The Internet is Just a Prototype Bonanza Easter reading

A reading list to stimulate thoughts about the (digitised) world you might want to live in.

I have launched my email discussion group The Internet is Just a Prototype with a selection of interesting people as participants. Here’s the reading list I put out following the Easter holiday.

If you would like to participate and get future updates, you can pay to get in as a patron of my work. I am only offering a limited number of paying places; everyone else is invite only.

How to change the course of human history (at least, the part that’s already happened)

Quite a long read, but a really good one. Using archaeological and ethnological evidence, debunks the theory that the move to institutionalised hierarchy is a necessary part of the shift from “roving bands” to tribes to cities. Egalitarianism has been shown to scale in the past. I never realised there were societies whose whole structure was seasonal.

Juicy quote: “Jared Diamond notwithstanding, there is absolutely no evidence that top-down structures of rule are the necessary consequence of large-scale organization. Walter Scheidel notwithstanding, it is simply not true that ruling classes, once established, cannot be gotten rid of except by general catastrophe.”

The end of all evil [PDF] — Jeremy Locke

A startling tome, here in a free PDF, that offers a rather absolutist perspective on how humanity needs to shed its attachment and addiction to authority. I’m still only 2/3 of the way through it. Key “aha!” for me has been the difference between prudence and morality.

Surveillance Valley – The Secret Military History of the Internet

“Levine shows that the military and Silicon Valley are effectively inseparable: a military-digital complex that permeates everything connected to the internet, even coopting and weaponizing the antigovernment privacy movement that sprang up in the wake of Edward Snowden.”

An Analysis of Android App Permissions

Your permission is being abused, and this may well be by design. Each permission can readily result in data leakage you would not knowingly consent to. The table under “Permissions that access user information” is worth a look.

Facebook Container Extension: Take control of how you’re being tracked

“This extension helps you control more of your web activity from Facebook by isolating your identity into a separate container. This makes it harder for Facebook to track your activity on other websites via third-party cookies.”

Big Brother Arrives: China Bans People With “Bad Social Credit” From Planes, Trains

“As Reuters reports, people who would be put on the restricted lists included those found to have committed acts like spreading false information about terrorism and causing trouble on flights, as well as those who used expired tickets or smoked on trains, according to two statements issued on the National Development and Reform Commission’s website on Friday.”

Big data for the people: it’s time to take it back from our tech overlords

“Data is no less a form of common property than oil or soil or copper. We make data together, and we make it meaningful together, but its value is currently captured by the companies that own it. We find ourselves in the position of a colonized country, our resources extracted to fill faraway pockets.”

Theresa May Wants A ‘New’ Internet Monitored By The Government


The People’s Platform — Movement for a People’s Party

A (possibly naive and misguided) call for nations to have mission statements: “It is time to establish that our society exists to maximize human well-being.” The table of contents is a possible “ingredients list” for any evaluating the impact of the choices made on our behalf by any (automated) system.

Cops Are Now Using Dead People’s Fingers to Unlock iPhones

“Once you share information with someone, you lose control over how that information is protected and used. You cannot assert your privacy rights when your friend’s phone is searched and the police see the messages that you sent to your friend. Same goes for sharing information with the deceased — after you released information to the deceased, you have lost control of privacy.”

So much for self-sovereign identity?!

A Code of Ethics for Data Science

“Much like the Hippocratic Oath defines Do No Harm for the medical profession, the data science community must have a set of principles to guide and hold each other accountable as data science professionals. To collectively understand the difference between helpful and harmful. To guide and push each other in putting responsible behaviors into practice. And to help empower the masses rather than to disenfranchise them.”

Technologist’s Hippocratic Oath: An optional oath for building ethically considered experiences.

“Above all, I understand that I am the gatekeeper; placing greater concern in the consequences of the technology I build over that of obeying authority. If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and my craft, respected while I live and remembered with esteem thereafter.”

Doesn’t Common Law already cover all of this? Or do we need additional institutions, much like engineering has accumulated for other edifices?


“Take France for example, they passed a law in 2015 banning WiFi from all nursery schools. In addition to that, the law states that Wi-Fi must be turned off in all elementary schools when it’s not in use. … It’s not just a concern for children, the French National Library and many others in Paris, along with several universities, have completely removed all Wi-Fi networks, and it’s also banned in many municipal buildings.”

We tend to think about data, privacy, and choices made by software, but the hardware itself also comes with risks that are hard to quantify.

Algorithms Can’t Tell When They’re Broken–And Neither Can We

“Algorithms also make mistakes because they pick up on features of the environment that are correlated with outcomes, even when there is no causal relationship between them. In the algorithmic world, this is called overfitting. When this happens in a brain, we call it superstition.”

The Bike-Share Oversupply in China: Huge Piles of Abandoned and Broken Bicycles

“As cities impounded derelict bikes by the thousands, they moved quickly to cap growth and regulate the industry. Vast piles of impounded, abandoned, and broken bicycles have become a familiar sight in many big cities.” — As well as some eye-popping pictures, a possibly cautionary tale on how socially-minded endeavours, even (especially!) when privately funded and operated, can go awry.

Microsoft Bans “Offensive Language” from Skype

“What’s clear here is that Microsoft is reserving the right to cancel your account whenever they feel like it.  They do nothing to define “offensive language” (or “graphic violence,” for that matter) and in 2018 when anyone can be offended by anything, these terms allow Microsoft staff to play unrestrained censor if and when they choose.”

Why the net giants are worried about the Web 3.0

“The transition to a trust-less, anti-corruptible and anti-censorship system is not only necessary, it’s inevitable, and the changes will be catastrophic.”

Decentralisation is a technical necessity (hard limits on information density and performance) as well as a moral one (physical ownership as a means of control of your own data and destiny).

Is affiliate marketing disclosed to consumers on social media?

“Of all the YouTube videos and Pinterest pins that contained affiliate links, only ~10% and ~7% respectively contained accompanying disclosures.” — but if it makes money, what’s the problem, right?

Worth following on Twitter:
François Chollet
Mindful Technology

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