This is a blog about technology, politics, economics, and philosophy — an open notebook on these subjects. It is informal. It is a ranty, or ideally conversational, blog. I reserve the right to write badly here. It is full of first impressions and therefore mistakes.
I post notes about what I’m reading lately and how it connects with other ideas I’ve encountered. The writing here sometimes winds up being the raw material for more polished publications. Most of the time I’m writing here to try to figure something out.
This is me:
I am a scientist, research engineer, and technology policy scholar. I am an NSF-funded principal investigator at the Information Law Institute at NYU School of Law. I build open source scientific software as a research method. I hold a PhD in Information Management and Systems from UC Berkeley. You can read more about my work on my professional web site.
I tweet as @sbenthall.
I live in New York with my wife and son.
[…] a raíz del tweet «DESTROY ALL NON-WEIRD TWITTER» del usuario @regisl, el concepto caló cuando Sebastian Benthall afinó que las máximas de Weird Twitter tendían a las siguientes […]
I’ve been reading your blog and I admire the clarity and ease with which you “draw out” significant points from alot of the classics of social science and philosphy, coupled with new litterature on the leading trends of thought on technology and morality and weave them together through the dilemmas and come up with fresh and substantial thoughts.
I found your blog as it was linked to Sean O’Nuallains conference “Foundations of Life”. And as I started to read the different postings on your blog it was as if I was scrolling through a similar path of thought that I had followed when I wrote a thesis about artificial intelligence over 20years ago. It was quite an experience as I also(a bit like O’nuallain but with less capacity and on a smaller scale) decided to chuck some of the academic strictures overboard(for eks. it was written in an essaylike manner using first-person singular) and I passed! And I have never regretted all the many years I spent as a student…and thanks for sharing “the concrete accomplishment of (..your minds’) freedom” .
Thanks so much for these kind and encouraging words!
Is your doctoral dissertation publicly available? I did not see a download link. It sounds like a fascinating read. I really enjoy your blog. You write so clearly and affectingly on every subject.
Thank you; that is so kind of you! Please feel free to comment any time. I don’t often get to know who my readers are, and it’s always nice to know.
Yes, my doctoral dissertation is public. You can find it here.
Your comment on my Amazon post: it is why I said there were “many” reasons but I wanted to focus on content and artificial intelligence for purposes of my post. Yes, it is successful for many reasons. And we often talk about Amazon as though it were a retailer. It’s an understandable mistake. Few people, I think, realize how Amazon is slowly controlling the underlying infrastructure of our economy. Bezos’s big bet is that he can make buying from Amazon so effortless that we won’t notice the company’s creeping grip on commerce and its underlying infrastructure, and that we won’t notice what that dominance costs us.
On a larger scale, I think that unless we really acquire an “algorithmic fetishism” (Torin Monahan’s term) and pursue the opening of black boxes everywhere … not just the surveillance-infused forms of algorithmic discrimination .. but the discovery of all the code used (and hidden) by these platforms … the good, the bad and the ugly … how can anybody talk about “intervention”.
But then again, I am a pessimist. Ain’t gonna happen.
I do like Jenna Burrell’s 2016 article on “How the machine thinks” as an explanation of different forms of ‘opacity’ of algorithms.
I am somewhat skeptical myself of the emphasis on algorithmic opacity, though. Maybe because I’m well-verse enough in machine learning to understand its limitations. I think the opacity question is best thought of through a lens of complexity and autonomy, though I’ll admit I haven’t been able to convince anybody of that yet. This is my argument so far about that:
I think the infrastructure control issues are more pressing and less understood, which is why I wanted to ask you about them. In general, I think there’s an industrial organization aspect to the tech economy which is not being discussed enough. I’m excited to discover transaction cost economics recently; I think it might be the missing lens I need.
Quick note on your PhD dissertation. Your opening line: “The creators of technical infrastructure are under social and legal pressure to comply with expectations that can be difficult to translate into computational and business logics.” BANG!! Had you only been in Brussels this past week: https://iapp.org/conference/iapp-europe-data-protection-congress
They.did.not.have.a.clue.what.they.were.saying.or.proposing. Nary a technophil in the room.
Bottom line? We will not see peak enforcement for GDPR in 2018 due to poor staffing/understanding of the law at EU Data Protection Authority offices, the legal war zone of obfuscation/corporate trickery, etc. Legal vendors are pissed since they were expecting a “money tree” from the new law. So 2019? We’ll see. The British Airlines data breach case and the Facebook data breach case … both post-GDPR … were expected to be the watershed cases but are now falling apart.
Yes, I see you get what I was going for! There is a deep and enduring problem of translating technical reality to and from expressions of human norms.
And too often, this gap winds up as a conflict between laws and technology companies, which operate according to different epistemic modes.
Now that governments are struggling with the understanding that they have to do *something*, it’s going to be messy…