Categories
OII Technology

The evil Internet threatens endangered species…

I am not entirely sure whether this comes from the journalist or from the conservationist. But the BBC has posted a news article titled “Internet threatens rare species, conservationists warn“. We should really be careful of this guy called Internet. He looks like a tough, ugly, evil man (or woman). Be careful kids!

OK, to be fair, it seems that it is mostly the BBC’s interpretation of a warning from the International Fund for Animal Welfare concerning animal trade facilitated by the Internet.

“The internet is becoming the dominant factor overall in the global trade in protected species,” said Paul Todd of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

We fall very easily in this personification of technology. We give it agency, as it were a life being, with will and capacity of action. The Internet doesn’t threaten anything. The use of the Internet might make easier the illegal trading of protected species, but it is human beings doing it. It is the human being that threatens endangered species. Do not forget that!

Categories
General OII

Loyal to science: find somebody else to be your Valentine

Another genius strip from xkcd
find somebody else

Categories
Information OII Politics

We’ve got a new online sheriff: Facebook

At the request of the UK government, Facebook took down 30 pages linked to prison inmates who were, according to the authorities, behaving inappropriately on the site, including taunting victims’ family members. It took them 48 hours to do it.

In itself this fact is worrisome. At the request of a government Facebook decides, at its own judgment, to curtail the individual freedom of 30 people (for though they are in prison and they are crime offenders, they are still people), without the intervention of a judge to guarantee the respect of fundamental rights. It seems that victims, government and Facebook (!) are the new authorities with regards to online freedom.

But it gets worse, for these new authorities are taking their self-assigned responsibilities very seriously, according to their declarations reported on today’s International Herald Tribune (print-version).

Gary Trodwell of Families United, a group founded by relatives of young murder victims, said:

When someone is convicted of a crime he loses his civil liberty through sentencing…We say he should lose his cyberliberty as well.”

Will Mr. Trodwell run for Parliament to get that law passed?

Even worse, John Straw commenting on the excessive time that took Facebook to take off the pages (48 hours!), he said:

What we’ve got to do is set up a better system with Facebook so that if they get a notice from us that this site is improper the all tehy have to do is not make a judgment about it but press the delete button”

What about given the same powers to China or Iran, Mr. Straw?

Even, even worse, Facebook wants to become the online sheriff, or at least that’s what Sophie Silver, a Facebook spokeswoman, is implying when she affirms that:

Facebook is absolutely committed to keeping its sites safe and clean…[the web could] be a wild an unruly place. Facebook tries to put some rules and protocols on top of the unruly Web.”

Wow, good thing we have Facebook, don’t you think? Otherwise we’ll be all online raped and smuggled by the scary people populating the “wild and unruly” online world!

Categories
Information OII Politics

Information is revolution: from Haiti to Ushahidi

Pilar Juárez was the head of the political section in the European Union delegation in Haiti. She was trapped in the collapse of the United Nations building in last week’s earthquake. On Sunday, 17 January, the Commission received news of the confirmation of her death, with High Representative Cathy Ashton releasing a press release, after her body was found the day before…but was it?

Today, we know that the body claimed as Pilar’s is not hers (in English). Apparently, the United Nations Police, UNPOL, made a mistake in the recognition of her body. The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs discovered the truth after checking the fingerprints. Her furious husband said that he was “disgusted” by this “very serious mistake.” He accused international organizations and donors of lack of proper channels of information and coordination among them.

Meanwhile, a relatively small organization called Ushahidi was mounting an impressive network of people to gather information on the field to help the coordination of aid assistance and rescue missions, which has been translated into a website (haiti.ushahidi.com) gathering all the reports they receive via SMS and web apps. On the Ushahidi Situation Room, Patrick Philippe Meier, one of the persons behind this effort of humanitarian crowdsourcing and writer of the blog iRevolution, tells us about a

live Skype chat between Anna here in the Sit Room and Eric Rasmussen (InSTEDD and former Chief Medical Officer of the US Navy). Eric skyping from tarmac of PoP airport asking for GPS coordinates of the most obscure addresses, sites, locations and Anna providing these in record time. She has wowed the entire team in PaP including military, UN, etc. Incredible to witness all this real time networking and collaboration.

Witness the gap between an international organization that is trapped in old bureaucratic, unnecessary and expensive procedures and the agility, low-cost efforts of a network of people sharing information. The gap is how they treat and respect information. One understands information as a secondary element of “action”, whatever the latter means. Ushahidi is born with information at its core. We need to understand that information is not what is written on a paper, stored in a computer or in a book, information is alive and it is the most essential element for action. Without information one is blinded. Information is not what an expert knows, it is what everybody knows and shares. The arrogance of bureaucratic organizations is their own nemesis, for they think they know, when they don’t. They thought they knew where Pilar was. The truth was unfortunately not theirs.

Categories
OII Technology

Technology and ethics: disruptions and revolutions

Ulysses and the Sirens
Ulysses and the Sirens (Herbert James Draper)

Ulysses knew how to pass safely by the coast of the Sirens. In the Odyssey, we are told how he instructed his sailors to put wax in their ears, bind him tightly to the mast, and by no means release him until they had passed the Sirens’ island. Ulysses knew that the Sirens’ temptation was such that he won’t be able to resist it without restraint. He knew that the wonderful Sirens’ song meant in truth destruction. It had, therefore, to be resisted.

Technology has a sweet, melodic and very attractive singing. It promises humans to do, make and achieve the impossible. It wonders us at all ages, and we fall quickly for its wonders. We imagine new perfect worlds that will bring us happiness and plenty, all thanks to our technological advances. Yet the Sirens of technology, if not resisted, can easily bring us to destruction. History is witness of this danger.

Technology and ethics are intimately related. How we approach and use technology is very much conditioned by our ethical values. Therefore, the construction of a society based solely on technological disruption is a dangerous evolution. For our behaviours, as individuals, groups and as society as whole are transformed unknowingly by these new technologies without the restraint of ethical principles that would, otherwise, guide our conduct in more beneficial directions. When Ulysses ordered its sailors to bind him to the mast and keep him there, he was imposing on himself an ethical principle to resist the temptation of the Sirens. He was telling his sailors not to follow his orders in any circumstances; he was innovating to resist a path he knew will bring him destruction.

Since the enlightenment and particularly since the XIX century, Western civilization has based great part of its social, economic, scientific and political development on technological advance. Despite all technological revolutions it has gone through, there hasn’t been an equivalent ethical revolution to help us cope with the transformations that they implied. Instead, we are now living in-between a conservative Christian ethic, which did indeed suffer a great transformation during the Reformation, and a materialist ethic based on external impulses of consumption and accumulation, ignoring other principles and values that form the complex nature of a human being, creating therefore what Durkheim called “anomie“: a lack of social ethics that produces “moral deregulation and an absence of legitimate aspiration.”

The Internet is the technological revolution of our era. At the same time, it is by and IN itself a social revolution. There are those, many, that want to see mainly its positive aspects. Or those that mostly focus on its negative consequences. Yet the nature of the disruption and revolution of the Internet depends not in the technology itself, but in the context where it is immersed, and how this context changes accordingly or not. A very important part of this environment is our ethics. If we use the Internet within our current ethics, I am afraid it won’t be as good as the optimists want us to believe. It is urgent, I believe, that we discuss seriously our values and principles that should drive our lives, and that we spread them in dialogue with the people. And it is in this need where we see the complexity of social phenomena; for the Internet is, at the same time, the perfect instrument and space to do so. In fact, I think it’s already happening at a small scale. How successful this ethical disruption and revolution in the making can be won’t be determined by a technological feat, but by many other factors that organize our human lives, among them our own will to bind ourselves to the mast.

Categories
Information OII Technology

Twitter’s time chambers

The Internet may be facilitating the creation of echo chambers and the balkanisation of politics. This is what Cass R. Sunstein, now Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said in his book Republic and then repeated in Republic 2.0. It meant that because of the new possibilities of filtering our information as “Daily Me” we may be heading towards a world where people will only read, watch and hear what they want to. According to Sunstein, in a democracy it is essential to have public spaces where different opinions are contrasted and collide. The Internet may not only hinder the existence of these spaces, but actually it may facilitate the emergence of echo chambers where what we believe is repeated.

This morning I checked my twitter. Yesterday I checked my twitter. Until this weekend, most of the people I followed where in the US and other English-speaking countries. Basically it was mostly in English. After this weekend, after attending the PDFEU in Barcelona, I started to follow more people in Spain and, particularly, in Catalunya. Until now I was getting information about a variety of issues regarding internet, politics, culture… from the English world. Now I see information mainly from Spain and Catalunya. What happened? You will say that now I follow, in proportion, more people from there, but actually I don’t. What happened is that among all the new followed people there were US people and Spanish people, in more or less equal proportion. What happened is that I checked my twitter when the latter are awake and the former are sleeping. A time chamber is being created. It makes me think that geography/location is still very important on the Internet. Or even, location is becoming even more important than before, an apparent paradox, but it is not.