Since the summer I am holding three questions that are related. They all concern what role machine learning and AI could fulfil for an individual or an everyday setting. Everyman’s AI, so to speak.

The first question is a basic one, looking at your house, and immediate surroundings:

1: What autonomous things would be useful in the home, or your immediate neighbourhood?

The second question is more group and community oriented one:

2: What use can machine learning have for civic technology (tech that fosters citizen’s ability to do things together, to engage, participate, and foster community)?

The third question is perhaps more a literary one, an invitation to explore, to fantasise:

3 What would an “AI in the wall” of your home be like? What would it do, want to do? What would you have it do?

(I came across an ‘AI in the wall’ in a book once, but it resided in the walls of a pub. Or rather it ran the pub. It being a public place allowed it to interact in many ways in parallel, so as to not get bored)

Early September the Copenhagen Techfestival will take place for the third time. It brings over 20.000 people together for over 200 events during three days, to together explore, discuss and create the future of technology.

Having had to decline invitations for the first two events, I’m joining the Techfestival 150 during this year’s event. Thank you to the organisers for their tenacity in asking me for the third year in a row. This time I was better prepared, having blocked my calendar as soon as the dates were announced.

The Copenhagen Techfestival 150 is a thinktank of 150 people that convenes during the festival. It created the The Copenhagen Letter in 2017, the Copenhagen Catalog in 2018, and this year the aim is to formulate the Copenhagen Pledge, a set of guidelines for anyone working in or with tech to commit to.

It’s been a good while since I was in Copenhagen last, I had wanted to join the previous Techfestivals already, so I look forward to getting back to CPH and fully submerge myself in the Techfestival (described to me as ‘Reboot at scale’).

Much easier than regulating to break up Facebook, just regulate to force them to make an API for us to get data in and out. We can break them up ourselves once we have that. (source)

Neil is right, an effective way to break-up big tech monopolies is requiring they have API‘s. (Much like key government data sets across the EU will be required to have API’s from 2021 based on the 2019 PSI Directive)

A monopolistic platform that has an API will be effectively broken up by its users and by app builders as they will interact with bits and pieces from various platforms as they see fit.

That FB and Twitter e.g. have been on a path over steadily reducing public API access over time shows you the truth of that.

(Adversarial) interoperability and standards are key elements in avoiding vendor lock-ins. This is true for ‘smart home’ appliance silos just as much as for webservices.

If you don’t have an API you’re not a platform (platforms are after all bases to build/grow things on, if you stunt that ability you’re not a platform). If you’re not a platform, you’re fully liable for your user uploaded content. How’s that for a trade-off?

All platforms should be required to join the API family…

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Picture taken earlier this month at La Folie de Finfarine in Poiroux

This from Wendy Grossman hits the nail quite precisely on its head.

The problem isn’t privacy,” the cryptography pioneer Whitfield Diffie said recently. “It’s corporate malfeasance.”

This is obviously right. Viewed that way, when data profiteers claim that “privacy is no longer a social norm”, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did in 2010, the correct response is not to argue about privacy settings or plead with users to think again, but to find out if they’ve broken the law.

I think I need to make this into a slide for my stock slide deck. It’s also I think why the GDPR focuses on data protection and the basis for data usage, not on privacy as such.

(Do add Wendy Grossman’s blog net.wars to your feedreader.)

Read net.wars: Hypothetical risks

Very unsure what to think about Tim Berners Lee’s latest attempt to, let’s say, re-civilize the web. A web that was lost somewhere along the way.

Now there’s a draft ‘contract for the web‘, with 9 principles, 3 each for governments, companies and citizens.

It’s premise and content aren’t the issue. It reads The web was designed to bring people together and make knowledge freely available. Everyone has a role to play to ensure the web serves humanity. By committing to this Contract, governments, companies and citizens around the world can help protect the open web as a public good and a basic right for everyone., and then goes on to call upon governments to see internet access as a core necessity and a human right that shouldn’t be censored, upon companies to not abuse personal data, and on citizens to actively defend their rights, also by exercising them continuously.

There’s nothing wrong with those principles, I try to adhere to a number of them myself, and have been conveying others to my clients for years.

I do wonder however what this Contract for the Web is for, and what it is intended to achieve.

At the Contract for the Web site it says
Given this document is still in the process of negotiation, at this stage participants have not been asked to formally support or oppose the document in its current form.

Negotiation? What’s there to negotiate? Citizens will promise not to troll online if governments promise not to censor? If a company can’t use your personal data, it will no longer be an internet service provider? Who is negotiating, and on behalf of whom?
Formally support the contract? What does that mean? ‘Formal’ implies some sort of legal status?

There are of course all kinds of other initiatives that have voluntary commitments by various stakeholders. But usually it clearly has a purpose. The Open Government Partnership for instance collects voluntary open government commitments by national governments. Countries you’d wish would actually embark on open government however have left the initiative or never joined, those that are active are a group, (not all), of the willing for whom OGP is a self-provided badge of good behaviour. It provides them an instrument to show their citizens they are trying and doing so in ways that allows citizens to benchmark their governments efforts. Shields them against the notion they’re not doing anything. It does not increase open government above what governments were willing to do anyway, it does provide a clear process to help build continuity, and to build upon other member’s experience and good practices reducing the overall effort needed to attain certain impacts.

Other initiatives of this type are more self-regulatory in a sector, with the purpose of preventing actual regulation by governments. The purpose is to prevent exposing oneself to new legal liabilities.

But what does the Contract for the Web aim for? How is it an instrument with a chance of having impact?
It says “this effort is guided by others’ past work on digital and human rights” such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU and the EU GDPR. What does it bring beyond such heavy lifting instruments and how? The EU charter is backed up by the courts, so as a citizen I have a redress mechanism. The GDPR is backed up by fines up to 4% of a company’s global annual turnover or 20 million whichever is bigger.

How is it envisioned the Contract for the Web will attract more than those stakeholders already doing what the contract asks?
How is it envisioned it can be a practical instrument for change?

I don’t get a sense of clear purpose from the website. In the section on ‘how will this lead to change’ first much is made of voluntary commitments by governments and companies (i.e. a gathering of the willing, that likely would adhere to the principles anyway), which then ends with “Ultimately it is about making the case for open, universal web that works for everyone“. I have difficulty seeing how a ‘contract’ is an instrument in ‘making a case’.

Why a contract? Declaration, compact, movement, convention, manifesto, agenda all come to mind, but I can’t really place Contract.

What am I missing?

Untitled Forms / 20090924.SD850IS.3202.P1.SQ / SML
Please sign at the dotted line, before you go online?.
Image ‘untitled forms’ by See-ming Lee, license CC BY SA

It sounds to me like Superhuman e-mail service is in permanent breach of the GDPR by collecting the reading behaviour and geolocation of every recipient of an email from one of their users. So that user can get a ‘message read’ signal, except it shows the user every time you opened a mail and your geolocation at that moment. Without the recipient’s knowledge, and thus without explicit consent, which is definitely needed for something like geotracking.

Also: switch off loading remote images in your e-mail client, so tracking pixels and other image based beacons won’t automatically load upon opening your mail.