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Media Science Series Technology

Part 2 The Responsible Innovation Circus Rolls into Town

A lighthearted view of Responsible Innovation

Alternative Teaching Methods for Responsible Innovation

There are many ways of presenting complex arguments about ethics, and some interesting examples of theatre in use. The embedded video above was made for the final closing conference of a European Union funded project ROSIE.

The video presents a light-hearted look at the problems faced when trying to introduce the RI concept to small businesses. It was made in character (following the tradition of action theatre in academic use as a teaching tool for ethics) and addresses the problem of the gap found between the language used in RI publications (of all sorts) and that used in the small business world.

It uses a circus metaphor to represent the balancing act prescribed through various EU and Standards documentation related to Responsible Innovation, using the balance metaphor for a high-wire walk and their prescribed goals and approaches as juggling balls.

In making this video I was very much influenced by a US based university professor who uses radio plays, theatre and art in his teaching that he produces himself.

Richard G Epstein

Richard G Epstein works in the Department of Computer Science, West Chester University of PA, where he teaches courses on computer science, software engineering and computer security and ethics.

His university home page provides access to some of his publications, and I would like to have a look at three of them. He produces teaching aids that are extremely entertaining and require no technical understanding.

Artistic Work

The Case Of The Killer Robot is a series of fake newspaper articles that report the story of an accident at work involving an industrial robot and its operator. The early articles are descriptions of the accident but as the work moves on it slides into legal and ethical territory. Who is actually guilty for the malfunctioning of the machine and who should be held legally responsible? One of the programmers is found to have misunderstood a piece of code scrawled on a post-it and his translation error is deemed to have caused the death, so he is charged with manslaughter.

The reporters visit the factory and interview fellow workers, producing articles within which they reveal problems within the organization and managerial team and slander the poor programmer’s personality, all in perfect local journalism hack style. They have expert interviews and uncover both design faults and personal differences between members of the development strategy team.

The issue of responsibility is really brought to the fore, although in a fictional setting the ethical dilemmas faced during the development and working practices involved are laid bare. It makes for a very entertaining and thought provoking read.

The Plays

The second work I recommend is one of the author’s plays entitled The Sunshine Borgs. The play is set in the near future and tells the story of a bitter ex-playwright who has lost his job and seen the demise of human participation in the arts caused by the development of computer programmes that write plays and music for human consumption.

The play investigates the threat that high power “intelligent” computing could pose to human creativity. Robots have taken over as actors, lovers, authors and just about everything else. Pain and suffering, poverty and crime have been all but eradicated but has humanity lost its passion? The play contains a twist that I won’t reveal and the writing style even manages to portray the effect that working in a computer environment can have on language use and thought processes.

The Author describes this work as a comedy but it is too close to the bone to make you really laugh. Questions such as the legal rights of robots and the possibility of charging a human with robot abuse are raised when the main character’s unwanted robot companion commits suicide as a result of the playwright trying to educate a soul into his hated but extremely useful houseguest.


Another of his plays entitled NanoBytes addresses the problem of nanotechnology, an interesting story of the head of a nanotechnologies company and a small mishap regarding molecular sized computers that can be injected into people in order to stop anti-social behaviour. A much shorter read but with some equally interesting twists and an insightful tongue in cheek description of American family and business life.

Categories
Business Festive Fun Media Social Media

Holidays are coming!

The title of this article is a reference to the historic Coca-Cola advert. Whilst I’m not sure I’d class it as the Christmas season yet, it’s pretty clear that retailers think it is.

Coca-Cola Christmas trucks
The Coca-Cola Christmas ad – what isn’t Christmassy about HGV’s driving through the countryside?

Here in the UK, many shops have had Christmas stock on sale for over a month now, only taking it down for a brief interlude to replace it with Halloween and bonfire night stock. In just over two weeks, it’s the infamous Black Friday, which is meant to be when the Christmas shopping rush really gets started.

One of the key moments in British Christmas is now when the main Christmas advertisements start showing. I’ve yet to see the iconic Coca-Cola ad, but last Friday saw the launch of the festive John Lewis ad.

Over the last decade, John Lewis’s Christmas adverts have become rather famous and somewhat of a seasonal event. Each year the public sceptically awaits the ad to see if it’s going to better last years. This year’s tells the heart-warming (as always!) story of a little girl and an elderly man who lives on the moon.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuz2ILq4UeA

This years attracted the usual attention. #ManOnTheMoon was the number one trending topic in the UK for most of ads release day (last Friday) and it was instantly parodied. Here are some of my favourites.

Firstly a Royal Mail undeliverable note.

What about The Martian, Matt Damon?

Maybe if the little girl had seen the film Up…

So the real question is: is this excitement just retailers trying to encourage us to spend more money? I’m not sure many people would argue in favour of Black Friday being an event that spreads Christmas cheer, but is there anything wrong with a festive advert pulling at your heart strings?

Genuine happiness creation, or just a clever marking ploy?

P.S Next time you’re in a food retailer, why not ask an assistant if they have any Christmas spirit in stock!

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Fun Media News Technology

Digital Amnesia

digital amnesia figures

Digital Amnesia

When someone asks me for my mobile number, I take one of my business cards out of my wallet so I can read it to them. Now I have only had this number for a year, but I haven’t learnt it yet. I don’t know my wife’s phone number either. I just look her up in the contacts of my phone by name. I can however remember my first girlfiend’s mum’s home number, going back to about 1982.

Of course in those days we did not have machines that remembered your life for you. I remember having to arrange to meet someone at a certain time and in a certain place before leaving the house, oh how quaint. And believe it or not, not only did our brains keep in all that extra information (which seems to have made them work better I might add), but we were also freeer.

Free because once you were out of the house you were in effect offline. No calls from work, no-one asking you why you are late, or more to the point where you are. “Where were you? I tried calling but you did not answer!” Oh so now I am obliged to both carry my phone and answer it otherwise moral judgements will be made about me, where is the freedom in that?

And these developments have lead to parents and friends worrying more. Now I have a phone so if you start thinking about me you can send a text. In the past you couldn’t do that, so you worried less. There was no point in worrying because you could do nothing about it. And what happens if your phone runs out of charge? Then you really are in trouble, it is almost as bad as your life support system breaking down.

Research

But where is the evidence I hear you ask, for these glory days when people could remember where they were supposed to be, had diaries and used pens to make appointments.

Here. Read it and weep.

The BBC is reporting a UK study carried out through Kaspersky (see the stats above in the picture), that seems to demonstrate that reliance on digital technology is causing a loss of memory capacity. The belief that we can just access information whenever we need it has brought us to this point. But the limitations are obvious. When I lose my phone I cannot even phone home on somebody else’s. I don’t know the number.

Maybe the brain needs exercise too. Stretching is always good, and I must say that this is probably true of brain use. As I have once before mentioned, learning a language is great for your brain function, but many might not bother now we have real time translation tools. But I should say that I am not against these things, my life would be much more complicated without the famous online translation tool that I use every day.

I remember an article on this blog about the power of the human brain, it is incompably good to digital technology, let’s exercise it and keep it fit.

 

Categories
Environment Media News Science Technology

A Drinkable Book

drinkable book

 

Water Filters in a Book

Dr Teri Dankovich, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh USA has developed and tested a book whose pages can be torn out and used to filter drinking water. Trails are impressive, with the process bringing the water up to US drinking water standards.

The book’s pages contain nanoparticles of silver or copper, which kill bacteria in the water as it passes through. Some of the particles do remain in the water however, but they remain within the legal limits.

Nanomaterials

Now here I have to add my own input to the debate. As readers might know I have written several posts about nanomaterials and it is one of the fields that I work in, and I would question how legal limits are defined.

Nanoparticles are treated like any other particles, and their scale is not taken in account, but this seems to raise some questions. The fact that they are so small means that they can pass easily into the blood stream, so their effects may not be the same as larger particles of the same materials.

So I have to leave an open question mark over the legal issue, but the fact that the water is drinkable is a great advantage. And this leads me to ponder the fact that innovation, and its level of responsibility and ethical justification, must be local. An invention or innovation that brings drinkable water to millions, is portable and cheap and could save many lives, must be seen within its context. Nanoparticles in the water in this situation, may not be same an nano particles found in water because of factory pollution or deliberate addition when other processes might be readily available.

An article on the BBC explains that “All you need to do is tear out a paper, put it in a simple filter holder and pour water into it from rivers, streams, wells etc and out comes clean water – and dead bacteria as well”. And one page can clean up to 100 litres of water. A book could filter one person’s water supply for four years.

The project is looking for funding, so if you are interested and have some money to spare click on the link at the start of the post and pass them over your pocket money.

As a final thought, nanotechnology has come in for criticism from the academic community for its lack of regulation, and rightly so. But it also brings a world of possibilities, many of which like the story above that could transform people’s lives. This is the fine line that interests me in my work, how to make the most of scientific developments at the least environmental and social costs, and for the highest number of people.

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Media News Technology

Responsible innovation, a call for your opinions

RI

Responsible Innovation

Some of my reader(s) might know that I work in the field of Responsible Innovation. This is a growing area within Science and Technology studies, but also plays a part in EU legislation and funding as well as working practices in general.

To be perfectly honest, one of the problems we have in the field is defining and explaining what we work on. I would say in general terms that we are interested in making innovation processes more democratic and transparent, while aiming scientific and technological development towards improvements for society. So possibly make the development of things that might be advantageous for society a priority, even if they might not be so profitable.

If you would like more information before I give you your homework for this week, check out this article in the Spectrum Engineering blog (I wrote it). Take a look at the MATTER website, or the Bassetti Foundation who I collaborate with in my work, or you could even download my $1.17 book from Amazon.

Or none of the above, just use a general sense of what it might look like in your own imagination.

So here we come to the homework part.

Your opinions and Ideas

As part of the European Commission’s Digital Agenda for Europe, Hilary Sutcliffe of the UK based think-tank MATTER (linked above) has launched the New Principles for Responsible Innovation document. Hilary is the plainest speaker of the community, and she wants to know what the general public think about developments. So her document is an open call for comments, with particular interest and questions about the following aspects of RI:

1. Purpose – is it realistic to think that such a voluntary initiative will have a useful role as we have envisaged it?  If yes or no, it would be helpful to know why. (My interpretation of this question, can we improve society through voluntary action within innovation?)

2. Content – Are there gaps or duplications or structures which you think are unhelpful?  Do you have suggestions on how that could be improved? (If so, how could we do it, which structures might be useful, and where are the obstacles?)

3.Effectiveness – How do you think this would be best implemented?  Do you agree with our concept of Radical Transparency being the tool for all stakeholders to access the information of their choice in place of armies of verifiers, or is this just unrealistic? (Could it all be done through transparency, and without rules from above?)

The main aims of the project are to generate positive momentum for transformative innovation for social good and create shared expectations to help build trustworthiness & confidence, and there are several ways in which any interested parties can contribute, with comments from yourselves at number 1.

The document is available here, and I would urge everyone to have their say by replying to Hilary in person through the email link contained within it.

Tell her Jonny sent you.

Categories
Media Series Technology

The Online GM Foods Debate

gm-picGM Experiences

A few weeks ago I was invited to Vienna to participate in a 2 day workshop on Responsible Research and Innovation in the Context of GMO. Obviously, these two topics being my main interests in life, I accepted, and off I went with my extremely stylish new laptop/overnight bag to an equally stylish country hotel.

It was a really interesting weekend. The other participants were scientists, members of regulatory bodies and governmental institutions, professors and other professionals from across Europe. I should say that this weekend was part of a much larger project called RES-AGORA, which is funded by the European Commission. You can read all about it here.

If that tickles your fancy here is the 60 page long Stakeholders Report.

But anyway back to the experience of a Luddite blogger in a posh hotel. I learned a lot about genetic modification, legislation, the problems of getting seeds to test, companies not making life easy for those testing or reporting, property rights and their effects over publication possibilities, loopholes in laws in different countries that allow people to legally buy seeds without a contract with the manufacturers (oh don’t get me started), and it got me thinking about writing an article.

So I did, and got it published here, in an Italian online academic journal.

Writing Skills

Now why is this of interest to you I hear you ask. Well I wrote this article basing much of it on the food series that I wrote here  on Technology Bloggers last year. In writing the series I unearthed a real underbelly of food production, and a little organization and rewriting, updating, selecting and expanding, and I had an academic article. You can download it for free here if you like.

The article raises the issue of how the GM debate is played out online. The problem it seems (to me) is that there is no forum for constructive debate about GM, and this leads to a polarization of positions. So we can imagine a scenario in which website “A” points out as many problems as the author can think of, ethical issues, exploitation, altering nature, global takeover of seed production, and other nasties. In the same scenario website “B” is glossy and tells us that only GM will be able to produce enough food to feed an ever growing population, that it is all safe, that they are spending money on research just to help us out….

The problem is that in all scenarios website C is the same as website A, and D is the same as B and so on. There is little room for debate about GM in organic fuel production, or any other possible uses. It is the goodies against the baddies, and the baddies have more money, friends and power. The goodies however don’t seem to have a broad enough base to attack from.

Now the article looks nothing like the blog series I grant you, nor does this 2 paragraph description above, and I have to say that a lot of work went into the article. But having done all of the research for the series gave me a really good grounding. Now I am sure that many readers have written blogs that follow long and intricate lines of argument, but I wonder how many have thought about writing an article for a journal, newspaper or magazine and submitting it? It certainly broadens your writing capabilities, and if you feel you have something important to say it gives access to different readerships.

And it looks good in the portfolio and on the CV!

Categories
Environment Media Science Technology

Experiences of an Online Conference

adobe

Online Conference

Last month I attended a conference with a difference, The INSS annual meeting was held in 5 different cities at the same time, as well as online, in an attempt to cut down on travel for participants. I attended the London site and was one of only 2 people to fly to the event. This is remarkable considering that last year we all met in North Carolina and dozens of people flew internal and trans continental legs.

The physical Conference was held at UNC Charlotte in North Carolina, Oregon State university, Arizona State University, Michigan State University and University College London.

Very much an experiment, the practicalities of conducting a conference over several different time zones posed some issues, with early starts for those on the US West Coast and late finishes for those in Europe. The technology worked incredibly well, with very few glitches over the days’ events. Participants were able to ask questions, follow seminars in any of the sites they chose, and interact with the poster and key note presenters using online media.

The event was run out of North Carolina, and the web management was all taken care of from that site. I must say that I was rather skeptical at the beginning, having lived with Skype developments over the years, but how wrong could I be?

Communication Technology

The communication was taken care of using Adobe Connect, so anyone could participate through their own computer or by visiting any of the sites. We in London lost the last 5 minutes of a discussion after one of the lectures, but for the rest it all worked perfectly.

Now as someone who travels to a lot of these kinds of things I can only marvel at the progress made. Each site shared some seminars and papers, but all had different agendas. The London agenda included a day of field trips, as well as as a panel during which presenters discussed their experiences of building the Engineering Exchange, a university lead action group whose aim is to bridge the gap between communities and planners preparing urban regeneration projects. Read the abstract here.

We also toured some of the capital’s largest redevelopment projects, including a visit to Crossrail, a huge rail link and urban regeneration project that cuts through central London. A guided tour of the Elephant and Castle redevelopment area with the interest group “Social Life” followed, a context of urban regeneration that has caused many locals to question both existing and future plans in that area.

The context was also helped by the involvement of a member of a local interest group that aims to support people whose houses are under threat, and promote the idea of refitting houses to maintain communities, rather than rehousing and rebuilding. There is a lot more to think about in urban regeneration that you might imagine.

The Network

The closing panel was hosted in Charlotte and entitled Social Sustainability Initiatives in Planning and engineering Organization. Full details of all the participating site agendas can be found on the INSS website.

The network is open to all interested in participating, so keep an eye on the website for further information. We volunteer our time, we learn a lot, we try to raise social sustainability issues, and we always have a bit of a social at every event. I must say that the multi-site format was a worthy experiment that worked extremely well, and I think could offer a model for future events. Is the era of the online conference coming to life? Looks like it to me.

Categories
Business Computers Internet Media News Technology

What’s in Your Computer (and phone, and WiFi)?

gates

Lenovo

This week the news is full of Lenovo, a computer manufacturer that has been selling machines that they have already fitted with what some call Malware or just Adware. Magic in the machine indeed!

The mal/adware in question is made by a company called “Superfish.” The software is essentially an Internet browser add-on that injects ads onto websites you visit. Details here.

Besides taking up space in your computer, the add-on is also dangerous because it undermines basic computer security protocols.

That’s because it tampers with a widely-used system of official website certificates. That makes it hard for your computer to recognize a fake bank website. This means that you are more likely to give all of your personal data away, let nasty things into your computer, and allow people to monitor your use.

No good I hear you say, and all so that they can feed you adverts while you are browsing.

Hidden Extras?

But this news does bring up another question, what else is in the computer? What else is it programmed to do? The simple answer is that I and probably most of you do not know. We have bought a machine that does the things we want it to do, but who knows what else?

Now as I eat my breakfast, I like to read the ingredients on the side of the packet. It is good for language skills as it is usually in several languages. But can I do this with my computer? You don’t get much in the way of documentation with a $400 laptop. Certainly not considering what is inside it.

So the computer company in question have disabled something at their end and the problem is resolved. But if they tell you that they fixed the problem are you going to believe them? After they did something that put your computer and everything saved on it at risk? Or should you put a new operating system on the new machine, wipe the hard drive and start again?

Why do we trust these manufacturers when they consistently do things that are not in our interest? WiFi providers that con your computer into trusting fake certificates so that they can block certain sites (and read your mail or follow your searches)? Samsung that record your voice through your smart TV and send it non encrypted over the Internet to unnamed third parties, social media sites and search engines that collect your data, mobile phone companies that map your every movement, the list goes on.

So if you cannot trust wifi, or computer manufacturers, or Google, or Facebook, or Samsung to treat our data securely and correctly, who can you trust? And more to the point why are we giving them our lives to play with?

Categories
Gadgets Media News Technology

Mind Your Language in front of the TV

Samsung-F8500-plasma-review-smart-tv

Privacy

I have a friend who puts tape over the webcam on his laptop while he is working, because he believes that people can hack into his computer and watch what he is doing. I must admit I thought it was a bit strange at first, but then hunting information I discovered that it was not only possible, but a well known crime involving organized gangs.

The UK recently took down a Russian website that was showing live webcam, taken without the knowledge of the people that were taking the footage. The incident not only involved security cameras, but all types of baby monitors and practically anything that has a camera and transmits data wirelessly.

Check out this article here.

Smart TV

But this is small fry really when you read this week’s news. A large TV manufacturer which has a product that recognizes voice controls seems to have been transmitting everything said in front of the TV to a third party.

They do this so that said third party can sieve through the words used to see if a command has been given. But there are many unanswered questions. Who is the third party? What are they doing with my data? Is it secure? The list goes on.

But said company are not trying to hide what they are doing:

Voice Recognition

You can control your SmartTV, and use many of its features, with voice commands.

If you enable Voice Recognition, you can interact with your Smart TV using your voice. To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service that converts speech to text or to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you. In addition, ******* may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features. Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.

I am not sure that everyone who buys a TV of this type reads the Global Privacy Policy – SmartTV Supplement however, and they might be giving away a lot more than they would like to without knowing.

The BBC carries an article about this news with all of the names included. I think it is probably true though that if one company do it, then so do all the others.

Categories
Fun Media Science Technology

The Edge of Knowledge

quote-life-is-a-travelling-to-the-edge-of-knowledge-then-a-leap-taken-david-herbert-lawrence-108885

What do you think about machines that think? Or should I say machines who think? That is the 2015 EDGE question.

Edge of Knowledge

Edge.org was launched in 1996 as the online version of “The Reality Club” and as a living document on the Web to display the activities of “The Third Culture”. What is the third culture? Oh to put it in their words.  ‘the third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are’.

And members (Edgies) have been responding to an annual question now for some time.

What should we be worried about? What is your favourite explanation? How is the Internet changing the way you think? What will change everything? You know, just regular questions. OK big questions.

And this group contains a lot of famous names. Well this group is made up of famous people is a better description, from many walks of life, and so the answers are extremely interesting. Go and check a few out on the website.

Artificial Intelligence

As is the preamble on the website:

“In recent years, the 1980s-era philosophical discussions about artificial intelligence (AI)—whether computers can “really” think, refer, be conscious, and so on—have led to new conversations about how we should deal with the forms that many argue actually are implemented. These “AIs”, if they achieve “Superintelligence” (Nick Bostrom), could pose “existential risks” that lead to “Our Final Hour” (Martin Rees). And Stephen Hawking recently made international headlines when he noted “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

But wait! Should we also ask what machines that think, or, “AIs”, might be thinking about? Do they want, do they expect civil rights? Do they have feelings? What kind of government (for us) would an AI choose? What kind of society would they want to structure for themselves? Or is “their” society “our” society? Will we, and the AIs, include each other within our respective circles of empathy?”

So how close are we to these predictions, dreams and nightmares? There is plenty of stuff on the web to feed the interested, and surely enough developments will surely move in that direction. Last week we learned that a computer can work out aspects of your personality thanks to your social media use (see the post here). But intelligence? Computing variables is not intelligence.

And can we say that learning is intelligence? Computers can certainly learn, but can they think? Can they reason? What does it mean to think? To make a decision based on what? If the decision is based on experience then to some extent it is a calculation, or a computation, and if that is the case then a computer can think.

So back to the question. What Do You Think About Machines That Think?