Cypherpunks and surveillance power

A persuasively argued essay by Scott Ludlum about the global struggle for our digital rights, published May 2019 in Griffith Review 64: The New Disruptors . Scott is a former Australian politician representing the Australian Greens. He served as a senator from Western Australia from 2008 to 2017, and as co-deputy leader of his party from 2015 to 2017. He is currently a columnist for The Guardian.

Conspiracy thinking and partisan conflict

Wikipedia describes Sam Harris as “an American neuroscientist, philosopher, author, critic of religion, blogger, public intellectual, and podcast host“. In his Making Sense podcasts he converses with a wide range of people whose experiences, thinking and analysis of what is happening in the world today have much to offer us.

A recent conversation with Renée DiResta explored the methods used by Russia to influence society in the United States. She gives a very clear explanation of how these are made possible by the way social media have developed and discusses the main lines of attack, which are to increase the polarisation that already exists in society and to amplify conspiracy thinking.

Insights to surveillance capitalism

Two conversations by Kara Swisher, recently published on her podcast recode decode, offer thought provoking insights to surveillance capitalism and what we can do to counter it.

One is with Roger McNamee, venture capitalist, erstwhile mentor to Mark Zuckerberg and early investor in Facebook. He is now speaking out against the social media platform and has written a book with the title Zucked: waking up to the Facebook catastrophe.

The other conversation is with Nuala O’Connor, CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, around the question ‘Can big tech be fixed?’ Her organisation is headquartered in Washington, with an international presence in Brussels; it supports laws, corporate policies and technology tools to protect the privacy of internet users, and advocates for stronger legal controls on government surveillance.

Surveillance capitalism

On her website, the Harvard professor Shoshana Zubhoff says: “I’ve dedicated this part of my life to understanding and conceptualising the transition to an information civilization“. Her latest book is ‘The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power’ . It draws together four themes to argue that we have allowed the global technology companies – notably Google and Facebook – to become dangerously out of control. Her themes are the historical emergence of psychological individuality, the conditions for human development, the digital revolution and the evolution of capitalism. In Start the Week on 4 February, Andrew Marr explored these ideas with her.

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Where are the new jobs going to come from?

Thomas Friedman, talking at Intelligence squared about his latest book Thriving in the Age of Acceleration discussed the question of where the new jobs are going to come from. His answer: for many generations we worked with our hands; in the modern era we began to work with our heads; but in the age of acceleration we are going to work more with our hearts.


Degree apprenticeships in Plymouth

Penny Hele – Inspiring Futures project officer at Plymouth University – writes on LinkedIn that Plymouth University now offers ‘degree apprenticeships’. The courses they have at present are a Chartered Manager programme run by the Business School and a four year degree in Digital & Technology Solutions.

The idea of a Degree Apprenticeship is that:

  • businesses collaborate with universities and colleges in order to offer vocational degree courses which combine academic study with practical experience and wider employment skills;
  • apprentices split their time between university study and the workplace and are employed throughout;
  • they gain a full bachelor’s or master’s degree from a university while earning a wage and getting real on-the-job experience in their chosen profession;
  • the cost of course fees is shared between government and employers, meaning that the apprentice can obtain a full bachelors or even masters degree without paying any fees.

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Paul Saffo on ‘the creator economy’

“Mass participation became the new normal. Stuff is cheap; status comes from creation. Value is created by engagement.”

Saffo advised recalling four warnings for revolutionaries. 1) There are winners and losers. 2) Don’t confuse early results with long-term outcomes. 3) Successful insurgents become over-powerful incumbents. 4) Technologies of freedom become technologies of control …. If we want privacy now, we have to pay extra for it. As with our smart phones, we will subscribe to self-driving cars, not own them. With our every move tracked, we are like radio-collared bears. Our jobs are being atomized, with ever more parts taken over by robots. We trade freedom for convenience.

Over the 30 or so years remaining in the Creator Economy, Saffo figures that we will redefine freedom in terms of interdependence, and he closed with Richard Brautigan’s poem about a ‘cybernetic ecology’ where we are all watched over by machines of loving grace.”

Plymouth Energy Community

Plymouth Energy Community (PEC) is a community benefit society, therefore regulated by the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014. Goals are: to reduce energy bills; to improve energy efficiency; and to generate a green energy supply in the city. Projects including at the Life Centre and schools have been funded by loans from Plymouth City Council and ‘solar share offers’ in 2014 and 2015. This year’s share offer seeks funding to replace the short-term construction loan that was used to build Ernesettle community solar.

Post-referendum politics

My member of parliament emailed me today with words to the effect that, now the people have spoken, he will set aside his personal judgement and work to achieve Brexit. I think he is profoundly wrong, for the reasons set out below, and have emailed him to say so.

The United Kingdom is a representative democracy, not a direct democracy; it is for Parliament to decide our future direction. In deciding that direction members of parliament must take the result of the referendum into account; but the result is advisory not binding and their role as our elected representatives requires members of parliament also to take other considerations into account. These include:

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Professor Michael Dougan analyses the EU referendum debate

This is a sobering presentation, delivered before the referendum. One of the UK’s leading EU law experts criticises the referendum debate’s “dishonesty on an industrial scale”, as he considers the claims and counter claims from each side. He also gave evidence-based opinion about the parameters that would apply after an exit vote.