A cynic might say that we have the internet we deserve. We were promised a democratic platform for change, for equality, for collaboration, yet are faced with a reality of weary cynicism, as author Charles Leadbeater wrote last summer, and an assumption that we cannot trust any organisation with our personal data.
And as the meaningful engagement of governments in the lives of citizens diminishes, we stare into a dystopian future described by Evgeny Morozov: Silicon Valley is heading towards a “digital socialism”, where benevolent corporations provide all the health, education, travel and housing employees could ever desire, negating the need for state provision. Ice that cake with the unpalatable truth about the reach of our government’s surveillance services and we might think our internet is already beyond help.
Commercial interests have shaped the internet, and have created such powerful organisations that governments now struggle to keep up – out-funded, out-lobbied and outwitted. Rather than reflecting the real world, the internet absorbs and amplifies it, re-presenting a version of our lives, our work and our culture, from the gross disproportion of privilege and access afforded to those even able to access the internet to the misogyny that cripples meaningful debate. Even acknowledging its infancy, the internet does not represent a version of ourselves of which we can be proud. From privacy and surveillance to our collective cultural record, where is the internet we are truly capable of? Quietly, excitedly, and in a modestly British way, there is an alternative emerging. Rather than the internet as shopping mall – defined and dominated by commercial interests – how could we build the public park of the internet?
In a way, the name of the company – Uber – gives the game away. It has connotations of elevation, superiority, authority – as in Nietzsche’s coinage, Übermensch, to describe the higher state to which men might aspire. Although it’s only been around since 2009, Uber, the smartphone-enabled minicab company, is probably the only startup of recent times to have achieved the same level of name recognition as the established internet giants.
This is partly because Uber is arguably the most aggressive tech startupin recent history and partly because it has attracted a lot of bad press. But mainly it’s because a colossal pile of American venture capital is riding on it. Its most recent investment round valued the company at about $40bn,which is why every MBA graduate in California is currently clutching a PowerPoint presentation arguing that his/her daft idea is “Uber for X” – where X is any industry you care to mention.
What lies behind the frenzy is a conviction that Uber is the Next Big Thing, fuelled by the belief that it is the embodiment of what Silicon Valley values most, namely “disruptive innovation” – as in disruption of established, old-economy ways of doing things. In Uber’s case, the ancien regime is urban taxi cab businesses in more than 200 cities worldwide, which are portrayed by Übermenschen as little more than cosy or corrupt local monopolies.
Uber fits neatly into the mythology of the tech industry, which portrays itself as surfing one of the waves of “creative destruction” through which, as the economist Joseph Schumpeter argued, capitalism periodically renews itself. In this narrative, industrial progress involves a good deal of destruction in order to make way for new, creative, wealth-creating industries. The abolition of old timers such as licensed taxi cabs, travel agents and bookshops etc is merely the collateral damage of an essentially benign process – regrettable but necessary casualties of innovation.
There’s a conflict, a tension, an inherent contradiction in the open access movement, and while it could be resolved, that seems increasingly unlikely.
The inconsistency goes like this: the shift to open access publishing started idealistically, with enthusiasm and pressure from the grassroots. The business model for disseminating scientific results would be changed. Instead of putting research into journals that were expensive and exclusive, we would make articles available for free. No charge at all. Ready to be downloaded by anyone with an internet connection.
Shaking in their boots
We developed more and more arguments for open access — not just solidarity with colleagues in poorer countries, but also the (im)morality of paying first for research to be done (through salaries) and then for the articles to be reviewed and edited (through volunteer work for journals) and then paying once again to be able to read them (through subscriptions). Add to this the monopolistic price gouging of the biggest publishers, whose profit rates exceed those of oil companies, and change seemed inevitable.
Wall Street analysts say open access has failed, but their analysis might help us succeed. If we dare.
Some of these arguments worked. Gradually, research councils pulled themselves over the gunwales and got onboard. Governments articulated policies. Universities gave their researchers a nudge.
The publishers started to shake in their boots. They really did. They got worried.
But then they got over it.
And this is where the other side of the inconsistency comes into play. The tension in the movement is that its idealistic and anarchistic origins are in conflict with what is needed for success, namely a clear message articulated by visible and visionary leadership.
Dublin’s Google headquarters bears all the hallmarks of the modern tech workplace: an industrial chic aesthetic, endless free snacks, designer furniture in primary colours that looks like it’s been hijacked from a children’s playground, and, this week, the advanced forces of what may or may not be the Next Big Thing: not a new mobile phone, or a really super fancy watch, but something even more radically cutting-edge: “wisdom”.
Because for three days this week, in an auditorium at the heart of the city’s hi-tech cluster, an unholy alliance of Googlers, Buddhist monks, techies, HR directors, MPs and recovering CEOs bandied around words like “compassion”, “empathy”, “communion” and “consciousness”.
This was Wisdom2.0, a Californian conference that grew out of the west coast’s twin obsessions of technology and self-actualisation, and that came to Europe for the first time this week.
It has already held events in Google’s Mountain View office and at Facebook and since its inception six years ago, it’s been enthusiastically taken up by the tech industry. More than 2,000 people attended Wisdom2.0’s main event in San Francisco this year, and it’s attracted high-profile supporters like Arianna Huffington and Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, and now it’s looking to take the message to a global audience.
It is geek week: the annual festival Wikimania is being held this year in the UK for the first time. If you can get to the Barbican in central London this weekend, you can join the argument about how to control the world, in a good way.
Wikipedia would like to believe that it is the good face of the 21st century, a digital utopia, the guardian of the original promise of the internet. With a mere handful of people employed by the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia has grown from flaky outsider into a largely reliable and vastly relied-on information source. It covers millions of subjects in nearly 300 different languages and is used by 500 million people a month.
It has become so familiar a tool, this tree of knowledge so vast that the English-language version alone would fill a thousand books of a thousand pages each that few of us ever stop to consider what it means. Nor do most of its users – as they check out the capital of Georgia or guiltily plagiarise the entry on Marx – ponder how this Eden is sustained in its spotless state of nature.
But this is a work of man (and a very few women) and even the purifying process of open access has an ultimate filter that is the few thousand editors, and beyond them a small arbitration committee. And like all utopian communities, it faces threats from within as well as without.
She has taken flak from the online encyclopedia’s hardcore users for being an ‘amateur’, but after 18 years in open source software the 36-year-old is determined to expand the ‘knowledge-building community’l
Compartir en vez de poseer. La economía colaborativa o consumo colaborativo quiere cambiar el mundo. Plantea una revolución abrazada a las nuevas tecnologías. El Instituto Tecnológico de Massachusetts (MIT) le calcula un potencial de 110.000 millones de dólares (82.000 millones de euros). Hoy ronda los 26.000 millones. Y quienes participan a título personal en este sistema basado en intercambiar y compartir bienes y servicios a través de plataformas electrónicas se embolsan, según la revista Forbes, más de 3.500 millones de dólares (2.580 millones de euros).
De hecho, la Red está llena de ejemplos que cuentan ese éxito. Sabrina Hernández, una estudiante de la Universidad de San Francisco, cobra 40 dólares (30 euros) la noche, a través del sitio DogVacay, por cuidar perros en su casa. Al mes, dice, gana 1.200 dólares. Mientras que Dylan Rogers, un vendedor de coches de Chicago, recauda 1.000 dólares mensuales alquilando su BMW Serie 6 usado en RelayRides. Dos voces entre millones que revelan el calado del cambio. Tanto que esta era de la economía compartida “crea nuevas formas de emprender y también un nuevo concepto de la propiedad”, sostiene Thomas Friedman, columnista del periódico The New York Times.
Ahí, quizá, reside la verdadera revolución. Desde la noche de los tiempos, el sentido de posesión ha sido inherente al ser humano; sin embargo, algo empieza a cambiar. “Hemos pasado de un mundo en el que sobra de todo a otro en la que la mayoría no puede disfrutar de lo que este siglo ofrece a menos que sea compartiéndolo”, apunta el inversor en nuevos negocios Rodolfo Carpentier. “Quien no puede tener se conforma con probar. Esto es lo que hace a este movimiento imparable”.
Desde hace varios meses que estamos trabajando en nuestro grupo de Social Computing/Social Innovation en un prototipo experimental de inteligencia artificial para clasificación de tweets llamado AIDR – Artificial Intelligence for Disaster Response.
Básicamente, lo que hacemos es usar tweets etiquetados por humanos para entrenar un sistema de aprendizaje de máquina. Si quieres ayudarnos a probar este sistema en un escenario real, puedes clasificar algunos tweets. AIDR aprende con cada nuevo elemento que tú clasificas:
Un acierto del historiador del libro francés Roger Chartier, en su reciente visita a nuestro país, es haber puesto la atención sobre lo que él denomina las “prácticas de lectura”: es decir, no sólo investigar sobre el contenido o tema de lo que trata lo leído, sino también aquella materialidad y/o soporte con que se transmite la lectura
De tal modo comprendemos cómo se pasó, desde el siglo XIX al XX, de la lectura “a viva voz” y colectiva, a la lectura personal, y es así como seguramente deberemos adentrarnos en la revolución del libro digital. En efecto, de un tiempo a esta parte, los tablet y los kindel, entre otros dispositivos, han cambiado por completo nuestra percepción de la lectura. El libro ha sido reemplazado por estos equipos de papel digital y, entre otras cosas, son más prácticos ya que pueden guardar una infinidad de libros, que incluso llegan a aventurar una disminución de los costos de edición que la impresión no permitía.
Are comments on articles a form of argument, or discourse, or do they damage scientific understanding?
Popular Science is closing comments on its articles. Citing “trolls and spambots”, the 141-year-old American magazine has decided that an open forum at the bottom of articles “can be bad for science”.
The decision was “not made lightly” said online content director Suzanne LaBarre – nor, appropriately, without some supporting scientific evidence. Citing research from a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Dominique Brossard, the magazine argues that exposure to bad comments can skew a reader’s opinion of the post itself.
“Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought,” Brossard wrote in the New York Times.
“If you carry out those results to their logical end,” says LaBarre, “commenters shape public opinion; public opinion shapes public policy; public policy shapes how and whether and what research gets funded – you start to see why we feel compelled to hit the “off” switch.”
If Popular Science’s commenters were in proportion to that on most other large sites, they made up about 1% of those who read the piece. (The Guardian’s commenters are about 0.7% of readers on average, according to a statistic calculated by Martin Belam from public figures, with a very small number of commenters generating a large proportion – 20% in Belam’s calculation – of input.) There’s no data on how many people read comments on news sites, though