Recently in Political Category
Over at one of the Well’s public conference topics, Bruce Sterling is doing his annual discussion on the State of the World. It’s a long read — currently three very long tediously mono-spaced pages — but worth it if you have the time.
On Newsnight on Friday Mark Urban had a segment looking ahead to what the aftermath of the current financial crisis could mean for international relations. With everything so volatile it’s a perilous time to make predictions but that also makes it more exciting to do so. It feels like anything could happen. Here’s a summary of what he said:
Shell, the grandfathers of scenario planning, have a new set of scenarios that look at the world in terms of energy, through to 2050. There’s a PDF document that summarises the two scenarios — “Scramble” and “Blueprints” — and below is my summary of their summary. I must admit I’m not currently hopeful about our ability to cope with this stuff, given how poorly governments are able to handle other impending disasters… (Via City of Sound.)
Danny O’Brien has an interesting post about Seasteading — creating small autonomous states that can exist on platforms at sea, independent of existing governments.
Accelerated Democracy begins with the widespread trend that fewer people are voting in elections as years go by. It then suggests four ways in which technology could get people more involved in the democratic process. Few people are likely to think all four are good ideas, but they're all interesting and nicely executed, with varied visual aids:
The City Scan project uses hand-held computers, digital cameras and GPS to allow citizens to pinpoint instances of problems such as graffiti, holes in road, etc. This data is then used to generate reports and maps that officials can use to decide how best to tackle problems. It's currently on trial in Connecticut, USA, and sounds good, although the front page declaring it aims to "encourage citizens to behave as customers" seems odd to me -- is being a citizen not good enough? I also hope it's not too tied in to Microsoft's proprietary technology.
It reminds me of a scheme in the UK which is being expanded after successful trials (sorry I can't find a link to this anywhere, despite having read/seen it at least twice). Villagers are given hand-held speed cameras to get information on vehicles speeding through their villages. This information is passed on to the police who issue a warning to the drivers. Is it a good thing to be passing these tasks on to citizens? It seems to be working but something about it, which I can't quite put my finger on, feels wrong.
We hear a lot about how the networked society will bring political decision making closer to individuals, but finding concrete examples of this trend in action is tough. However, a week ago, the British government backed down over a proposal to expand its internet monitoring programme to allow more agencies access to traffic data. The proposal was due to become law after a mere 90 minutes of debate, but the UK internet community began campaigning and soon the government's plans were postponed and, days later, shelved. The BBC has credited those behind Stand and FaxYourMP with making the difference (also on a TV report (Real file)) by alerting a wider audience and then giving people the means to quickly and simply contact their representatives. If a handful of people with some technical know-how can empower the public to achieve a government u-turn now, where will we be in 10 years? I hesitated in posting this as I have a vested interest (as Stand's hastily copied-and-pasted design testifies), and it's hard for me to be objective.
Two things: First, an article about a piece of software that analyses Reuters news feeds and uses the data to create "conflict carrying capacity" (CCC) scores for every country, ranging from 100 (peace) to 0 (chaos). I'm a sucker for reducing complex issues to single numbers, so it sounds fun. Virtual Research Associates is the company now selling the system, although the site's pretty unclear about exactly what it can offer. Just think how much attention they'd get if they simply had a page of CCC scores over time for different countries. The second thing is that I noticed this in the current edition of The Futurist, and given the New Scientist article appeared five months ago, it shows that the former journal is pretty useless for keeping up with topical stuff.
It may turn out to be nothing, but there does seem to have been a growing difference in outlook between Europe and the US since the World Trade Centre disaster (for example, Chris Patten's remarks). But now the Council of Europe is considering expelling the US, an observer, due to its continued use of the death penalty, a much more fundamental moral and policy difference.
The state government in South Carolina, USA, have been keeping DNA records of all babies since 1995 without the consent of parents. Some of this data has now been passed on to a genetics laboratory and the State Law Enforcement Division despite previous reassurances by state officials. There won't be much that's still private soon... (via Politech)
The Institute for Applied Autononmy have developed a very pretty program that allows a user to identify a route between two points that will take them past as few CCTV cameras as possible. The data for the New York map is provided by the New York City Surveillance Camera Project which is just as interesting. Perhaps we'll see wider projects aimed at helping people avoid being monitored by public and private security bodies. (via Nettime)
We often hear about the increasing mobility of populations, and the numbers of people on the move (refugees, immigrants, etc) is increasing. This Disinfo article talks about campaigners focussing on borders and the treatment of illegal immigrants. As ever, a big collection of links on the topic, such as Kein Mensch ist Illegal. Nettime also had some posts on the topic recently: A report from a camp on the Ukrainian-Slovakian-Polish border and details of a future event in Tijuana (and longer, in Spanish).
Perhaps an oversimplistic comparison of the state of the Internet in the world's largest countries, but interesting nonetheless. The Chinese government has closed 127 Internet cafes in Shanghai, in the same week the Delhi government launches its first cybercafe, undercutting the prices of local private enterprises. (via Moreover)
Interesting look at how the 21st century could be extremely conservative compared to the largely liberal 20th. Mostly UK-centred. "One could imagine a next century that is dominated by self-righteous puritans, unprepared to pay general taxes to lift the rest of the population out of poverty, picky and suspicious of government action; where national governments are weaker economically but are required to be tougher in fighting crime and limiting migration; and where macro-economic management has moved so far up to the global level that it is hardly connected to national democracies at all." Also suggests conspicuous consumption could become unacceptable; people become less geographically mobile; scientific advances "could produce a reactive, traditionalist politics."
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, plus China, Japan and South Korea have said these are "distinct possibilities". Import duties on most goods will be eliminated by 2010.
A deal has been signed which sets China on course to join the World Trade Organisation subject to member agreement. Easier access to China for foreign companies and to foreign markets for China whose state industries will face increased competition.
testing voting over the Internet alongside its conventional election. Voters receive a unique ID number to enter, and their vote is encrypted and "read anonymously" at a computer clearinghouse. Washington and Virginia have already conducted successful and secure tests and California has commissioned a large study. The article mentions plenty of concerns about the possibilities of lack of technological access disenfranchising people.