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Friday, November 24, 2017

Pax Technica - The Conference

#paxtechnica Today I was at the @CRASSHlive conference in Cambridge to hear a series of talks and panel discussions on The Implications of the Internet of Things. For a comprehensive account, see @LaurieJ's livenotes.

When I read Philip Howard's book last week, I wondered why he had devoted so much of his book to such internet phenomena as social media and junk news, when the notional topic of the book was the Internet of Things. His keynote address today made the connection much clearer. While social media provides data about attitudes and aspirations, the internet of things provides data about behaviour. When these different types of data are combined, this produces a much richer web of information.

For example, Howard mentioned a certain coffee company that wanted to use IoT sensors to track the entire coffee journey from farm to disposed cup. (Although another speaker expressed scepticism about the value of this data, arguing that most of the added value of IoT came from actuators rather than sensors.)

To the extent that the data involves personal information, this raises political concerns. Some of the speakers today spoke of surveillance capitalism, and there were useful talks on security and privacy. (See separate post on Risk and Security)

In his 2014 essay on the Internet of Things, Bruce Sterling characterizes the Internet of Things as "an epic transformation: all-purpose electronic automation through digital surveillance by wireless broadband". According to Sterling, powerful stakeholders like the slogan 'Internet of Things' "because it sounds peaceable and progressive".

Peaceable? Howard uses the term Pax. This refers to a period in which the centre is stable and relatively peaceful, although the periphery may be marked by local skirmishes and violence (p7). His historical examples are the Pax Romana, the Pax Britannica and the Pax Americana. He argues that we are currently living in a similar period, which he calls Pax Technica.

For Howard, "a pax indicates a moment of agreement between government and the technology industry about a shared project and way of seeing the world" (p6). This seems akin to Gramsci's notion of cultural hegemony, "the idea that the ruling class can manipulate the value system and mores of a society, so that their view becomes the world view or Weltanschauung" (Wikipedia).

But whose tech? Howard has documented significant threats to democracy from foreign governments using social media bots to propagate junk news. There are widespread fears that this propaganda has had a significant effect on several recent elections. And if the Russians are often mentioned in the context of social media bots and junk news, the Chinese are often mentioned in the context of dodgy Internet of Things devices. While some political factions in the West are accused of collaborating with the Russians, and some commercial interests (notably pharma) may be using similar propaganda techniques, it seems odd to frame this as part of a shared project between government and the technology industry. Howard's research indicates a new technological cold war, in which techniques originally developed by the authoritarian regimes to control their own citizens are repurposed to undermine and destabilize democratic regimes.

David Runciman talked provocatively about government of the things, by the things, for the things. (Someone from the audience linked this, perhaps optimistically, to Bruno Latour's Parliament of Things.) But Runciman's formulation foregrounds the devices (the "things") and overlooks the relationships behind the devices (the "internet of"). (This is related to Albert Borgmann's notion of the Device Paradigm.) As consumers we may spend good money on products with embedded internet-enabled devices, then we discover that these devices don't truly belong to ourselves but remain loyal to their manufacturers. They monitor our behaviour, they may refuse to work with non-branded spare parts, or they may terminate service altogether. As Ian Steadman reports, it's becoming more and more common for everyday appliances to have features we don't expect. (Worth reading Steadman's article in full. He also quotes some prescient science fiction from Philip K Dick's 1969 novel Ubik.) "Very soon your house will betray you" warns architect Rem Koolhaas (Guardian 12 March 2014).

There are important ethical questions here, relating to non-human agency and the Principal-Agent problem.

But the invasion of IoT into our lives doesn't stop there. McGuirk worries that "our countless daily actions and choices around the house become what define us", and quotes a line from Dave Eggers' 2013 novel, The Circle

"Having a matrix of preferences presented as your essence, as the whole you? … It was some kind of mirror, but it was incomplete, distorted."
So personal identity and socioeconomic status may become precarious. This needs more thinking about. In the meantime, here is a quote from Teston.

"Wearable technologies ... are non-human actors that interact with other structural conditions to determine whose bodies count."


Related Posts

Pax Technica - The Book (November 2017)
Pax Technica - On Risk and Security (November 2017)


References

Dan Herman, Dave Eggers' "The Circle" — on tech, big data and the human component (Metaweird, Oct 2013)

Philip Howard, Pax Technica: How The Internet of Things May Set Us Free or Lock Us Up (Yale 2015)

Laura James, Pax Technica Notes (Session 1Session 2Session 3Session 4)

Justin McGuirk, Honeywell, I’m Home! The Internet of Things and the New Domestic Landscape (e-flux #64 April 2015)

John Naughton, 95 Theses about Technology (31 October 2017)

Ian Steadman, Before we give doors and toasters sentience, we should decide what we're comfortable with first (New Statesman, 10 February 2015)

Bruce Sterling, The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things (2014). Extract via BoingBoing (13 Sept 2014)

Christa Teston, Rhetoric, Precarity, and mHealth Technologies (Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 46:3, 2016) pp 251-268 

Wikipedia: Cultural Hegemony, Device ParadigmHegemony, Principal-Agent problem

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Creative Tension in the White House

In his 1967 book on Organizational Intelligence, Harold Wilensky praises President Franklin Roosevelt for his unorthodox but apparently effective management style.
"Roosevelt devised an administrative structure that would baffle any conventional student of public administration." (p53)


In contrast with FDR's approach, Wilensky notes some episodes where White House intelligence systems were not fit for purpose, including Korea (Truman) and the Bay of Pigs (Kennedy).

What about President Trump's approach? @tonyjoyce suggests that Trump is failing FDR's first construct - checking and balancing official intelligence vs unorthodox sources. However, Reuters (via the Guardian) quotes Republican strategist Charlie Black, who believes Trump’s White House reflects his traditional approach to running his business. “He’s always had a spokes-to-the-wheel management style,” said Black. “He wants people with differing views among the spokes.“



Sources

Reuters, Kushner and Bannon agree to 'bury the hatchet' after White House peace talks (Guardian, 9 April 2017)

Related posts

Delusion and Diversity (October 2010)
The Art of the New Deal - Trump and Intelligence (February 2017)
Another Update on Deconfliction (April 2017)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Linear Thought

Various concerns have been raised about Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, previously described as "disruptive" by a former Pentagon official, and now the subject of heated investigation and speculation around his short-lived role in the Trump administration, his alleged links with Russia and other countries, and his alleged obsessions about various topics.

According to the Guardian, US and UK intelligence officers were also anxious about Flynn's capacity for "linear thought".

I guess most people will interpret this concern as "insufficient capacity". When I searched for "linear thinking" on the internet, I found a number of pages that contrasted linear thinking with various forms of supposedly bad thinking, such as "fragmented thinking". I also found pages that tried to divide people into two camps - the scientific "leftbrain" types who think in straight lines, and the artistic "rightbrain" types who think in circles.

However, systems thinkers might be concerned about someone at that level having too much capacity for linear thought. (As one might be concerned about someone's capacity for gossip or deception.) In a previous post on this blog, I defended Flynn's former boss, Gen. Stanley McChrystal (labelled an "ill-fated iconoclast" by James Kitfield) against the claim that he was not a systems thinker. (This claim was based on a remark McChrystal had made about a subsequently notorious systems dynamics diagram. I argued that McChyrstal's remark could have been made either by someone who doesn't get systems thinking, or at the other extreme by someone who really gets systems thinking.)

The question here is about greater or lesser capacity for various kinds of thinking, because I'm trying to avoid the fallacy (identified by @cybersal) of categorizing people as this or that type of thinker. She rightly insists on seeing systems thinking not as an all-or-nothing affair but "as a lens to be applied in a particular type of situation".

By the way, Flynn himself has appeared on this blog before. In January 2010, using the lens of organizational intelligence, I reviewed his report on Fixing Intel. While I was sceptical about some of his recommendations, I can affirm that the report showed considerable capacity for systems (non-linear) thinking. Make of that what you will.


Links

Phillip Carter, What is Michael Flynn's game? (Slate, 31 March 2017)

Luke Harding et al, Michael Flynn: new evidence spy chiefs had concerns about Russian ties (Guardian, 31 March 2017)

James Kitfield, Flynn’s Last Interview: Iconoclast Departs DIA With A Warning (Breaking Defense, 7 August 2014)

Stanley McChrystal, The military case for sharing knowledge (TED2014, March 2014)

Stan McChrystal, Career Curveballs: No Longer A Soldier (22 April 2014)

Greg Miller and Adam Goldman, Head of Pentagon intelligence agency forced out, officials say (Washington Post, 30 April 2014)


Related Blogposts

A Job Description for Systems Thinking (November 2009)
Making Intelligence Relevant (January 2010)
Understanding Complexity (July 2010)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Decision-Making Models

In my previous discussion of the ACPO national decision model (May 2014), I promised to return to the methodological question, namely what theories of decision-making would be relevant to NDM and any other decision models. I have just happened upon a doctoral thesis by Maxwell Mclean looking at the decision-making by coroners, which analyses local variation in coronial outcomes at three decision-making stages: whether to report the death, whether to advance to inquest, and the choice of inquest conclusion.

Mclean notes that there is no decision-making model for coroners equivalent to the police national decision model and focussed on standards and consistency of outcome. He finds other examples of decision-making models in nursing (Lewinson and Truglio-Londrigan, 2008; Husted and Husted, 1995; Jasper, Rosser and Mooney, 2013); social work (O’Sullivan, 2011; Taylor, 2010); and probation work (Carter, 1967; Rosecrance, 1985). However, several of these are descriptive models rather than normative models.

Within the professions mentioned by Mclean, I found a lot more work on evidence-based nursing as well as some interesting international discussions on decision-making within offender supervision. Looking further afield, I was interested to find an article about a decision-making model in the US Army, but this turned out to be merely a polemical article by a former Navy Seal advocating the use of Design Thinking.

Rosecrance introduces an interesting concept of the Ball Park, where a professional decision is influenced by the anticipated reaction of a more senior professional. For example, the decisions of a probation officer are not solely designed to achieve the desired outcomes for the client, but also designed to meet the approval of (1) judges, (2) prosecuting attorneys, and (3) probation supervisors. When a recommendation seems likely to meet the approval of these three entities, it is said to be "in the ball park". The "ball park" concept is also used in sales negotiations, and this hints at the idea that the focus here is on "selling" (or at least defending) the decision rather than just making it.

Coming back to the police, this frames the NDM not just as a way of making the best decision but also avoiding censure if anything goes wrong. See my post on the National Decision Model and Lessons Learned (February 2017).



Miranda Boone and Martine Evans, Offender supervision and decision-making in Europe (Offender Supervision in Europe: Decision-Making and Supervision Working Group, 2013)

Jeff Boss, The Army's New Decision-Making Model (Forbes, 8 August 2014)

Carter, R.M. (1967). The presentence report and the decision making process. Journal of
research in crime and delinquency. 4 203-211.

Jasper, M., Rosser, M., Mooney, G. (Eds.) (2013). Professional Development, Reflection
and Decision-Making in Nursing and Health Care (2nd ed.). Swansea: Wiley Blackwell.

Husted, G.L. and Husted, I.H. (1995). Ethical decision-making in nursing (2nd ed.). St
Louis: Mosby.

Lewenson, S.B. and Truglio-Londrigan, M. (2008). Decision-Making in Nursing, thoughtful approaches for practice. London: Jones and Bartlett Publishers International.

Maxwell Mclean, The Coroner in England and Wales; Coronial Decision-­Making and Local Variation in Case Outcomes (Doctoral Thesis, University of Huddersfield, 2015)

O'Sullivan, T. (2011). Decision making in social work (2nd ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave
Macmillan

Rosecrance, J. (1985). The Probation Officers' Search for Credibility: Ball Park
Recommendations. Journal of research in crime and delinquency. 31, (4) 539-554.

Mooi Standing, Perceptions of clinical decision-making: a matrix model (May 2010). This appears to be a chapter from Mooi Standing (ed) Clinical Judgement and Decision-Making in Nursing and Inter-professional Healthcare (McGraw Hill, 2010)

Taylor, B. (2010). Professional Decision-Making in Social Work. Exeter: Learning Matters.

Carl Thompson et al, Nurses, information use, and clinical decision making—the real world potential for evidence-based decisions in nursing (Evidence-Based Nursing Vol 7 No 3, July 2004) http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/ebn.7.3.68


Related posts
National Decision Model (May 2014)
National Decision Model and Lessons Learned (Feb 2017)

Updated 4 March 2017

Monday, February 27, 2017

National Decision Model and Lessons Learned

The appointment of Cressida Dick as the first female commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has been criticized in some quarters because of her involvement in the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005.

Dick was the "gold commander" who instructed armed officers to "stop" de Menezes. At the time, however, armed officers were following a new set of police guidelines known as Operation Kratos. In the context of these guidelines, Dick's orders were interpreted as shoot-to-kill. At the Old Bailey in 2007, Dick denied that this had been her intention.

As Mary Dejevsky argues, the de Menezes case provides a lasting reminder of what can go wrong
"whether because the overall atmosphere has not been properly appraised, because the orders given were not precise enough, or simply because insufficient account has been taken of the human factor".
The National Decision Model, which was introduced a few years after this incident, provides a framework that should (at least in theory) prevent this kind of miscommunication. See my post on the National Decision Model (May 2014). Perhaps this is one of the areas where "lessons have been learned". Or perhaps not.

Iain Gould is a solicitor. One of his clients was involved in an incident in 2013 that resulted in his being tasered. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) attributed this escalation, in part, to a failure to follow the National Decision Model.
"I would question whether PC B gave enough emphasis to the first element of the National Decision Model, which is to communicate. ... More effort should have been made, in line with the National Decision Model, to engage Mr S in dialogue."

The IPCC commissioned a report in 2015, which contains some analysis of the National Decision Model, and some recommendations for its improved use. There are two versions of the report:



The Guardian view on the Met police: changing, but too slowly (23 February 2017)

Duncan Campbell et al, Leaks raise sharp questions about police tactics (Guardian, 17 August 2005)

Mary Dejevsky, Can Cressida Dick win over the public? Yes, if she’s learned from her mistakes (Guardian, 23 February 2017)

Iain Gould, Is Police Taser Policy Working? (11 May 2016)

Martin Hoscik, Sadiq Khan says ‘My heart goes out to the de Menezes family’ but insists Cressida Dick is the right choice to protect London (MayorWatch, 25 February 25, 2017)

Maxwell Mclean, The Coroner in England and Wales; Coronial Decision-­Making and Local Variation in Case Outcomes (Doctoral Thesis, University of Huddersfield, 2015)

Wail Qasim, Lessons Learned (LRB Blog, 27 February 2017)


Related blogpost

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Art of the New Deal - Trump and Intelligence

In his 1967 book on Organizational Intelligence, Harold Wilensky praised President Roosevelt for maintaining a state of creative tension in the US administration. Wilensky reckoned that this enabled FDR to get a more accurate and rounded account of what was going on, and gave him some protection against the self-delusion of each department.

(In FDR's time, of course, it was considered entirely normal for an administration to be staffed by a bunch of white men with similar education. And yet even they managed to achieve some diversity of perspective.)

Early reports of Donald Trump's administration suggest an unconscious echo of the FDR style. Or perhaps a much earlier pattern.

At the center of it all has been a cast of characters jockeying for Trump’s ear, creating a struggle for power that has manifested in a mix of chaos, leaks and uncertainty. The Trump White House already bears more resemblance to the court of a Renaissance king than to most prior administrations as favorites come and go, counselors quarrel over favor and policy decisions are often made by whim or without consultation. (Guardian, 4 Feb 2017)

But it is difficult to see this as "creative tension" resulting in an "accurate and rounded" view.
“Trump thinks he’s invincible,” says Hemmings, who doubts whether his advisors will ever question or criticise him. “Usually leaders choose the people around them to keep them in check, and Trump needs people to temper his hotheadedness and aggression. Instead, he’s picked advisors who worship him.” (Independent, 2 Feb 2017)

Wilensky's book also discusses the dangers of a doctrine of secrecy.

Secrets belong to a small assortment of individuals, and inevitably become hostage to private agendas. As Harold Wilensky wrote “The more secrecy, the smaller the intelligent audience, the less systematic the distribution and indexing of research, the greater the anonymity of authorship, and the more intolerant the attitude toward deviant views.” (Gladwell 2010)

And secrecy seems to a key element of the Trump-Bannon modus operandi.
“These executive orders were very rushed and drafted by a very tight-knit group of individuals who did not run it by the people who have to execute the policy. And because that’s the case, they probably didn’t think of or care about how this would be executed in the real world,” said another congressional source familiar with the situation. “No one was given a heads-up and no one had a chance to weigh in on it.” (Politico 30 Jan 2017)


But perhaps in reaction to the Bannonite doctrine of secrecy, there has been a flood of leaks from inside the administration. Chris Cillizza suggests two possible explanations - either these leaks are intended to influence Trump himself (because he doesn't take anything seriously unless he hears it from his favourite media channels) or conversely they are intended as a kind of whistle-blowing.


Marx thought that history repeated itself. (Alarmingly, Trump's Counselor Steve Bannon adheres to the same view.) So are we into tragedy or farce here?




Rachael Bade, Jake Sherman and Josh Dawsey, Hill staffers secretly worked on Trump's immigration order (Politico, 30 Jan 2017)

Chris Cillizza, The leaks coming out of the Trump White House cast the president as a clueless child (Washington Post, 26 January 2017), The leaks coming out of the Trump White House right now are totally bananas (Washington Post, 2 Feb 2017)

Malcolm Gladwell, Pandora's Briefcase (New Yorker, 10 May 2010)

Rachel Hosie, The deeper reason we should be worried Donald Trump hung up on Australia PM Malcolm Turnbull (Independent, 2 Feb 2017)

Linette Lopez, Steve Bannon's obsession with a dark theory of history should be worrisome (Business Insider, 2 Feb 2017) HT @BryanAppleyard

Carmen Medina, What is your Stupification Point? (6 May 2010)

Joseph Rago, History Repeats as Farce, Then as 2016 (Wall Street Journal, 4 November 2016) paywall

Sabrina Siddiqui and Ben Jacobs, Trump's courtiers bring chaotic and capricious style to White House (Guardian, 4 February 2017)



Related posts

Puzzles and Mysteries (January 2010)
Enemies of Intelligence (May 2010)
Delusion and Diversity (October 2012)

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Pay as you Share

Announced and rapidly withdrawn, Admiral's proposed collaboration with Facebook was supposed to give drivers a discount on their car insurance premiums if their Facebook posts indicated the right kind of personality. According to some reports, the idea was that people who were reckless with punctuation (too many exclamation marks, not enough full stops) might also be reckless in their driving habits.

The punctuation example is probably a red herring. The analysis of personality will undoubtedly be based on much richer aspects than mere punctuation: Facebook is capable of much more sophisticated analysis, as well as selling data to other organizations for the same purpose.

For example, a Korean study in 2013 found that Facebook activities had predictive power in distinguishing depressed and nondepressed individuals. However, Facebook may not wish to draw too much public attention to such capabilities. (There are some important ethical issues in the use of algorithms to predict mental health issues, for example in recruitment screening, discussed at length by Cathy O'Neil.)

Meanwhile, insurance companies will wish to use any information and insight they can get their hands on, to try and calculate risk more accurately. People may consent to sharing their data if they feel they will benefit personally, or if they are unaware of the possible data uses and implications, but that could just result in discrimination against the people who refuse to share their data. So privacy campaigners may not be reassured by the fact that this particular collaboration has been withdrawn.



Cathy O'Neil, How algorithms rule our working lives (Guardian, 1 Sept 2016)

Sungkyu Park et al, Activities on Facebook Reveal the Depressive State of Users (J Med Internet Res. 2013 Oct; 15(10): e217)

Graham Ruddick, Admiral to price car insurance based on Facebook posts (Guardian, 2 November 2016, 00.01 GMT)

Graham Ruddick, Facebook forces Admiral to pull plan to price car insurance based on posts (Guardian, 2 November 2016, 18.41 GMT)


Related posts
Weapons of Math Destruction (Oct 2016)