Anti-Tech Riots

“If the recent speculation about jobs and AI is even close to being correct, then fairly soon “luddite” will join far-right and Islamist on the list of government-defined extremisms”. Read more: Will 2018 be the year of the neo-luddite?

Invisible Algorithms, Invisible Politics

We have been enticed into a world in which computing has faded into the background of everyday life, effectively becoming invisible. At the same time, we have actively concealed the ways in which these networked systems of software, data, technologies, and infrastructures “have politics”. And, with promises that computers are impartial, we have removed them from the public eye, making them difficult to expose and critique.

Yet these systems can only be understood as the flawed extensions of human creation. They act on our biases by replicating them and distributing them into the background of everyday life, thereby reinforcing and even exacerbating existing structural inequalities… Rather than letting these systems fade into the background, a deeper engagement with the material realities of digital technologies is necessary.

Read more: Invisible algorithms, invisible politics, Laura Forland. Via SF Sutcliffe.

Low tech? Wild tech!

The French scientific magazine Techniques et Culture has published an entire volume about alternative forms of technology: “Low-tech? Wild tech!“. The 300-page issue explores the differences and conflicts between high-tech and low-tech, with a focus on all the forms of technology which are in between these extremes.

The authors argue for a more sophisticated view of technological evolution, which is now usually seen as linear progress towards ever increasing complexity and perfection. The contributions show that reality is much more complicated, and much more interesting.

The issue is the fruit of a three-day discussion in Paris in 2012, in which I participated. The volume features a translated article from Low-tech Magazine: “How to build a low-tech Internet?”. “Low tech? Wild tech!” will be presented and discussed in Paris on December 9, 2017.

Rethink, Retool, Reboot: Technology Justice

rethink retool rebootPractical Action, the international NGO that uses technology to challenge poverty in “developing” countries, has published a new book that is freely accessible online. Rethink, Retool, Reboot: Technology as if People and Planet Mattered is written by Simon Trace.

A fifth of the world’s population lacks access to technologies fundamental to a basic standard of living, while unfettered use of technology by those who have it brings its own problems. Inspired by EF Schumacher’s 1973 book Small is Beautiful, Trace argues that ending poverty and achieving environmental sustainability cannot be realized without radical changes to the way technology is developed, accessed, and used:

“Humanity has lost control of technology, or rather relinquished it to the vagaries of the market, assuming its ‘invisible hand’ will ensure the most efficient development and dissemination of technology that best meets people’s needs – an assumption that is wrong.”

The book is divided into three sections. Part 1 starts by looking at notions of technological progress and the relationship between technology and human development, demonstrating the need to ‘rethink’ how we use and provide access to technology. Part 2 goes on to explore the idea that we need to ‘retool’ — to re-examine our innovation processes — in order to focus on driving technology development towards, rather than away from, the twin problems of poverty and environmental sustainability. The book closes with a third section that sets out a series of radical changes required to ‘reboot’ our relationship with technology.

Smart Technology is a Solution Looking for a Problem

iabR Hans tak

Picture by Hans Tak, International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam 2016

Technologies like driverless cars and smart heating systems could end up making cities dysfunctional according to Maarten Hajer, chief curator of the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam 2016. Speaking at an opening event for the biennale, Hajer called for architects and designers to stop treating the advent of smart technologies as inevitable, and to question whether they will solve any problems at all.

“People with lots of media force pretend to know exactly what the future will look like, as if there is no choice,” he said. “I’m of course thinking about self-driving vehicles inevitably coming our way.” Discussions about the future of cities are at risk of being “mesmerised” by technology, he added. “We think about big data coming towards us, 3D printing demoting us, or the implication of robots in the sphere of health, as if they are inevitabilities. My call is for us to think about what we want from those technological advances.”

“I have nothing against good technology, it’s wonderful, but you always want social problems to be the priority. If it doesn’t help us get CO2 down, if it doesn’t help us make cities more socially inclusive, if it doesn’t help us make meaningful work, I’m not interested in smart technology. Sometimes I think: “if smart technology is the solution, then what was the problem again?”

Read the full interview at Dezeen. Thanks to Anne-Marie Pronk.

Technology Ages in Reverse

sol-char

A complex biochar-making toilet. “It will never be deployed anywhere”.

Our society is pathologically enthralled with the new. As scientists and engineers in global development, we’re inculcated starting from very early in our training to seek “the cutting edge” of technological innovation. But if we want the best chance of making a positive difference on the future, that’s the opposite of what we should do.

The reason is that technology ages in reverse. Or put another way, the longer a given technology has been around, the more likely it is to persist into the future. So, if you want your efforts in science to matter in the future, you’d better look to the past to define relevant research questions.

According to philosopher and risk analyst Nassim Taleb, author of Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, while perishable items (such as humans, cats and tomatoes) experience a decline in life expectancy with each passing day, nonperishable things (such as art, literature, ideas and technologies) can experience increased life expectancy the longer they are in circulation. This is known as the Lindy Effect… Taleb asserts that our modern culture trains us to think that the new is always about to overcome the old. But this is just an optical illusion because the failure rate of the new is so much higher than that of the old.

Quoted from: Forget the cutting edge embrace the old tech future, Engineering4Change.