Thoughts in Between

by Matt Clifford

Matt's Thoughts In Between - Issue #7

All the data that’s fit to breach

The biggest tech-meets-politics news of the week is, of course, the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica story. There has been endless commentary. Some of it has been purely factual -such as this excellent thread on what was actually possible with the Facebook API - but most has demonstrated the finest political Rorschach test of the year so far.

This thread argues that what Cambridge Analytica did for Trump was no different than what the Obama campaign did back in 2012 (more on this). But this thread argues that it was much more sinister. Here there’s an interesting argument that what Facebook really needs to worry about is brand leakage into Instagram and WhatsApp - and here’s one arguing that what we really need is a blockchain (of course). I’m persuaded that this might all redound to Facebook’s favour if it leads to regulation that makes it harder to get data out of Facebook, as argued here and here.

The thing I’m most interested in, though, is why our political views might shape how we see this story, as discussed in this excellent post by Russ Roberts. It strikes me that most liberals (and I count myself one) simultaneously believe that the real problem here is of people being manipulated… while also firmly believing that they themselves weren’t manipulated. This seems a dissonance worth dwelling on as the culture wars continue. (Bonus: an argument that this stuff can't manipulate people at all)

Don’t start a startup, start a country?

There’s been a thread of Silicon Valley thinking in the last decade that asks whether technologists wouldn’t be better abandoning the existing nation state system and building their own polities. This is perhaps best exemplified in Balaji Srinvasan’s 2013 talk “Silicon Valley’s ultimate exit".

With this in mind, I was intrigued to come across (via the excellent Tyler Cowen), the Centre for Innovative Governance Research. The Centre’s Director, Mark Lutter, lays out his research agenda in this essay, which argues persuasively that there needs to be a broader coalition than just techno-utopians if truly new governance models are to flourish. 

This feels right and important. I believe there are macro-technological reasons to expect more political decentralisation this century. Front loading the debate on how to do this responsibly can, I hope, allow us to avoid some of the more dystopian futures some have imagined (often admiringly!)

Bonus: what development models do Africans think are best to replicate?

Quick links

  1. The shape of science: What do academic disciplines look like when laid out according to co-citation? Weirdly, like a circle.
  2. Nuclear war watch: How much should you worry about nuclear war? Seth Baum provides a comprehensive answer (and Ian Bremmer is not much more encouraging)
  3. Hillary Clinton, American scapegoat: Tweetstorm arguing that American politics is only explicable if you start from the premise that everyone expected Hillary to win and acted accordingly
  4. Even more China and AI: The indispensable Jack Clark on what China can do differently in AI
  5. Pass/Fail politics: The Economist’s Bagehot argues that the second axis in Western politics is not open/closed but exam passers vs. exam failers (link, key passage)

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Until next week,