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Why Google Isn’t Making Us Stupid…or Smart

by Chad Wellmon, IASC: The Hedgehog Review – Volume 14, No. 1 Spring 2012

‘The history of this mutual constitution of humans and technology has been obscured as of late by the crystallization of two competing narratives about how we experience all of this information. On the one hand, there are those who claim that the digitization efforts of Google, the social-networking power of Facebook, and the era of big data in general are finally realizing that ancient dream of unifying all knowledge. … Unlike other technological innovations, like print, which was limited to the educated elite, the internet is a network of “densely interlinked Web pages, blogs, news articles and Tweets [that] are all visible to anyone and everyone.”4 Our information age is unique not only in its scale, but in its inherently open and democratic arrangement of information. … Digital technologies, claim the most optimistic among us, will deliver a universal knowledge that will make us smarter and ultimately liberate us.5 These utopic claims are related to similar visions about a trans-humanist future in which technology will overcome what were once the historical limits of humanity: physical, intellectual, and psychological. The dream is of a post-human era.6

For the full text of this substantive essay, please visit IASC: The Hedgehog Review – Volume 14, No. 1 Spring 2012 – Why Google Isn’t Making Us Stupid…or Smart – Chad Wellmon.

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Google’s Michael Jones on How Maps Became Personal

by James Fallows, The Atlantic, January 3, 2013

In the past few years, the map has transformed from a static, stylized portrait of the Earth to a dynamic, interactive conversation. (An extended version of an interview from the January/February 2013 issue.) The entire concept of a “map” seems radically different from even a decade ago. It used to be something in a book or on a wall; now it’s something you carry around on your smartphone. Which changes have mattered most? And what further changes should we be ready for? James Fallows interview’s Google’s Michael Jones on How Maps Became Personal.

For the full text of the article, visit Google’s Michael Jones on How Maps Became Personal – James Fallows – The Atlantic.

Tweeting Up a Storm

Commons Lab, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, December 2012

We are inundated daily with stories from the news media about the possible impact social media like Facebook and Twitter will have on our lives. When a storm like Hurricane Sandy hits the East Coast, can this technology actually help to save lives and reduce catastrophic damages? It’s possible. For instance, mobile devices could allow emergency responders, affected communities, and volunteers to rapidly collect and share information as a disaster unfolds. Photos and videos provided through social media could help officials determine where people are located, assess the responses and needs of affected communities—such as water, food, shelter, power and medical care—and alert responders and citizens to changing conditions.

At least that is the promise. When Hurricane Irene barreled across the Eastern seaboard in August 2011, many in the news media cited it as a pivotal moment for social media for disasters. But research we conducted on the use of social media during Irene suggests otherwise. While some emergency management departments launched new social media outreach strategies during the storm, particularly to push information out to the public, many did not change their practices radically and overall use of the technology varied.

This article explores the challenges of effective use of social media for disaster response, read more here.

Can Mobile Phones Improve Factory Fire Safety?

by Tripti Lahiri, WSJ India, December 30, 2012

In the wake of the fire at a Bangladesh factory  that killed at least 112 garment workers on Nov. 24, U.S. and European retailers who buy from the South Asian country have said they will drastically improve safety checks at the factories they use. … But few of the plans being considered by retailers seem likely to address issues that labor groups have raised with regard to the present safety audit system – that they don’t allow workers a way to alert retailers to issues that crop up when the brands’ representatives are not around. Another complaint is that information on fire safety is generally kept confidential and rarely shared in a comprehensive way with the workers most likely to be at risk. Indian-American entrepreneur Kohl Gill is hopeful that cellphones, which are now widespread in exporting countries like Bangladesh and China, could help.Through his two-year-old company LaborVoices, Mr. Gill has been developing a voice-activated system that workers can call to leave messages about workplace conditions. ….

For full text of this article, please visit Can Mobile Phones Improve Factory Fire Safety? – India Real Time – WSJ.

Who Really Benefits from Big Data?

By Daniel Sarewitz, Slate Magazine, Dec 27, 2012

This is the first in a series on big data and its impact on society from CSPO co-director Daniel Sarewitz. It also appears on As We Now Think, a site edited by the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes at Arizona State University. ASU is a partner in Future Tense with Slate and the New America Foundation.

Advances in real-time data acquisition, processing, and display technologies means that it is possible to design a toll road that can continually change prices to control how many cars are on the road and how fast they are going. These “hot lanes“ have just been opened along a part of the Washington, D.C., Beltway, the 10-lane, traffic-infested artery that to normal humans is a metaphorical boundary between the real, outside-the-Beltway world and the weird, political one on the inside. For those of us who live around Washington and must drive on it, however, the Beltway is very concrete indeed, a daily flirtation with delay and frustration, homicidal instincts, and death itself.

For full text of this article, visit Slate Magazine at D.C. Beltway’s “hot lanes” demonstrate potential social inequalities of “big data.”.

How To Make Crowdsourcing Disaster Relief Work Better

by Jennifer Chan, US News and World Report, Op-Eds, November 23, 2012

Dr. Jennifer Chan, a Public Voices fellow at the OpEd Project, is the director of Global Emergency Medicine in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and an associate faculty member of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.

In the wake of Sandy’s destruction, digital volunteers mobilized again. From their homes and offices, using iPads and laptops, hundreds of volunteers crowd-sourced information and took on microtasks to help FEMA and other agencies process large swaths of information and speed humanitarian response.

For instance, in the first 48 hours after the hurricane, 381 aerial photos collected by the Civil Air Patrol were viewed by hundreds of volunteers, with the goal of quickly giving an overview of the extent of storm and flood damage. This project was called the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap MapMill project. In response to a request from FEMA, project developer Schuyler Erle volunteered to launch and lead the project. By mid-afternoon November 2nd, more than 3,000 volunteers had assessed 5,131 images, viewing them more than 12,000 times. Just a week later, more than 24,000 images had been assessed. Each view from a digital volunteer—a mother, a researcher, a friend, a colleague—helped FEMA determine the degree of damage along the eastern seaboard, assessing the condition of buildings, roads, and houses, with the aim of helping the agency in its post-disaster recovery and planning. That’s an amazing effort.

But did it actually help?

For full text of the op-ed, visit How To Make Crowdsourcing Disaster Relief Work Better – US News and World Report.

 

Commons Lab and FCC Releases New Report on the National Broadband Map

The National Broadband Map: A Case Study on Open Innovation for National Policy

To download the report and watch the archived video, click here.

Commons Lab Blog, October 2012

The National Broadband Map, designed to provide consumers nationwide reliable information on broadband internet connections, was built incorporating emerging technology.  It protects consumers, holds the government and private sector accountable, and engages the public across the United States.  In a time of budgetary constraint, the Map made a series of remarkable policy innovations that allowed the project to be completed in minimal time and at a reduced cost. The public was engaged before, during, and after the project.  Citizens generated speed testing data.  They provided comments and feed back on improving internet connectivity.  They used a National Broadband Map crowdsource utility to let the FCC know whether the information they posted was accurate.  The data collected is open, freely available to anyone.  The application itself was built using open-source software unchained by licensing fees, enhancing its flexibility and accessibility.  The development process broke from traditional government procurement, and programmers regularly communicated with uses to better understand the needs of the project: this avoided cost overruns and unused features.

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