“Theoretically, planning may be good. But nobody has ever figured out the cause of government stupidity - and until they do (and find the cure), all ideal plans will fall into quicksand.”
Richard Feynman

What Do You Care What Other People Think?

Targu Mures City Council

n

Due to efforts by local political activists there is, on the Targu Mures city council at least one councellor (if not three) who believes in transparency. He live streams the city council meetings with a mobile device and then makes the recording available online. The transcriptions of the meetings are also available in PDF files published on the municipality website. I don’t know what kind of engagement, if any, this creates with the populace. Do people watch these videos? Do they comment on them?

The live streaming is not welcomed by the other council members, they view is as threatening and would prefer it wasn’t there. Though I agree with the idea of trasparency, I felt that the way this “transparency” has been introduced is defiant and has a protesting quality to it.

I was wondering if there was a way to make the ripples of his efforts reach further. To reach further into the community of Targu Mures and to become an interesting experience for the other council members. This is what came to me. What if:

  1. Good Publishing: te council meeting was published in a more meaningful and accessible way. Instead of just dumping it online (in a video or transciption PDF) what if it was transformed into a list of Agenda Items. Each agenda item would be described briefly so tha citizens could review the list without having to wade through all the information. It could then be possible to go deeper into each agenda item:
    • Read a longer description about it.
    • Read the part of the transcription which relates to the agenda item.
    • View the part of the video which relates to theagenda item.
    • See the positions of each of the counselloers relating to it in the meeting.
    • Find links to other documents and resources which relate to the subject matter.
    • Link to other council meetings during which the agenda item was discussed.
  2. Agenda Rank Voting: every citizen could partake in a simple online voting interaction in relation to the agenda items that were discussed during a meeting – such as: rank the three most important agenda items for you and possible object to one agenda item.
  3. Councellor Voting: every citizen could partake in a simple online interaction  in relation to the contribution of councellor members during – such as: who was the most well spoken councellor? who was the most intellectually coherent councellor? who was the most compassionate councellor? who was the most ill-behaved / least contributing / disruptive councellor.
  4. Point Ranking: the voting would be integrated into a kind of ranking system. The more citizens vote, the more points there a on the table. Points would be distributed between councellors based on their own positions (as presented during the council meeting) on the agenda items. The result would be a ranking of councellors in each council meeting that reflected the degree to which they are in tune with and represents the positions of the citizens.
  5. Integrity Validation: voting would be cross-checked for internal integrity. If a citizen tried (for example for political reasons) to give a councellor a vote for intellectual integrity, but her top 3 ranked agenda items do not align with the position of the councellor … then her vote would be flagged for integrity and that would be included in the point score algorithm.

Such a participatory environment could be further enhanced in different directions:

  1. Accumulated and publicly available councellor rankings may become some kind of reerence for councellor performance and social status. If it offers substantial content (such as a thorough record of public discourse) it may be adopted and refernced in mainstream media.
  2. Such public exposure may incentivize councellors to seek better ranking, to become more attentive to public opinion and to relate to it differently.
  3. Councellors, who are less political and more passionate about actual good governance,  may want to have a platform where they can better express their independent positions.
  4. Expanding the “agenda items” into a public platform where citizens could continue to discuss, together with experts and politicians, agenda items.
  5. A question might arise about how agenda items are set in the first place? What if the citizens could not only respond and comment on a predetermined council agenda, but there could be a social process during which the agenda is continuously discussed and created through social participation.
  6. Citizens may become better informed. about the workings of the city council.
  7. Citizen groups may form to discuss and develop agreed positions on agenda items.
  8. Activist may become better informed and able to interact with the populace.
  9. Alternate opinion leaders may emerge through a participatory process. A citizen who consistently votes and comments and contributed to an agenda item may gain actual political capital in the community. Citizens may gain some of ranking … not unlike repeat reviewers on Amazon.
  10. Councellors may discover that trasparency is not there enemy. That knowing the populace better may be helpful in governing. Ultimately, they may come to recognize that governing on behalf of their community is better then trying to manipulate and control their community behind hidden doors.

The foot in the door that was created into the Targu Mures city council can be an opening to a more meaningful and constructive public discourse in which representative may learn to better represent and citizens may learn to better participate in shaping governance and their society.

 

Posted in AltEco, Oameni, Open Source, outside | You are welcome to add your comment

On Intelligence – Human and Artificial

n

In some ways I feel that we have barely tapped into human intelligence (an experience that can go way beyond the narrow field of intellectual comprehension), yet it seems that the progress we have made, as expressed in AI, may undermine the possibility for many people to continue to evolve their human intelligence.

“… artificial intelligence opens a new world of image, audio, and video fakery …

… Another obvious beneficiary would be hoaxes. Consider the video below — a demonstration of a program called Face2Face, which essentially turns people into puppets, letting you map their facial expression to your own. The researchers demonstrate it using footage of Trump and Obama. Now combine that with prototype software recently unveiled by Adobe that lets you edit human speech (the company says it could be used for fixing voiceovers and dialog in films). Then you can create video footage of politicians, celebrities, saying, well, whatever you want them, too. Post your clip on any moderately popular Facebook page, and watch it spread around the internet.

… we can’t deny that digital tools will allow more people to create these sorts of fakes … AI-powered fakes and manipulations aren’t hard to spot now … but researchers say they’re just going to get better and better.”

The proliferation of realistic fakes would be a boon to conspiracy theorists, and would contribute to the current climate of deteriorating confidence in journalism.”

source

This article I read a couple of weeks ago makes this even more poignant … the software engineers who create and train deep neural networks do not know how they actually work and make decisions. The neural networks, it seems, can only be indirectly affected and tweaked … by intuition …  are scientists pushing themselves off the edge of reason? Even at this early stage we do not have “control” over these creations:

“Yesterday, the 46-year-old Google veteran who oversees the company’s search engine, Amit Singhal, announced his retirement. And in short order, Google revealed that Singhal’s rather enormous shoes would be filled by a man named John Giannandrea.

Giannandrea, you see, oversees Google’s work in artificial intelligence … Early in 2015 … Google began rolling out a deep learning system called RankBrain that helps generate responses to search queries.

… Singhal carried a philosophical bias against machine learning. With machine learning, he wrote, the trouble was that “it’s hard to explain and ascertain why a particular search result ranks more highly than another result for a given query.” And, he added: “It’s difficult to directly tweak a machine learning-based system to boost the importance of certain signals over others.”

… in order to tweak the behavior of these neural nets, you must adjust the math through intuition, trial, and error. You must retrain them on new data, with still more trial and error.”

and if you got this far and would like to go a bit deeper … this up-to-date primer on artificial intelligence.

Posted in Intake, Intellect Run Amok, outside, Tech Stuff | Tagged | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

Three Languages You Need to Take a Project from Dreams to Reality

n

A generally good reminder about speaking from and to context:

“… By distinguishing these languages and the needs that they serve, certain kinds of confusion may be avoided.

The Inward language is the way that those at the heart of a project make sense of what they are doing, the way of seeing the world that makes it possible. It may be a complex model of how things are and how they could be; it may be entirely intuitive and largely unspoken. It is a creative, living language. Over time, it comes to include the shorthand expressions and the charged words that build up among a group of people working together to bring about or sustain something that matters to them deeply.

The Upward language is the language of power and resources: the language of funding applications, the language of those who are in a position to intepret regulations and impose or remove obstacles. It is not a reflective or a curious language, it is a language of busy people who make decisions without having time to immerse themselves in the realities their decisions will affect. It is an impoverished language and when you have to describe what you are doing in its terms, you will feel that something is missing. You need a guide who is initiated into the relevant version of this language, who knows which words currently act as keys to which doors, what you have to say to have a decent chance of the gatekeepers letting you through. Yet even inside these institutions, you are dealing with human beings, so if you can allow glimpses of what matters about your project to show through the filter of keywords, it may just make a difference.

The Outward language is the language in which people who meet your project at ground level, in the course of their everyday lives, start to talk about it. It’s the language in which you can explain it to your mum, or to someone you just met in the pub, and realise that they get it — not that they have understood everything about what you’re doing, but that something here makes sense and sounds good. This is not about how your project works, it’s about what it does. In the corporate world, money is spent on people who are good at spinning words to create an Outward language for a product or a service or an organisation — much of advertising and public relations is about this — but the results usually have a synthetic aftertaste. You may get advice to try to imitate these publicity processes, but this is probably best ignored.”

 

Posted in AltEco, Community, Design, Intake, outside, Tech Stuff | You are welcome to add your comment

Software is Politics

n

Richard Pope, formerly of the UK GDS project, writes in Software is Politics:

“It’s time to stop designing digital services to just be easy to use and start designing them to be understandable, accountable, trusted, and easy to use.

1. Accountability at the point of use

Imagine if Uber made it clear exactly how much a driver earned and whether it met a living wage, directly on the email receipt …

2. Expose the rules

One obvious way is to examine the source code directly. The U.K. government increasingly opens its code …

3. Reimagine permissions

In a government context, that would mean explaining to users exactly what their data is being used for in a way that is understood …

4. Digital tools for digital consumer rights

For users to really trust stuff in the digital world, they need trusted third parties to do some of the hard work for them. And this means giving elbow room to some new digital watchdogs.”

 

 

Posted in AltEco, Design, Intake, Open Source, outside, Tech Stuff | You are welcome to add your comment

What design sprints are good for

n

Though I have never participated in a week-long design spring I resonate with the ideas of this post.

“Design sprints offer an apparently straightforward value proposition: get from idea to insight while skipping build and launch. High impact, risk reduction, and learning at minimal cost — all perfectly aligned with current trends …

Particularly for stakeholders who see design as all downstream aesthetics, a sprint demonstrates that design decisions run all the way through a product, like mould in a good cheese … If your sprint goes really well, your client will spiral into existential crisis about the difference between design and product management …

By the end of the week, you may all be convinced the project doesn’t have legs. Usually no one will say so on the spot, so as not to repudiate a tough week, but if the week’s primary outcome is to shitcan the project, that’s great …

Sorry. Even though you have to select tight boundaries for your prototype, you’re still going way too fast for considered design … A sprint is the opening gambit of a long, complex game — a tool of provocation, not delivery.

… The design sprint doesn’t really shine a light on more sophisticated research methods, and nor is it meant to.

… Don’t expect to learn much about market sizing or segmentation, customers’ propensity to pay, business model viability, or your propositional appeal against competitors … Proper market research this is not.

… The only acceptable approval decision after a design sprint alone is “Let’s not do this project”.”

I believe the broade subject hinted at in this post is how does a design-spring serve a wider product-making process. When such processes have holes and unmet expectations in them, stakeholders can pile-up incorrect expectations on processes/people/tools.

These days I am more interested in the activist/civic space and less in the corporate space. A popular pattern in this space seems to be the hackathon – a sprint of code writing. I am amazed that anyone believes that something substantial can be built in this way.

Posted in Design, Intake, outside, Tech Stuff | You are welcome to add your comment