By Joseph Menn – Technology firms should do more to connect people in positive ways and steer away from trends that have tended to exploit human weaknesses, ethicists told a meeting of Silicon Valley leaders on Tuesday.
Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin are the co-founders of the nonprofit Center for Humane Technology and the ones who prompted Apple and Google to nudge phone users toward reducing their screen time.
Now they want companies and regulators to focus on reversing what they called “human downgrading,” which they see as at the root of a dozen worsening problems, by reconsidering the design and financial incentives of their systems.
Before a hand-picked crowd of about 300 technologists, philanthropists and others concerned with issues such as internet addiction, political polarization, and the spread of misinformation on the web, Harris said Silicon Valley was too focused on making computers surpass human strengths, rather than worrying about how they already exploit human weaknesses.
If that is not reversed, he said, “that could be the end of human agency,” or free will.
The big companies, Harris said, “can change the incentives.” more>
Public disclosures help hold politicians accountable
By Rebecca Stropoli – A common problem in democracies is that, once elected, politicians may fail to address the needs of their constituents, especially the poorer ones. But is there a way to empower the electorate by holding officials accountable for their actions?
MIT’s Abhijit Banerjee and Harvard’s Nils Enevoldsen, Rohini Pande, and Michael Walton examined the effect that publicizing politicians’ records had on electoral results in the 2012 municipal elections in Delhi, India. They find that being issued public report cards caused politicians to shift their spending priorities.
With more than 18 million people, Delhi is the world’s second-largest city, behind Tokyo. Poor people living in slums form a significant share of the Delhi population. Slum dwellers, in fact, account for an electoral majority in many of the city’s 272 single-member wards, each of which elects a councilor to the municipal government every five years.
The anticipation of media reports did influence the policies of politicians representing poorer areas, the findings suggest. Councilors in high-slum wards whose report cards were published shifted their spending priorities to better match the needs of their constituents.
The “effective spending” on the needs of the poor by these councilors over two years increased by about $5,000 on average, or more than 13 percent, Enevoldsen says. more>
Tomorrow’s cities: evolving from “smart” to Adaptive
Cities are going smart – trying to deal with the proliferation of people, sensors, automobiles and a range of devices that demand network access and generate mind-boggling amounts of data. However, being smart is not an instance in time, and a “smart city” is not static. To be worthy of the name, a smart city must continually evolve and stay ahead of demand. This is only possible if the city’s underlying network is just as smart and can adapt to its constantly changing environment.
By Daniele Loffreda – Cities are constantly in flux. Populations move in; populations move out. Demographics change, economic growth falls and then soars. New leadership steps in and—if you believe all the commercials—technology will make everyone’s life better.
Municipal governments understand the need to consider which smart city applications will best serve the demands of their diverse demographic segments. The City of Austin’s Head of Digital Transformation, Marni White, summed up these challenges stating, “Our problems will continue to change over time, so our solutions also need to change over time.”
The one constant in the smart city is the network running underneath these solutions—and the truly smart city has a network that adapts.
Smart city applications must be aligned with where a city and its citizens want to go. Some municipalities that created model smart-cities early on have had to initiate extensive revamping. For example, the City of Barcelona has long been at the cutting edge of using digital devices and the Internet of Things to improve municipal operations; however, in 2017, Mayor Ada Colau gave Barcelona’s CTO, Francesca Bria, a mandate to “rethink the smart city from the ground up.”
This meant shifting from a “technology-first” approach, centered on interconnected devices, to a “citizen-first” focus that responds to the changing needs that residents themselves help define. more>
By Umair Irfan – Humans are pumping more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at an accelerating rate. But climate change is a cumulative problem, a function of the total amount of greenhouse gases that have accumulated in the sky. Some of the heat-trapping gases in the air right now date back to the Industrial Revolution. And since that time, some countries have pumped out vastly more carbon dioxide than others.
The wonderful folks at Carbon Brief have put together a great visual of how different countries have contributed to climate change since 1750. The animation shows the cumulative carbon dioxide emissions of the top emitters and how they’ve changed over time.
What’s abundantly clear is that the United States of America is the all-time biggest, baddest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet.
That’s true, despite recent gains in energy efficiency and cuts in emissions. These relatively small steps now cannot offset more than a century of reckless emissions that have built up in the atmosphere. Much more drastic steps are now needed to slow climate change. And as the top cumulative emitter, the US bears a greater imperative for curbing its carbon dioxide output and a greater moral responsibility for the impacts of global warming.
Yet the United States is now the only country aiming to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. more>