the fragility and vulnerabilities of data analytics. 

The paradox of big data is that it both affirms and denies this “interpretative nature of knowledge”. Just like the Oracle of Delphi, it is dependent on interpretation. But unlike the oracle priests, its interpretative capability is limited by algorithmics – so that the limitations of the tool (and, ultimately, of using mathematics to process meaning) end up defining the limits of interpretation. 

we're talking a lot about the advancement of computational analytics and artificial intelligence, but little about their shortcomings and effects on society. one of those is that for our technology to work perfectly, society has to dumb itself down in order to level the playing field between humans and computers. a very long but definitely one of the best essays i read this year.

Resisting the Habits of the Algorithmic Mind, by Michael Sacasas

Machines have always done things for us, and they are increasingly doing things for us and without us. Increasingly, the human element is displaced in favor of faster, more efficient, more durable, cheaper technology. And, increasingly, the displaced human element is the thinking, willing, judging mind. Of course, the party of the concerned is most likely the minority party. Advocates and enthusiasts rejoice at the marginalization or eradication of human labor in its physical, mental, emotional, and moral manifestations. They believe that the elimination of all of this labor will yield freedom, prosperity, and a golden age of leisure. Critics meanwhile, and I count myself among them, struggle to articulate a compelling and reasonable critique of this scramble to outsource various dimensions of the human experience.

our reliance on machines to make decisions for us leads us to displace the most important human elements in favor of cheaper and faster technology. doing that however we outsource meaning-making, moral judgement and feeling – which is what a human being is – to machines.

Your Data is Being Manipulated, by Danah Boyd

The tech industry is no longer the passion play of a bunch of geeks trying to do cool shit in the world. It’s now the foundation of our democracy, economy, and information landscape.

We no longer have the luxury of only thinking about the world we want to build. We must also strategically think about how others want to manipulate our systems to do harm and cause chaos.

we're past the point where developing fancy new technologies is a fun project for college kids. our technologies have real implications on the world, on our culture and society. nevertheless we seem to miss a kind of moral framework on how technology is allowed to alter society.