Joho the Blog » e-democracy

June 29, 2012

[aspen] Eric Schmidt on the Net and Democracy

Eric Schmidt is being interviewed by Jeff Goldberg about the Net and Democracy. I’ll do some intermittent, incomplete liveblogging…

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

NOTE: Posted without having even been re-read. Note note (a few hours later): I’ve done some basic cleanup.

After some amusing banter, Jeff asks Eric about how responsible he felt Google was for Arab Spring. Jeff in passing uses the phrase “Internet revolution.”

ES: Arab Spring was enabled by a failure to censure the Internet. Google enabled people to organize themselves. Especially in Libya, five different militias were able to organize their armed revolt by using the Net. It’s unfair to the people who died to call it an “Internet revolution.” But there were fewer people who died, in part because of the incessant media coverage. And we’ve seen that it’s very easy to start what some call an Internet revolution, but very hard to finish it.

JG: These were leaderless revolutions, crowdsourced revolution. But in Egypt the crowd’s leaders were easily pushed aside after Mubarek fell.

ES: True leaders are very hard to find. In Libya, there are 80 militias, armed to the teeth. In most of the countries there were repressed Muslim groups that have emerged as leaders because they organized while repressed. Whoever takes over inherits financial and social problems, and will be thrown out if they fail.

JG: Talk about Google’s tumultuous relationship with China…

ES: There are lots of reasons to think that China works because its citizens like its hierarchical structure. But I think you can’t build a knowledge society without freedom. China wants to be a knowledge society. It’s unclear if China’s current model gets them past a middle income GDP. Google thought that if we gave them free access to info, the Chinese people would revolt. We were wrong, and we moved Google to Hong Kong, on the open side of the Great Firewall. (We had to because that’s the Chinese law.) Now when you enter a forbidden query, we tell the user that it’s likely to be blocked. We are forbidden from announcing what the forbidden terms are because we don’t want employees put in jail.

JG: Could Arab Spring happen in China? Could students organize Tianamen Square now?

ES: They could use the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. But if someone organizes a protest, two people show up, plus 30 media, and 50 police.

JG: Google’s always argued that democratization of info erodes authoritarian control. Do you still believe that?

ES: The biggest thing I’ve learned is how hard it is to learn about the differences among people in and within countries. I continue to believe that this device [mobile phone] will change the world. The way to solve most of the world’s problems is by educating people. Because these devices will become ubiquitous, it’ll be possible to see how far we humans can get. With access to the Net, you can sue for justice. In the worst case you can actually shame people.

JG: And these devices can be used to track people.

ES: Get people to understand they have choices, and they will eventually organize. Mobiles tend to record info just by their nature. The phone company knows where you are right now. You’re not worried about that because a law says the phone company can’t come harass you where you’re sitting. In a culture where there isn’t agreement about basic rights…

JG: Is there evidence that our democracy is better off for having the Internet?

ES: When we built the Net, that wasn’t the problem we were solving. But more speech is better. There’s a lack of deliberative time in our political process. Our leaders will learn that they’ll make better decisions if they take a week to think about things. Things will get bad enough that eventually reason will prevail. We complain about our democracy, but we’re doing quite well. The US is the beacon of innovation, not just in tech, but in energy. “In God we trust … all others have to bring data.” Politicians should just start with some facts.

JG: It’s easier to be crazy and wrong on the Net.

ES: 0.5% of Americans are literally crazy. Two years ago, their moms got them broadband connections. And they have a lot of free time. Google is going to learn how to rank them. Google should enable us to hear all these voices, including the crazy people, and if we’re not doing that, we’re not doing our job.

JG: I googled “Syria massacre” this morning, and the first story was from Russia Today that spun it…

ES: It’s good that you have a choice. We have to educate ourselves and our children. Not everything written is true, and very powerful forces want to convince you of lies. The Net allows that, and we rank against it, but you have to do your own investigation.

JG: Google is hitting PR problems. Talk about privacy…

ES: There’s no delete button on the Net. When you’re a baby, no one knows anything about you. As you move through life, inevitably more people know more about you. We’re going to have to learn about that. The wifi info gathering by StreetView was an error, a mistake, and we’ve apologized for it.

JG: The future of journalism?

ES: A number of institutions are figuring out workable models. The Atlantic [our host]. Politico. HuffingtonPost. Clever entrepreneurs are figuring out how to make money. The traditional incumbents have been reduced in scale, but there are plenty of new voices. BTW, we just announced a tablet with interactive, dynamic magazines. To really worry about: We grew up with the bargain that newspapers had enough cash flow to fund long term investigative research. That’s a loss to democracy. The problem hasn’t been fully solved. Google has debated how to solve it, but we don’t want to cross the content line because then we’d be accused of bias in our rankings.

JG: Will search engines search for accuracy rather than popularity?

ES: Google’s algorithms are not about popularity. They’re about link structures, and we start from well-known sources. So we’re already there. We just have to get better.

JG: In 5 yrs what will the tech landscape look like?

ES: Moore’s Law says that in 5 yrs there will be more power for less money. We forget how much better our hw is now than even 5 years. And it’s faster than Moore’s Law for disks and fiber optic connections. Google is doing a testbed optical installation. At that bandwidth all media are just bits. We anticipate a lot of specialty devices.

JG: How do you expect an ordinary, competent politician to manage the info flow? Are we inventing tech that is past our ability to process info?

ES: The evidence is that the tech is bringing more human contact. The tech lets us express our humanity. We need a way of sorting politicians better. I’d suggest looking for leaders who work from facts.

JG: Why are you supporting Obama?

ES: I like having a smart president.

JG: Is Romney not smart?

ES: I know him. He’s a good man. I like Obama’s policies better.

Q&A

Q: Our connectivity is 3rd world. Why haven’t we been able to upgrade?

A: The wireless networks are running out of bandwidth. The prediction is they’ll be saturated in 2016. Maybe 2017. That’s understandable: Before, we were just typing online and now we’re watching movies. The White House in a few weeks is releasing a report that says that we can share bandwidth to get almost infinite bandwidth. Rather than allocating a whole chunk that leaves most of it unused, using interference databases we think we can fix this problem. [I think but please correct me: A database of frequency usages so that unused frequencies in particular geographic areas can be used for new signals.]

A: The digital can enhance our physical connections. E.g., a grandmother skyping with a grandchild.

JG: You said you can use the Net to shame govts. But there are plenty of videos of Syria doing horrible things, but it’s done no good.

ES: There are always particularly evil people. Syria is the exception. Most countries, even autocratic ones, are susceptible to public embarrassment.

Q: Saying “phones by their nature collect data” evades responsibility.

ES: I meant that in order to their work, they collect info. What we allow to be done with that info is a legal, cultural issue.

Q: Are we inherently critical thinkers? If not, putting info out there may not lead to good decisions.

ES: There’s evidence that we’re born to react quickly. Our brains can be taught reasoning. But it requires strong family and education.

Q: Should there be a bill of rights to simplify the legalese that express your privacy rules?

ES: It’s a fight between your reasonable point of view, and the lawyers and govt that regulate us. Let me reassure you: If you follow the goal of Google to have you as a customer, the quickest way to lose you is to misuse your information. We are one click away from competitors who are well run and smart. [unless there was money in it, or unless they could get away with it, or…]

Q: Could we get rid of representative democracy?

ES: It’ll become even more important to have democratic processes because it’s all getting more complicated. For direct democracy we’d have to spend all day learning about the issues and couldn’t do our jobs.

JG: David Brooks, could you comment? Eric is an enormous optimist…

ES: …The evidence is on my side!

JG: David, are you as sanguine that our politicians will learn to slow their thinking down, and that Americans have the skills to discern the crap from the true.

David Brooks: It’s not Google’s job to discern what’s true. There are aggregators to do this, including the NYT and TheBrowser. I think there’s been a flight to quality. I’m less sanguine about attention span. I’m less sanguine about confirmation bias, which the Web makes easier.

ES: I generally agree with that. There’s evidence that we tend to believe the first thing we hear, and we judge plus and minus against that. The answer is always for me culture, education.

Q: Will there be a breakthrough in education?

ES: Education changes much more slowly than the world does. Sometimes it seems to me that education is run for the benefit of the teachers. They should do measurable outcomes, A-B testing. There’s evidence that physics can be taught better by setting a problem and then do a collaborative effort, then another problem…

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July 22, 2009

My PDF talk on facts ‘n’ transparency

Link. (The video embeds my slides, but (1) they get more and more out of order in this YouTube; they were in the right order when I actually presented them. 2. My font got lost somewhere in the translations, and so there’s a fair bit of mis-sizing, text overflows, etc.) (I posted about one of the ideas in the talk (transparency as the new objectivity) here.)

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July 10, 2009

Internet freedom, but not equality

From the National Journal:

Sens. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., secured $30 million in federal funding for the State Department’s efforts to promote Internet freedom as part of the agency’s fiscal year 2010 spending bill. The program must be approved by the full Senate and the House before it makes its way to President Obama’s desk. The money would promote widespread, secure Internet use by individuals residing in countries practicing repressive Internet monitoring, censorship and control. The outlay is “a low-cost method of allowing people, especially those living under repressive regimes, to access all-source, uncensored, unfiltered information,” the senators said in a Friday press release.

“Tearing down these Internet cyberwalls can match the effect of what happened when the Berlin Wall was torn down,” Specter said. “This funding seeks to enable freedom of thought, expression and the unimpeded flow of ideas and information, and I am pleased my colleagues have recognized the program’s importance.” Brownback added the battle being waged in the streets of Iran and China is also being fought on micro-blogging site Twitter, social network Facebook and other platforms. “This is a pivotal moment for people living in oppressive regimes. The best way to ensure their ability to communicate and share their story with each other and the world is to keep the Internet open,” he said.

The House passed a State spending bill Thursday that did not include Web freedom funding but Energy and Commerce Committee member Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., earlier this week urged lawmakers to hold a hearing on the role of the Internet in giving a voice to those in repressive countries. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who in the 109th Congress chaired a high-profile Internet freedom hearing of the House subcommittee that oversees global human rights, has repeatedly introduced legislation that would prevent U.S. tech firms from working with nations that capture and convict citizens for engaging in democracy promotion and human rights advocacy online.

The NY Times reports on danah boyd’s kick-butt keynote at PDF09, in which she pointed to the class divisions in the Net:

Is the social-media revolution bringing us together? Or is it perpetuating divisions by race and class?

Many of us would like to believe the Internet is a force for unity, but danah boyd, a social-media researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, thinks we’re deceiving ourselves.

Speaking last week at the Personal Democracy Forum, an annual conference that explores how technology is changing politics, Ms. boyd asked a packed audience of activists, political operatives, entrepreneurs and journalists to raise their hands if they use Facebook. Almost every hand in the place went up. Then she asked who uses MySpace, and barely a hand was seen.

How could that be? Sure, Facebook is growing much faster. But MySpace is far from dead. In May, Web-traffic tracker comScore reported that Facebook and MySpace are neck and neck in terms of U.S. visitors, with 70.28 million that month for Facebook, up 97% from a year ago, and 70.26 million for MySpace, down 5% from last year.

vMs. boyd got some answers from group of people she’s been hanging out with over the last four years: U.S. teens. During the 2006-2007 school year, her conversations with high-school students began showing a trend of white, upper-class and college-bound teens migrating to Facebook–much like the crowd in the conference hall has. Meanwhile, less-educated and non-white teens were on MySpace. Ms. boyd noted that old-style class arrogance was also in view; the Facebook kids were quicker to use condescending language toward the MySpace kids.

“What we’re seeing is a modern incarnation of white flight,” Ms. boyd said. “It should scare the hell out of us.”

More in the article, including research by Eszter Hargittai… [Tags: ]

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July 1, 2009

PDF: The takeway

PDF was an unusually rich conference. Great folks there and an especially good year to be talking about the effect of the Net on politics and governance.

My take-away (although having a single take-away from a conference I just said is rich is rather contradictory, don’t you think?): The Web has won in a bigger way than I’d thought. The people President Obama is appointing to make use of the Web for increased citizen participation and greater democracy (well, at least as access to the Web and the skills required are distributed more evenly) are our best, brightest, and webbiest. And they are doing remarkable things.


Douglas Rushkoff interviewed me for his radio show yesterday or was it the day before? Anyway, here it is. We talked about PDF and about my presentation there, which was about transparency and the changing role of facts.

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June 30, 2009

[pdf09] Mark Pesce on global politics in the hyperconnected universe.

Mark Pesce is talking about the new global power. [I didn’t liveblog Michael Wesch’s talk because it was too hard to. It’s was close to his popular YouTube lecture about YouTube. He got and deserved a standing ovation.]

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

The distribution of power has changed but it comes with a loss of control, which means our culture might start hydroplaning. We need to watch the collisions, but remember that people are going to get hurt. We need a political science for the 21st century.

Last month, Wikipedia banned Scientology from editing WP. The Scientologists compared WP to Nazis. Scientology is highly hierarchical. WP is a social agreement to share what we know for the good of all. What happens when they crash? Scientology uses law suits. How does Scientology deal with a social agreement. If Scientology wanted to declare war, it would attack the social agreement, wearing away at the bonds of trust. ckobama,

Mark points to the phenomenon of “communication overload.” E.g., the NY my.barackobama site was overwhelmed by supporters, so O supporters moved elsewhere, using older media. We haven’t yet seen a hybrid beast that can operate hierarchically but interact with the ad hocracy. Project Houdini (tracking who voted) crashed on Election Day, overwhelmed by info. These both were “friendly fire” incidents. We need to learn how to crush the gulf.

“The next decade will be completely hellish” for parties and campaigners.

Hyperempowered communities face a mismatch with the hierarchical mechanisms of the state, even with the best of intentions. But the catastrophes are the first sign of success. So, the state has to radically reform its means of communication, moving out of hierarchies, becoming more chaotic. But this is asking the leopard to change its spots.

We need to watch hyperintelligences emerge and see how governments react. The rules of the game are changing. “The best first step is observation.” The O administration provides the “perfect lab.” This will give us the first snapshot of a political science for the 21st century. Powerful, hyperconnected communities wil sometims struggle against or work with hierarchical institutions. But in each case the hierarchical will have to adapt itself to a new order.

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[pdf09] Todd Herman – A conservative in Oz

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. POSTED WITHOUT BEING REREAD You are warned, people.

Todd Herman is a conservative who wants his team to be using the new tools better. Conservatives need to understand the rules of engagement better. The ecosystem favors Obama. How is that working and how can Conservatives work it? “Chairman Steele said ‘Take the lid off.” What would you do if you were me?” E.g., he’s excited by Vivek Kundra’s announcement and wants to bring the data to his site where Republicans can comb it for info. But how open should a political be? How open can it be? “Can a political party really be open?” “Can we be as open as Twitter? I would love it if we could.”

He points to a 1997 Republican site: A virtual town. Very 1997-cool. USAToday rated it as more fun than the Disney site. The Republicans “have been here before. There’s nothing genetically stopping us from using them.” He shouts out to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saul_Alinsky.

Q: How do you envision this change in tech with the underlying philosophical approaches changing the Rep party?
A: I love that our elected leaders can have pretty direct communication with the voters. I think it’s changing that way. But we need to change the rules of engagement, e.g., away from gotcha.

Q: [jay rosen] Cognitive dissonance while listening to you: You seem to address us as if you didn’t know that the Bush admin had an opacity agenda. E.g., Ashcroft’s 2001 memo saying err on the side of not honoring FOIA requests. So, I’d think the Reps should be asking why it was in favor of opacity.
A: It’s a long conversation. Todd points to some instances of the Obama admin’s lack of transparency. “I’d gladly buy you dinner to have a long conversation about it…”
Jay: Good enough! Where are we going?

You picked on DemocraticUnderground, but missed FreeRepublic. But you asked us socratically what we would do if we were you. What would you do if you were us and saw the way the REpublicans manipulated voter roles?
A: I don’t accept the premise, but my question goes both way.

[Great to have a conservative speaking. IMO, it’d would have been better if he hadn’t used it as a way to address his political grievances, and instead solely focused on the issues of tech, politics, governance where we genuinely share interests. But, that’s just me.]

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June 4, 2009

White House bloggers get names

The bloggers who write the posts at the White House blog now are putting their names on their posts. I think this is a terrific move.

As I posted a couple of weeks ago, my interest isn’t in accountability. On the contrary. Usually, we think that along the Continuum of Responsibility, putting your name to something will push you toward the Staying In Line side, while being anonymous lets you run toward the Recklessness goal post. But, it doesn’t always work that way. At a site like WhiteHouse.gov, the anonymity of bloggers reinforced the notion that the blog is a faceless voice of authority, with an adjoining door to the Office of Press Releases. I’m hoping that now that the bloggers are signing their posts, they will feel free-er to speak in their own voices, and present shades of view that are a bit more off-angle, and thus more interesting than the Official View. That’s already been true of the posts of the guest bloggers on the site. Now I hope the official bloggers will feel ok about occasionally saying “OMG!!!! I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M IN THE WHITE HOUSE!!!!!!” except maybe a little more constructively and definitely with the caps only implied.

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May 30, 2009

The YouTube election … in Iran

Hamid Tehrani at GlobalVoices posts about how Iranian candidates for the presidency are using YouTube…including controversies about jokes and ad hoc footage…

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January 20, 2009

New WhiteHouse.gov

Within minutes, the new WhiteHouse.gov went up. (Here’s the before and after.) The first blog post (yes, blog post) promises communication, transparency and participation. At the moment, though, there’s no way to participate, including no comments on the blog. I do admit that it’s not obvious how best to enable conversation on this site. (There’s a page that promises more participation.)

All the original content is copyright free, of course. Third-party content is posted under a CreativeCommons license.

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December 21, 2008

Trippi on Obama’s direction connection

Joe Trippi is doing a chat at FireDogLake. Here’s one of his responses:

I think we are about to see the first “Connected” presidency. JFK was the first Television president — Obama will be first “connected” president — and congress is going to be the big loser in all this — because I think we are going to see a President directly connected to more Americans than any other President in history — and when 25 members of Congress are standing in the way of health care reform — they are going to find themselves standing between Barack and a hard place — between the President and millions of Americans organizing to pass his agenda. On the other hand the Obama administration is the Wright Brothers now — no one has ever done this before and there is a lot they could get wrong — being too careful and listening too much to the Washington establishment.

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