Philip Sheldrake

Menu Close

Category: Technology (page 1 of 9)

Webinar on identity, interpersonal data and collective minds for SSI Meetup

boy with painted face

I was delighted to accept an invitation from Alex Preukschat to host a webinar earlier this week on the topic of digital identity for SSImeetup.org. My presentation is based on the reciprocally-defining, inseparable conceptions of identity, relationships, and personal data — or interpersonal data as I like to call it after my AKASHA colleague Mihai Alisie unjumbled my previous garbled attempts to make a distinction.

The presentation can be downloaded as a PDF here, and can be viewed as a Slideshare and video below. Please get in touch if you want to discuss any facet, over a cup of the good stuff if you find yourself London way.

 


Photo by Sharon McCutcheon.

Why decentralization needs more than cryptonetworks – the Internetome

Aldous Huxley (1937) regarded the decentralization of industry and government necessary for a better society. Norbert Wiener’s insights (1950) into the dynamics and ethics of humans and large computer systems hinted at the advantages. Marshall McLuhan (1962) anticipated a shift from the centralized mechanical age to the decentralized electronic age, coining the term global village as shorthand for such a welcome outcome. E.F. Schumacher (1973) considered decentralization allied with freedom and one of “the truths revealed by nature’s living processes”. Steven Levy’s hacker ethic (1984) includes the tenet “mistrust authority – promote decentralization”. And Nicholas Negroponte (1995) regards decentralization as one of the four cardinal virtues of the information society (alongside globalization, harmonization and empowerment).

When centralization is mediated by an organization, governmental or corporate, its best interests must be aligned perfectly and continuously with the parties subject to its gravity in the mediating context – otherwise decentralization must be preferred to avoid the appropriation and erosion of those parties' valuable agency. Importantly, decentralization demands decentralization at every level without exception for any exception would be centralization. By definition.

This post aims to scope the challenge that still lies ahead to secure decentralization even with the rise and rise of cryptonetworks such as Ethereum. For more information about decentralization in general and why it's important, see Decentralization – a deep cause of causes you care about deeply, written for the World Wide Web Foundation.

Read more

Value flows when data flows meaningfully through sociotechnical networks – in search of the ideal data architecture

Competitive advantage and profitable growth doesn’t come from scale anymore. The rate at which big players in any and all industries beach their supertanker is unprecedented.

Competitive advantage and profitable growth doesn’t come from efficiency anymore either. What’s the point of making unwanted product efficiently?

Competitive advantage and profitable growth comes from adaptability. Pure and simple. Adapt or die.

A 2011 article in the Harvard Business Review pronounced adaptability the new competitive advantage. It asks how your managers can pick up the right signals to understand and harness change when they’re overwhelmed with changing information. The conclusion – instead of being really good at doing some particular thing, companies must be really good at learning how to do new things.

As Peter Senge points out, organizations only learn through individuals who learn, perhaps aided by machine learning these days. And learning craves meaningful data.

Lack of data was the problem of the 20th Century, yet the opportunity and challenge of the 21st is having too much of the stuff. This is the landscape of digital transformation and, I believe, the very bedrock of the meaning of business: establishing and driving mutual value creation (PDF).

Value flows when data flows meaningfully through sociotechnical networks, and I've been on a mission to find out how to make this happen. Read more

The Digital Life Collective

The Digital Life Collective

An invitation to build our technology together
… tech we trust for the web we want.


 

Our motivation

Digital technologies are undermining our privacy, permitting mass state surveillance, enabling censorship, undermining journalism, and spreading fake news. It feels forbidding, uncertain, unsafe – more problem than solution, and far from the original vision for the Internet and Web.

And yet we’re optimistic that we can join together to fix it. The problem isn’t really the technologies we have to work with of course, but rather the way they’re crafted and who gets to do the crafting.

Our purpose

We’re forming the Digital Life Collective to combine our resources to research, design, develop and certify digital products and services to protect privacy, foster trust, and work towards a sustainable and equitable world. We aim to pool $20m p.a. to make this happen.

You're invited

Please join the Digital Life Collective, indeed be the Digital Life Collective. We need you. We can’t do this without each other.

Here's our 16-page stack with a bit more detail. [UPDATE 25th April 2017 – visit www.diglife.com]

If you love it, please join us.

If you sense the deep potential, please join us.

If you feel today's digital landscape is selling us all short, please join us.

If you're intrigued about making this happen as a co-operative, please join us.

Digital Life Collective – introductory stack

Next steps

There's a handful of us right now. We're talking to people who work in this space so that we become dozens or possibly hundreds of likeminds in the coming weeks.

We've been careful to scope the why? and qualify the what? ... but we've stopped short of detailing the what? until we've accrued greater collective intelligence ... by your joining us of course.


✿ We'll be plugging into all the riot.im goodness very soon.

UPDATE 15th June 2017 removing references to our Slack instance. We have since migrated to our own instance of Mattermost, and participation there is restricted to members of our co-operative.

The unfreedom of filter bubbles – let’s pop the bloody things

bubbles
We could see it coming. Sort of.

I wrote a post titled myChannel back in 2005, a time without smartphones, Facebook, Twitter and news aggregators like Flipboard. YouTube was 17 days off launching. Reviewing the tech landscape I concluded:

... mass personalisation has become a ‘qualifying’ rather than ‘winning’ criteria. The advantages to the user include choice (of the most apt personalisation), collation, and access in their own time and filtering. ...The user, the recipient of news and information, the listener, the viewer, the inter-actor, has been empowered to set the schedule. It’s what they want, when they want it and how they want it. They have one channel ... and they own it. It is myChannel.

Seems I got some part right. Two thirds of Facebook users and 59% of Twitter users in the US get their personalised news from the social network. Facebook counts a quarter of the world's population as users.

Seems I got some part wrong, to our collective misery. My post referenced user choice of personalisation service, which is of course absent under monopoly conditions. And alarmingly, my assumption that the individual would own their own channel was way off target.

The Internet and the Web have been radically centralized in the intervening years. The network effect has left many abdicating their choice of media, exposure to ideas, facility to corroborate stories, and the opportunity to debate different points of view, to algorithms written by distant employees of centralised and centralising services whose commercial motivations do not necessarily extend to ensuring you get anything other than the instant gratification that your current viewpoint is spot on. You are right. They are wrong. Empathy be damned.

We've seen this with Brexit and during the US election this year.

Since 2011, the effect has become known as a filter bubble – automated information separation that isolates each of us in own cultural or ideological bubbles.

The hi:project intends to help sort out this mess by re-establishing each and everyone of us back in the driving seat of our own lives. I like this metaphor because driving entails responsibilities as well as rights.


Image source: By Jeff Kubina, BY-SA 2.0

How and why I strive to maintain my privacy – a post in light of the Snooper’s Charter

GCHQ at Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

An aerial image of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
Photographer: GCHQ/Crown Copyright. CC BY-SA 2.0


Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.

Edward Snowden, 2015 (source)


I get asked now and then how to improve one's personal privacy, digitally speaking. It's unsurprising that such questions are directed my way given privacy is a core objective of the hi:project, and yet I seemed to have attracted more than the usual number of questions since my last post – Introducing Google Assistant, the Surveillance Interface.

You might want to stop commercial entities intruding – it's difficult to sum up in a sentence or two how egregious the state of commercial surveillance is today. You might want to help head off the realisation of a surveillance state if only because you've read somewhere that such things don't end well. You might simply want to have less data about your movements and purchases and media habits and general proclivities out there because it's not a case of if the corresponding databases are hacked but when.

Importantly, I write this post the very week the UK has passed the most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy. The so-called Snoopers' Charter is disgusting, distressing and, in good part, stupid. Read more

Introducing Google Assistant, the Surveillance Interface (SI)

google assistant by techcrunch

A new kind of interface has surfaced over the past five years – artificial intelligence (AI) based ‘personal assistants’.

Apple Siri started the ball rolling, swiftly followed by Google Now, Microsoft Cortana, Amazon Alexa, and half a dozen others. But it now has a new apogee, a new sector defining moment, a revolution dressed up as evolution. The only thing more alarming than its instrusive, opaque, and society-altering capabilities is the way in which tech pundits have ladled out the accolades, pundits whose worldview appears as limited as a magpie’s regard for shiny things.

Google Now is now Google Assistant, and it comes integrated into Google’s first full-on (i.e. not just a reference design) mobile phone – the Pixel. Read more

Lightning – cryptocurrency and the Internet of Things

lightning

Bitcoin is an experiment. That's granted. The fact that it's trusted and actually useful is nothing short of phenomenal. Last week for example, the trade volume amounted to US$229m.

Nevertheless, Bitcoin has some fundamental constraints that keep it from going mainstream: it has a ballpark limit of 7 transactions per second, and having confidence that a transaction has 'gone through' – non-recourse transactions – takes roughly 20 to 60 minutes depending on the level of confidence you're looking for. (The user experience sucks too, but that's not for this post.)

While 229 million dollars is no small chunk of change, Visa processes many thousands of transactions per second, peaking at tens of thousands, and will have processed around US$130 billion last week.

State channel – more exciting than it sounds

The crypto awesome sauce underpinning Bitcoin is known as the blockchain, perhaps the No.1 tech buzzword of recent times. It's at the heart of the currency's success – preventing users spending the same money twice – but is also the nub of its relatively slothful nature. It's with a fair degree of excitement then that I've been tracking the progress of Lightning, a protocol first mooted to my knowledge in 2013.

The jargon here is state channel – blockchain interactions that could occur on the blockchain but get conducted off-chain without impairing the trust parties have in the interaction. Lightning facilitates state channel to speed things up and attenuate the costs needed to prove transactions (and offers a little more spark in terms of brand appeal!) Read more

Defining Sovereign Technology, so we can build it, and so we know it when we see it

head

Note: the IIW community adopted the qualifying prefix "self-" not too long after this post was first written, ie. self-sovereign technology.


Agency refers not to the intentions people have in doing things but to their capability of doing those things in the first place.

To be able to ‘act otherwise’ means being able to intervene in the world, or to refrain from such intervention, with the effect of influencing a specific process or state of affairs.

(Giddens 1986)

Technology must always be a component of agency as tools change our capacity to ‘act otherwise’. And it’s a component that’s all the more pervading and penetrating as the delineation of the analogue and digital dissolves, as ‘the device’ assumes an exo-brain role and as sensory ‘things’ form our exo-nervous system.

Simultaneously, I have a digital self and a self with digital presence.

Simultaneously, this is me and it is my representative, my agent.

Simultaneously, it is core to my agency and must be subject to it. Read more

Why can’t Deezer answer simple questions about privacy?

Deezer website screenshot

I've just bought an Onkyo TX-8150 network receiver. Lovely. Especially because it can drive two pairs of speakers, eats so-called hi-res music (24/192 with a 32/384 Hi-Grade DAC), and comes ready to play nice with the likes of Spotify, Airplay and Deezer.

Spotify tarnished its reputation somewhat with its privacy cock-up last year, and doesn't yet entertain hi-res. Apple's Airplay looks neat but doesn't do hi-res either, and totally ignores Android. Hmm. So let's check out Deezer I thought to myself. A rare European Unicorn. And while it describes lossless CD quality as hi-res when that's not really what the term means, I'm not sure my 'listening environment' is that sensitive! Lossless CD quality will do me. Read more