In the not so distant future, you will be wearing your health tracker while playing a VR game, hooked up to a Brain Computer Interface (BCI). It will open up a realm of possibilities for gameplay, therapy, research. It will also open up your brain to being exploited to extract private data. While you are connected to the BCI to asses your stress levels, it could read the host of other signals your brain creates in order to glean information from you that you don’t want to share and that you might not even be aware of says Tamara Bonaci (she’s also working to protect us)
This vulnerability is possible because our actions contain far more data than the content we intend to convey. Even the old adage that only 10% of communication is verbal acknowledges that we are leaky data clusters made flesh.
I first found out that a friend was pregnant because their Facebook connected Spotify account told me they were listening to Whalesong Hypnobirthing. I know now that they are ambitious parents and that the baby goes to sleep at 6:50pm because that is when Sleeping Mozart for Baby Geniuses comes on.
You might say that this does no damage beyond occasional embarassement. You are willing to put up with ads that haunt you wherever you browse because you can ignore them or even find them a useful reminder to purchase something. And if your partner discovers the present you were planning to get them, well, that’s the tradeoff for convenience.
But: If you use Facebook, you helped elect Trump. You helped the Brexit campaign. This may be alright with you, but your turn will come and your cause loses because of this as well.
Your leaky Facebook data helped Trump and Farage’s Leave capaigns target messages to you, or save money by not advertising to you at all. It told their on-the-ground campaigners to give you a nudge to go vote, or to skip your door. Oh well, that’s the tradeoff youre willing to make for convenience.
Except, you’re selling me off in that trade as well. Your likes and quizzes and posts and clickbait and rants give Facebook a better idea of who you are. Your browsing habits and the posts you click on even if you do not “publicly” interact, give them a sense of your mindset, outlook, fears. Their other data points make it possible to find other people like you — in my case the only difference is that I am just lurking and not being active on the platform (that leaves its own trail as well by the way). So your smiley faces and broken hearts are helping Facebooks corporate users target me as well. Thanks. And I now live in a Brexit Trump world as well. Thanks.
Go ahead and regret this situation on Facebook — I will probably give them this datapoint too.
Once you’ve had a right old moan, get looking into social media and communications that let you keep hold of your own data. I am enjoying discovering the blockchain based Akasha, still in its very early infancy, which means if you’re willing to lose a bit of functionality and your friends aren’t all there yet, you can play a part in shaping it. Well, thats a trade off I’m willing to make.
If you use free email services, encrypt your messages with Thunderbird and the Enigmail extension so even The Google can’t know what you did last summer (this only works if your recipient also encrypts, so evangelise). Try out Signal instead of SMS: Android, Apple. Browse through Tor to hide everything including where you are, or use the Privacy Badger extension for Firefox and Chrome to select who tracks you.
Bit of broader context on the Trump and Brexit use of Facebook personality type profiling. They were not the only ones, and anybody trying to sell you shit you don’t need is probably doing it too.
Granted, in some ways, Trump’s campaign might have taken the practice to a new level. A case in point: its self-described “voter suppression” efforts, which involved nonpublic Facebook “dark posts” (since suppressed by Facebook and the campaign) aimed at discrediting Clinton among specific groups of African American voters.
I’ve been thinking about some of the features of the insurgent Red Religion’s Collective Intelligence (CI) that made it cohere independently of the idologies, values and feelings of its congregation. This was written in response to Jordan Greenhall’s excellent Situational Assessment 2017: Trump Edition , accepting his characterisation of Blue Church and Red ReligionCI for the sake of discussion. Specifically this is about Front One: Communications Infrastructure
What is collective intelligence?
Process by which a group/network generates options and decides on course of action.
In the context of the Communications Infrastructure the goal of the insurgent Red Religion CI was to achieve the election of Donald Trump by amplifying supportive messages, memes and signal while running interference and amplifying noise on Hillary messaging. The incentive for participation was the glory of recieving attention. Different tasks had different structures: creation and idea generation was distributed with distant edges, not even demonstrated allegiance was nessary; deciding which messages were amplified was carried out in a decentralised way working through a hierarchy of those who command more attention.
Blue Church collective intelligence for both creation and amplification was centralised, carried out by directly remunerated entities.
How does a CI cohere?: I am he as you are he as you are me as we are all together
One reading of the insurgent Red CI (decentralised/distributed) vs Blue CI (centralised) is that the coherence of the New CI is not determined by an external factor at all but around the information infrastructure itself. The network is not united by a feeling, like anger, or ideology, such as white nationalism. Instead what unifies the disparate membership (including some traditional blues) is the fact that the CI swarm is structured in such a way that the idea that attains memetic critical mass, is rewarded by attention amplification by the “leadership” regardless of which sect initiated it.
The route to leadership amplification is visible. It does not take place in editorial board rooms but on open access messaging boards, social media, and realtime on periscope, facebook live, streaming youtube shows.
As an example of the dynamics of the CI swarm, Trump appeared responsive to those ideas that seemed to gain the most credence. Hilary’s health was something that lots of sects of Red Religion’s CI coalesced on and so it found its way into his performance (He questioned Hillary’s “stamina” at debates — the highest stage of the time). His ability to incorporate those points that CI coalesced around vitalised a network and created a cohesion even where there were differences with his positions eg.. his public show of support for gays. Even though some Red CI sects express deeply homophobic views, being a part of a swarm that reflected those coalesced ideas was a worthwhile tradeoff. Libertarians cheerled for him despite his promise to imposer trade barriers.
Central to all of the dynamics and elements of the insurgent Red religions’s CI is the currency of attention. Bringing attention to someone’s creation is a fairly egalitarian way of rewarding their contribution. Each participant can grant their own attention and in so doing bring an idea to the attention of others. Lending their attention comes at no financial cost and requires no production infrastructure. Everybody has attention to give.
This egaltarian approach contrasts with paywalls, subscriptions, and other transactions of fiat for access to information. In this world, Donald Trump is a central bank that is happy to mint money. A meme that rises onto his podium achieves the ultimate payoff.
This may have impliations to some of the new distrubuted social media projects like Steemit or Akasha where there is an actual currency or token transaction coupled to attention.
Group decisions: I am bee as you are bee as we are bee
When bees need to decide which of various potential new homes to move to, some bees take up a new role — scout. These bees fly out in search of suitable dry, warm spaces about the size of a couple of footballs. Each bee returns with an account of the place it has found. Each bee carries out a dance which through the strength of its enthusiasm for the site recruits new bees to visit the site. The next wave of bees head out to the site nominated by the initial scout that recruits them. Then the next wave returns and performs its own recruitment dances. At some point, enough bees are convinced by the overall enthusiasm that one nominee becomes the chosen one. At that stage ⅓ of the bees swarm to a new home, while the scouts fly back and forth between the new site and the cloud of bees, ensuring that their sisters don’t stray.
The Red Religion had plenty of scouts who were originators,amplifiers and guides to the final place. These were figures who were “always on” — the bulk of their messaging was pertinent to the task at hand. It is worth noting that many of these scouts had a way of monetising attention. They sold books, or hats, or radio shows, apps or male vitality pills.
These scouts were two way amplifiers, picking up on ideas from the rest of their swarm to amplify and offer up the chain, and echoing the pronouncements of their lead @realdonaldtrump — specially when those pronouncements seemed to acknowledge the ideas that had risen through the swarm. They also amplified actions by Trump that they had “called” or “predicted” and reinforced the idea that actions or pronouncements had started within the swarm congregation.
There were institutional scouts : Breitbart was rewarded with the ultimate attention a seat in the Oval office; Infowars was rewarded the attention of a White House press accreditation.
The Blue Chuch had no equivalents, certainly no equivalents of sufficient traction — in part because the Blue CI leadership was not responsive in the same way. Hillary’s “common touch” was not her picking up and amplifying memes from the Blue swarm, it was tapping into cultural artifacts of the high Blue Church — “whats in your bag?” “hot sauce”. Celebrities are not scouts, they do not amplify up, they broadcast down. Part of their value is the perception that they are originators of their IP. Red Religion CI scouts take pleasure in their role as amplifiers and are known as much for that as for creating their own memes.
This is a representation of “high voice users” (or scouts) on both sides, on the left, Hillary on the right Donald. Hillary has far fewer scouts, represented here as thick lines. Trump on the other hand as a throng of scouts, all focused on him, driving their followers to him their back and forth interactions. There was a clear hierarchy of decisionmaking and amplification, even while there was a distributed meme creation.
Let a million followers bloom
Red Religion membership was not prescriptive, its CI cast its net far and wide in search of memes that would rise through its chain of people deciding on whether to amplify or not.
Even non-church jokers could get in on the act. Pepe the Frog started as a joke on messaging boards, where it’s rise in that edge of the network was determined partly by the roll of the digital, post-numbering, dice.
In the end it rose all the way to the top, with @realdonaldtrump amplifying it, and then even Hillary gave it air time. In fact the Blue Church seemed to give more airtime to the Red Religion’s congregation than its own, even while Trump openly shunned the centralised press. What came out of the Red Relgion’s congregation had such innate replicability that even its opponents couldn’t help but be vectors for it.
You don’t even have to pin your colors to the flag (anonimity)
Much of the creation work was carried out by unidentifiable participants. Serious amplifiers and scouts, were identifiable, but the network was open to “non-verified” sources.
Thick skin/ no safe space
Within the Red Religion’s hive and all its different sects, there is an attitude of relentless mockery. There is no “safe space” and anybody calling out a particular “negative” behaviour receives abuse in return. There is a staunch “free speech” at all costs ethos and this in turn extended the catchment area for Red CI meme creation, and in return, pushed Trump deep into the long tail.
A related element of this Red Religion’s CI, was that it didn’t need to bring everyone along. An idea just needed enough amplification, enough commits and opposition to it did not matter. Compare with the Blue Church that at times felt like it wanted to achieve unanimity rather than concensus, meaning every sect effectively had veto power that it could excercise if it’s set of interests were not adequately reflected.
No Church can be only online and the Red CI was backed up by the mass rallies. One of the most interesting phenomenons was also a meme that crossed from a digital one into a real life action for followers. Maga3x was a campaign to get followers to convince 3 of their real life acquaintances to join the church and vote Trump — evangelise. Scouts involved in this campaign even created scripts and “how to” guides.
Red Insurgency Combat:
Shifting point of attack
Trying to anticipate which line or lie from the broad Red Religion CI to rebut exhausted the blue machinery and served to amplify ideas that Trump was never going to amplify himself. Pizzagate didn’t get into the public eye via Trump, but via blue church responses to scouts.
The coherence around process instead of around ideology/sentiment makes it difficult to pin down and criticise. “Pence is a homophobe” — but “Milo is a standard bearer”….”Spencer is an anti-Semite,” well, “Cernovich is vociferously not”. Red CI has been able to use this to its advantage in a way Blue hasn’t (centralisation makes single points of failure).
What next for the children of the Blue
As the Church falls away, the “children of Blue” will explode out in a Cambrian explosion and reach out to engage in all out culture war with the still nascent Red Religion.
In Indivisible there is an example of a Blue Church succession. It still bears the hallmarks of the Blue Church, but is ceding its Latin and opening its knowledge to the flock. It may be enough to stall action by the Red Religion CI, while children of the Blue regroup.
The new Blue will have to listen to its own edges, to blues that, denied access to the pulpits and printing presses, found and mastered their own information infrastructures. But at the same time it may need to relax its need to bring everyone on every decision and develop a hard skin during discourse.
It must not be a regressive attempt to reestablish church. It probably can not simply ape Red CI either. This is an exciting time to be around. Blue has been forced to shed its skin and now it is all up for redefinition just at a time when technologies and global circumstances look primed to force a new world upon us as well.
The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees is a short story that imagines that wasps paper nests are intricate, microscopic maps. Wasps collect information about the world and note it in their Great Library at the centre of the colony, which is presided by a “foundress”.
When the wasps invade bee territory and subjugate the bees (remember bees are furry vegetarian wasps), this allows for the development of anarchist bees, who decide that a monarchy is not for them and there should be no leadership. So they set up their own rival anarchist colony. Read the story here to find out what happens to that colony – it is a good example of what happens when a natural system is overridden. It is also a great example of why we need to be aware of the limits of our metaphors: while bees are interesting to study in terms of their organisation, their society is organised in ways that are fundamentally different (more on that here).
There are a couple of interesting observations that emerge from this story: a) the myth of leadership in the colony in which the queen dictates over subjects continues and b) animal structures record environmental information.
SB6’s pattern is nominally in the Punk Rock genre (though if you follow the comments it seems some people are very precious about what is allowed to count as punk or not). But they are aware that the Punk Rock perspective as defined by certain sounds is not the only one and that regardless of the strict genre boundaries, “It’s doing it yourself that gets the respect”.
They have defined the system of Punk Rock not as a relationship of sound elements (Don’t want to be the sound to tick off your list), but of human elements – how you do it.
And they know that their musical corner of the world, even defined as how you do it, is not the only way. SB6’s pattern, is part of a bigger system, they are “nested” in the music system. This is made up of musical entities, whether bands, musicians, DJs, people banging stones together and the pattern they create is the soundscape of our lives, of the planet.
Revolution is more than Sound
But SB6 recognise in this song not only that people can get stuck in the perspective of the system that is most immediately in front of them – or which they want to identify with. But that they can also get stuck in the perspective of that next bigger system, in this case music.
And so Laila K blasts out: “Revolution is more than sound”. The music is where we are and where we operate, but seeing things from here alone will not help us change the picture.
Thou shalt take off the hair shirt; thou are not holier than thou.
This is the message of green mainstreamers, of those who advocate using brands to bring about sustainable consumption and deploying marketing tricks to nudge green behaviour. It is almost an orthodoxy of behaviour change.
But maybe as we seek not just to remedy environmental ills, but also rescue a civilisation – we need to mobilise morality.
My kingdom for a high horse
Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, channelling Muslim philosopoher Ibn Khaldoun, suggests that empires collapse when they get fat and lazy and that they decay from the inside – when they loose their asabiyah or social cohesion. Russia lost the cold war, Ancient Greece collapsed and Renaissance Italy floundered (the financial system crashed?) not as much as a result of actions of their rivals, but because internal rot set in.
Our moral restraints and social cohesion has been dissipated by a relentless quest for growth in which the atomisation of society has been driven by the need for the expansion of customers for markets. Far better for growth if you can sell one iPad per family member instead of one television per household.
Our rot, driven by market imperatives to growth, is twofold: the loss of asabiyah (social cohesion) and overconsumption (loss of ecosystem cohesion). We face risks of riots and floods; the marginalised amassing and ice caps retreating.
Time for a wake up story
At Tedx Youth @ Thames – James Thornton of Client Earth said we need to replace our existing story. Currently it is: markets are the best at deciding resource distribution, growth must continue at 2 – 4% p/a, etc…
And he proposed a new core story: The young shall get a healthy planet. It is also an old story. Kyra Choucroun told us that the Iroquoi of North America considered the impact of decisions on 7 generations from now.
Thou art holier than thou
Sacks sees a solution to decay in “remoralising”. This could be taking hold of the new story and creating institutions and individuals that embody it and, perhaps, also judge publicly by it.
There is, to my mind, only one sane alternative. That is to do what England and America did in the 1820s. Those two societies, deeply secularised after the rationalist 18th century, scarred and fractured by the problems of industrialisation, calmly set about remoralising themselves, thereby renewing themselves.
The three decades, 1820-1850, saw an unprecedented proliferation of groups dedicated to social, political and educational reform-building schools, YMCAs, orphanages, starting temperance groups, charities, friendly societies, campaigning for the abolition of slavery, corporal punishment and inhumane working conditions, and working for the extension of voting rights. Alexis de Tocqueville was astonished by what he saw in America and the same process was happening at the same time in Britain.
People did not leave it to government or the market. They did it themselves in communities, congregations, groups of every shape and size. They understood the connection between morality and morale. They knew that only a society held together by a strong moral bond, by asabiyah, has any chance of succeeding in the long run. That collective effort of remoralisation eventually made Britain the greatest world power in the 19th century and America in the 20th.
Time to Moralise?
That Victorian process of remoralising did not hesitate to climb on high horses and flog-them and, according to Sacks, this restored a sense of social cohesion.
So if the intention is to rescue our civilisation from social disintegration and ecosystem disruption is it moralising or mainstreaming that is needed?
If youre going to be dumb smart you gotta be tough
At the Smart Cities conference Forum for the Future Chief Executive Peter Madden said that one of the risks of smart cities – massively networked cities in which services adapt and adjust to conditions as detected by ubiquitous sensors – is that we become more dependent on even more complex systems, which will increase the impact and likelihood of shocks.
So, he said, we have to design for resilience.
Look to the forests
At Tedx Youth @ Thames, Client Earth CEO James Thornton, said to look to natural systems to glean intelligence on responding to shock, and changing and adapting while remaining within critical thresholds. One thing that emerges from studies of natural systems that are resilient is the need for 3 different scales. For example: branch, tree, forest.
The slowest moving of the scales sets the context and creates the determining factors. In a cultural analogy, the forest is the ideology, or the story of the times. For surfers the tides, set context for sets and waves (and drops).
I see fractals
In these examples, the relationship between the parts at one scale and the one above is fractal ( it looks the same at any scale). According to Steven Johnson, fractal systems are essential to creativity. The brain is made up of 100 billion neurons with “100 trillion distinct network connectors” and ideas are networks of activation.
The environment most conducive to creating new ideas is also a network at the next scale up: coffee houses where people exchange ideas – or “collide hunches” – and, another level up, the internet. These are networks which, mapped, look just like the brain.
Let’s say that designs for resilience require 3 scales that resemble eachother
So how does this play out for Smart Cities technology.
Ideas needed on improving this (and my understanding of tech).
I am a swirling mass of contradictions and cognitive dissonance hoping an enterprising journalist will outsource his poor scruples to a private investigator who can hack my head and give me my opinions in a pithy headline.
I hate the Murdoch monopoly and craven Conservatives, but prefer a Murdoch with the human instincts to protect someone he likes (Rebekah Brooks) and has an emotional attachment to a disappearing industry that needs propping up to the anonimised depersonalised “interests of shareholders”.
I think communications should be sacrosanct and that the organisation that created the phone hackers should burn, but I applaud wikileaks.
I think information should be free but won’t tell Facebook what I am up to.
I don’t want to give my private details over to the state, but my Twitter account has my latest mental state.
I think the rioting is making a point, but it is not one the rioters are making. Even in this they are alienated from their actions.
I don’t mind when the rioters smash the windows at Tesco in Bristol, but am saddened when they take e-numbers off the shelves in Hackney.
I want all this to hurt the Tories politically, but know that the other side is also complicit.
There are 6 major languages families – accounting for 85% of speakers – and each represents at least 5% of living languages. Of the 6 major language families, the one that encompases the fewest languages is Afro-Asiatic, which accounts for 353 languages including Somali, Egyptian and 29 versions of Omotic, which is spoken typically in Ethiopia.
3 operating systems
There are 3 operating systems. Between them Microsoft (82.07%), Apple (9.27%) and Linux (1.65%) are running on 93% of web-using computers. In mobile systems, 4 operating systems run 94% of mobile devices.
This reduction in languages allows for standardisation and facilitates mass connectivity. My computer, my artefact of distributed cognition, can talk to yours even though we are nowhere near each other and might not even speak the same language. Two strangers united by our computers’ ability to connect to the same evocative Neil Young 7 minute song based loosely on the conquest of Mexico.
I am my OS, you are my OS
But there are worrying implications to this narrowing of languages, specially as we become more dependent on the technological components of our distributed cognition.
As more of our cognitive activity takes place outside of our skull and instead is done for us by our devices, we will find that we are becoming more and more like eachother. Once differentiated by biology, language, cultural background, upbringing and physiology, our processes become more similar. And as our processes become more similar, we could lose some of the wealth of thought and behaviour what makes our race so extraordinary.
Ray Kurwzeil has suggested a time (2019) those elements of distributed cognition return within our skulls, but as cybernetic implants. The implants will carry out cognitive activities for us, but we will no longer have to carry them or have them in our pocket. The chip in my brain will carry out my remembering, or my computing or my filtering of data for me.
While microchips and bytes of programme are incredible facilitators, freedom is not something they bring. Rather, architecture and code is stronger than law. Law can punish transgression and you will be punished if you transgress (if you get caught). But you can’t transgress code, can’t transgress architecture. So when we do all have implants (assuming its not a preserve of the rich in “spoils to the winners” mode) we will all have the same cognitive limitations, as defined by – as things stand – 4 companies.
Greater variety in an audience ensures greater attentiveness to the message.
All the bees in a colony are the offspring of one mother – the queen. However, there can be as many as 20 different fathers to the 60,000 social insects. The queen leaves on her first flight out of the hive as a virgin and returns, with all the sexual experience, and sperm, she will ever need. During that one maiden flight, she will mate with many drones from various colonies- drones are the only male bees in the colony, they are stingless and useless except for their sperm and the first to get kicked out when food sources dry up.
Diverse colonies are also more attentive to the famed “waggle dance” of returning foragers:
Scout bees leave the colony in search of food, whether pollen or nectar, and having found some return to the hive. Upon arrival they are greeted by as yet flightless bees who take their precious cargo. The returning bee then does a dance which indicates the position of the pollen or nectar supply in relation to the colony and the sun. This dance is accurate enough to guide bees to the exact spot where the pollen was collected up to 3 miles away.
Relative strangers make for more attentive groups.
Mapping the bee colony onto the human web, where other users are pollinators who go out foraging and report back what they have found, my experience suggests diversity does the same in information streams. I am more likely to click on links from the strangers of Twitter (varied group including users I disagree with) than I am links posted on Facebook (all are in some way friends) – though there are admittedly fewer links on Facebook.
Assuming my experience is not isolated, it seems that Twitter and Facebook emphasise different aspects of a social “superorganism” like the bee. Whereas Twitter is function-oriented, Facebook is cohesion-oriented.
The group of twitter people I interact with is not too concerned with identity. We do not belong to a group other than “twitter users”. While Twitter does have some cohesion-focused functionality (favourite’s, follow back, RT), the main thing that Twitter serves for is to seek out and distill the kind of information that I am interested in. It highlights sources and tells me how to get there. People engaging eachother on Twitter are bound more by what they want to do than by who they know. They are brought together (not united for these “swarms” are temporary even if repeated) by common endeavour or interest. Twitter encourages stranger to stranger relationships in which collaboration is the first (and perhaps last) act of relationship.
On the other hand, Facebook’s hive analogue is not the forager and waggle dance, but rather the queen’s mandible pheromone. It is this pheromone which is passed from bee to bee, holding the colony together under the joint identity of the current laying queen. Similarly, Facebook’s functionality allows us to engage is social activities that reinforce our belongingness. The goal is reinforcing identity, mutuality, friendship. There are even some bona fide queens out there, making sure they post on everyone’s wall, inviting all to their events, unconsciously putting their stamp on interactions (through the innocent act of catalysing or stimulating others to take part in FB). Collaboration in Facebook emerges from the development of relationships – you invite people to events because you already know them.
When there is identity around familiarity there is a need to maintain familiarity. The bulk of Facebook transaction is maintenance of cohesion. When identity is around activity, the action itself maintains identity. On Facebook my social graph, my colony, is determined by who I know. On Twitter its determined by what I do. In Facebook the superorganism is effectively static (add or subtract new friends from a pool), in Twitter the superorganism us flexible – whoever I am following today or whoever has tweeted a term I have searched.
Which is better for monetisation and honey? A beekeeper wouldn’t hope that his honeybees prioritised action over cohesion or vice-versa, but should prefer and encourage diversity.
Diversity of online groups not only creates attentiveness but also helps “break echo chambers“. It may be the very act of being exposed to other points of view that makes us more attentive.