Mysteries, Facts, Numbers, and Data

Welcome to Digitally Literate, issue #362. I posted the following this week.

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Emotional language can be hard to spot

The Hit Pause YouTube channel seems to be a product of the video-sharing platform.

They offer a great selection of short videos focused on curbing misinformation and disinformation spread.

Pause Giant AI Experiments: An Open Letter

OpenAI’s GPT-4 has sparked a controversial debate on the potential risks of developing large-scale Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems. A new open letter demands a six-month pause on such progress to assess the short and long-term implications of AI.

There is significant debate about the risks vs. hype of these technologies and spaces.

Why this matters. IMHO, this is the discussion that we need to have about AI in society. The hyperbole and hysteria that exists is primarily driven by fear whereas there are very real questions about what this means for research, implementation, regulation, and education.

To Hold Tech Accountable, Look to Public Health

J. Nathan Matias argues that public health has delivered on its promise to improve the lives of millions while failing to resolve the dramatic health disparities of people of color in the US. Public health has systematically failed marginalized communities in ways that are not accidents. The tech industry has encoded inequality into its systems and institutions.

The tech industry has perpetuated inequality in its systems and institutions. For example, consider the public health response to Covid-19. Despite decades of scientific research on health equity, Covid-19 policies weren’t designed for communities of color, medical devices weren’t designed for our bodies, and health programs were no match for inequalities that exposed us to greater risk. 

Why this matters. Regulation often struggles to keep pace with innovation and a more agile, innovation-enabling approach to regulation is needed to make sense of these changes.

The Data Delusion

Jill Lepore writes about the age of data and how it is associated with late capitalism, authoritarianism, techno-utopianism, and the dazzle of “data science.” The article also talks about how all these ways of knowing are good ways of knowing and how people should not just rely on data to find answers. Instead, they should use all four drawers of knowledge which are Mysteries, Facts, Numbers, and Data. People seem to want to tug open only that bottom drawer, “Data,” as if it were the only place you can find any answers.

To comprehend this modern phenomenon, Lepore looks to the new book, How Data Happened: A History from the Age of Reason to the Age of Algorithms, by Columbia professors Chris Wiggins and Matthew L. Jones.

You can listen to Wiggins and Jones here on the Tech Policy Press podcast.

Why this matters. What is the point of knowing? What is the point of knowledge? What is the value of mysteries, facts, numbers, and data?

Texas lawmakers want to erase abortion from the internet

Erica Hellerstein shares that Texas lawmakers have proposed a bill to punish websites, individuals, and businesses that provide abortion information on the internet.

Pressuring internet service providers to block websites may be a non-starter in the U.S. due to its First Amendment protections for free speech. But it is a time-honored tactic used by authoritarian governments from Azerbaijan to Venezuela, with a broader goal of getting people to stop publishing the information in question.

Why this matters. These laws are designed to silence speech and suppress freedom of expression. They’re also a roadmap for future efforts in other areas.

Technology’s Child: Making the Complex More Concrete for Research on Kids and Tech

Katie Davis reports on a synthesis of the sprawling research on kids and tech to answer the question: When does technology support child development, and when does it not? 

She argues that digital experiences that are self-directed and community supported are best for children’s healthy development. 

  • Self-directed technology experiences place children in the driver’s seat of their digital interactions. Children, and not technology, are in control.
  • Community-supported experiences are supported by others, either during or surrounding a digital experience.

Why this matters. Frameworks such as this are helpful as we re-examine the use of tech with youth and in our own lives.

The Remedy for Creative Block and Existential Stuckness

Maria Popova explores how to live with our creative power.

It is a process that requires great strength and great patience, for it asks of us to quiet the din of demand and break free from the straitjacket of habit in order to make audible the inner voice whispered from the depths of life, wild and free.

As long as our brain is a mystery, the universe, the reflection of the structure of the brain will also be a mystery.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Ryuichi Sakamoto, Japanese electronic music maestro dies at 71. Listen to some of Sakamoto’s work from the Netflix animated series Exception.

Cover Photo CC BY using DALL·E.

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