Will big data algorithms soon control our lives?

By Stephan Manning.

Just a few decades ago it was unthinkable that a computer could ever be as smart as a human. But in 1996, the super-computer Deep Blue beat world champion Gary Kasparov in chess, and in early 2017 Google’s AlphaGo defeated the best human player in Go. In his fascinating new book Homo Deus, Yuval Harari argues that the combination of big data and self-improving algorithms will soon outsmart humans entirely and make human decision-making obsolete. Even today, it just takes 150 Facebook likes for psychometrics software such as Cambridge Analytica to know your needs, fears and hopes better than your parents do, and just over 300 likes for such software to know you better than you know yourself.  All based on analyzing your likes against Millions of other likes and profiles. No wonder the Trump campaign made effective use of that software last year to better target their voters. But this is just the beginning: Recently, researchers from Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa, were able for the first time to directly link a human brain to the Internet – creating the first ever ‘Brainternet’. Based on increased connectivity, smart algorithms may soon be able to monitor and analyze all our biological functions, thoughts, interactions, and purchases, and know much better what we want and what makes us happy than we do. Harari argues that in the end humans may delegate all important decisions – choices of careers, partners and places to live – to algorithms that exceed our brain capacity manifold. So will big data algorithms eventually control our lives?

Continue reading

Advertisements

Do We Need More (Ice Bucket) Challenges to Change the World?

By Stephan Manning.

If somebody had told me earlier this year that the best way to raise money for research on a rare disease is to have people pour buckets of ice water over their heads I would have probably suggested ordering another martini – on the rocks! Today it seems that hardly anybody has not been nominated for the ALS ice bucket challenge or at least heard about it. In a nutshell, the idea is to challenge people to either donate $100 for research on ALS* or dump a bucket of ice water on their head within 24 hours, which would qualify them to nominate other people. Critics have called the campaign a substitute for charitable work; a distraction from other campaigns; and a waste of water. But nobody can deny that this campaign has generated over 1 Million Facebook videos since June 1 and more than 2.2 Million tweets since July 29, all of which have helped mobilize $41.8 Million from 739,000 donors for ALS research within the past month. So what’s the secret behind this campaign and do we need more (ice bucket) challenges to solve the world’s many problems?

Continue reading

Equality v. Twitter

By Michael Johnson (PhD Student at UMass Boston, OSC Track).

Are you kidding me? You mean to tell me there isn’t at least one highly qualified female in the United States who could serve on Twitter’s board of directors? Many people have asked this question over the past few weeks. And yes, at least according to Twitter CEO Dick Costoloit, no qualified females are available for this position.

Continue reading

21st-Century Company Town: The End of Privacy?

By Michael Johnson (PhD Student at UMass Boston, OSC Track).

Would you want to live just footsteps away from work? The question stayed in my mind as I read the recent Wall Street Journal article about Facebook’s plans to build a “394-unit housing community within walking distance of its offices” that will include amenities such as an “on-site café, convenience store, resort-inspired pool, rooftop entertainment deck, etc.” (Albergotti).  Facebook corporate headquarters are located in Menlo Park, CA, an area with high real estate values and a shortage of housing.  The lure of a one-stop work-life environment can be incredibly attractive to today’s workers who want a company that is accommodating to both their personal and professional needs.  With many companies vying to attract and retain talent, Facebook is taking a popular strategy to a new level.

Continue reading

Crowdsourced social order in Boston: technology replaces relationships?

By Mary Still.

Particular public crises become etched in the collective conscious: the Arab spring, in which masses mobilized by internet technology revolted against government regimes, is such an example.  September 11 is another. Hurricane Katrina, with its images of poor people floating on makeshift rafts, is a third. The Boston Marathon bombings appear to have a similar hold on our psyches, in part for the vividness of the bombing images, but also for the ensuing manhunt, an unprecedented example of swarm intelligence facilitated by technology. The uniquely inter-connected citizenry became a self-organized army that rapidly organized to restore social order. Continue reading

After the Collapse of the Large Corporation – Progressivism 2.0?

By Gerald Davis and Israel Drori.

A landmark moment in the development of progressive politics in the U.S. was Theodore Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” speech in Osawatomie Kansas in August 1910. Roosevelt described the social problems of the early twentieth century – soaring inequality, concentrated economic power, the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, and the shadowy role of Wall Street – and called for a more robust Federal government to rein in the national-scale corporations that were beginning to dominate the economy. Continue reading

The flexibility debate: A morass of gendered assumptions, poor evidence, and imprecision

By Mary Still

Two high-powered, high-tech executives have reignited glass ceiling debates recently, with workplace flexibility emerging as a central issue in the conversation. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s edict that the company’s “work from home” program end sparked considerable outrage nationwide, as did Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s exhortation that women must “lean in” to fight workplace barriers preventing gender parity. Continue reading