In the words of Ronald Reagan, here we go again.*
Sandy Pentland rehearses something that’s made it’s way from heresy to platitudinal commonplace with breakneck speed. Asked “what, specifically, is the New Deal on Data?” Sandy tells us this:
It’s a rebalancing of the ownership of data in favor of the individual whose data is collected. People would have the same rights they now have over their physical bodies and their money.
Jaron Lanier has written a book on devolving power to individuals in their own data.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have the Wrong Metaphor. Just as it was a pity that we ever called intellectual property intellectual property (we want strong property rights don’t we? Pretty much the stronger the better) so now by making data something that is owned, our metaphor gives short shrift to the free rider opportunity.
Once more with feeling, here are the words of Thomas Jefferson, well known freedom fighter and slave-owner.
He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.
Now it’s one thing to say that, in so far as we arrogate a right of control to anyone, it should be to the individual that the data is about. This is arbitrary in some ways. It took two to tango and the data is about some attribute or assumed attribute of the industrial, but it was also the product of someone else capturing and organising that data. But since we want a society in which individuals are empowered, that all seems good.
But there’s a problem. We’ve errected this idea of someone owning their own data out of anxiety about the way it was being misused, for instance in ways that compromised individuals privacy. So we’ve done something about that – as well we might.
But along the way that metaphor got in the way. Here we have data – which in the age of the internet is always and everywhere a potential global public good. And here we have identifiable mischiefs that can befall an industrial. But instead of focusing the remedy around constraining the mischief in the most efficient way – with regimes that make it difficult and punishable to misuse data and create those mischiefs, we’ve gone with The Metaphor. Your data is yours. And we’ve gone with something that we built modern commercial law from and which lawyers love. Consent. We’re devolving the decisions to those at the coalface – a good instinct – and, hey, it’s your data so you had better consent to all the uses it will be put to.
But this is already going too far. Why? Because you can’t possibly consent to all the possible worthwhile uses to which your data could be put. Furthermore this all smacks of the fiction of infinite computing power which has been so useful, for instance in macro-economics in building views of the world which are unparadoxically, counterintuitive and at the same time wrong. If data is owned, then the cascade of permissions follows from the logic of property.**
One of the most important things I know about political discourse I got from a few lines in Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. The ‘engine’ behind democracy – what makes us engage – is not reason (which tells us that there’s no point in engaging because of the infinitesimal chance we have of affecting the outcome) but affect – our emotional and expressive selves. And this governs what gets covered by the media – what takes off as a meme and what doesn’t. And it turns out the metaphors of property are pretty memeworthy, while the metaphors of a public good commons are strangely not.
Anyway, for the record, reason tells us that when it comes to data we’re staring at a massive and exponentially*** growing free rider opportunity. That that opportunity ramifies into the future into a multiverse of possibilities. We want to put people in control of their data to the extent that we want them to make decisions about whether they wish to compromise their rights – for instance to privacy – for whatever reason they may wish to. Moreover this is the only way we can build a healthy eco-system in personal data in a democratic world. (And doing so would be a major economic and social boon!)
But we don’t want them to individually or even in principle consent to every possible use of their data. Rather – and people might differ on how far to go – we want to identify a universe of possible objections that people might have to allowing others to use their data and empower them to prevent such objectionable uses. Beyond that, in the words of that well known Socialist Muslim Barack Hussein Obama “they didn’t build that”. We all built it. Or to put it more clearly, we are all the beneficiaries of the information world we have built which makes it possible for there to be data on us. And if our data can help benefit future generations by being free subject to being vouchsafed against reasonable mischiefs, then it’s the least we can do to set it free.
* Yes, I know he said 'There you go again, but I'm after cheap mellifluence here - cut me some slack.
** As an aside I note that it may follow from the logic of property, but not from the fact of property which has always practically made room for the idea of multiple use without consent. Thus easements, adverse possession, residual rights, riparian rights, mining rights, airspace rights and on it goes.
*** Yes folks, I mean exponentially - not "really so amaaaazzzingly faaast you won't belieeeeve it".
A Tale of Repetition: Lessons from Florida Restaurant Inspections
by Ginger Zhe Jin, Jungmin Lee – #20596 (IO)
We examine the role of repetition in government regulation. Using
Florida restaurant inspection data from 2003 to 2010, we find that
inspectors new to the inspected restaurant report 12.7-17.5% more
violations than the second visit of a repeat inspector. This effect
is even more pronounced if the previous inspector had inspected the
restaurant more times. The difference between new and repeat
inspectors is driven partly by inspector heterogeneity in inherent
taste and stringency, and partly by new inspectors having fresher
eyes in the first visit of a restaurant.
The Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) lives in the suburb next to mine and is a Good Thing. It’s housed in one of the umpteen magnificent town halls of Melbourne, in this case South Melbourne Town Hall and a lot of its concerts are put on by students, often supplemented by their teachers or some professional musician.
Now apart from liking the idea of listening to students play beautiful music, I can’t really tell the difference between lots of music students and great professional players, so what’s there not to like?
In any event in recent times a mysterious plywood box has been build outside the Town Hall. It’s a Quartetthaus would you believe and there are three concerts a day going on in there for the next week or so. The sound is a bit like being inside a set of headphones. The space is not larger than a largish room of a house. 52 seats are located in two concentric circles around a small circular stage on which four players play string quartets. You become aware after about five minutes that the stage is actually rotating. Which is kind of cool (In your case, owing to this article, you will be aware of this before you go, so please take appropriate precautions).
I went last night and heard a Beethoven string quartet and then a Janácek string quartet. It was very enjoyable, and cheap as such things go ($30 per person).
So I say go. Go Now. Go if you can. While you’re there you can find out why they spell Quartetthaus with a double ‘T’. And why do they speed up the rotation of the stage at the end until the players fly out into the audience (OK, I made that bit up. They don’t – but only because ethics approval would have been so hard to get. Maybe next year.)
An Englishman enters a naval action with the firm conviction that his duty is to hurt his enemies and help his friends and allies without looking out for directions in the midst of the fight; and while he thus clears his mind of all subsidiary distractions, he rests in confidence on the certainty that his comrades, actuated by the same principles as himself, will be bound by the sacred and priceless law of mutual support. Accordingly, both he and all his fellows fix their minds on acting with zeal and judgment upon the spur of the moment and with the certainty that they will not be deserted. Experience shows, on the contrary, that a Frenchman or a Spaniard, working under a system which leans to formality and strict order being maintained in battle, has no feeling for mutual support, and goes into action with hesitation, preoccupied with the anxiety of seeing or hearing the commander-in-chief’s signals for such and such manoeuvres. . . . Thus they can never make up their minds to seize any favourable opportunity that may present itself. They are fettered by the strict rule to keep station, which is enforced upon them in both navies, and the usual result is that in one place ten of their ships may be firing on four, while in another four of their comrades may be receiving the fire of ten of the enemy. Worst of all, they are denied the confidence inspired by mutual support, which is as surely maintained by the English as it is neglected by us, who will not learn from them.
Don Domingo Perez de Grandallana, a Spaniard writing of the Battle of St Vincent where a relatively obscure Commodore Horatio Nelson first rocketed to celebrity thrill-seeker status. Disobeying orders, he headed his 74 gun third rate straight into six of the heaviest Spanish ships three of which were 112-gun three-deckers and a fourth the 130-gun flagship. With his ship’s wheel shot away, he led his troops to board an enemy ship and then with cries of “Westminster Abbey or Glorious Victory” ordered them to board another ship. Everyone ended up very impressed. The rest is history.
This post is mostly a note to self: Like I keep saying, there’s an ecology between public and private goods. This article asks whether smartphones should be used in meetings. That’s a question about a cultural rule. It’s a public good question. The article however seeks the answer to the question in private feelings and etiquette.
The closest it gets to considering whether the rule – or some more felicitous variant of the rule – is good is considering whether you (an underling) should use your smartphone. Well no you shouldn’t. Why? Because it might annoy your boss.
TalentSmart has tested the emotional intelligence of more than a million people worldwide and found that Millennials have the lowest self-awareness in the workplace, making them unlikely to see that their smartphone use in meetings is harming their careers.
There are certainly lots of circumstances in which one could agree. It can be annoying. Sometimes very annoying. As I understand it one of Kevin Rudd’s staffers early in his term wore earpieces attached to an iPhone in meetings.
Still the moment I saw Twitter being used at conferences I realised there were costs and benefits and there could be strong benefits. The costs were distraction and all that can entail. On the other hand the spoken word is a very time inefficient medium for getting across information. You can read these paragraphs a lot faster than you can listen to them, and if there’s a lot to the article, you can also skim stuff you think you don’t need to read. Not so with listening to someone on a platform talking at you and taking you through his slides. And the more people there are in the audience, the greater the gain for them as they tailor their attention to what is generating the best value for them at the time (OK, that’s the theory, some will just be distracting themselves, but lots won’t).
Smartphones can be a pain in meetings if they’re used by people who don’t’ acknowledge their duty to the group to pay attention and know what’s going on. On the other hand you can occasionally check email and even write back without losing track. If you manage that then we’ve got a productivity gain on our hands. Not only doesn’t this article even canvass this possibility. It’s whole world is the world of impressing your boss. Too bad if he’s a jerk and is only impressed by your dumb obedient silence – too bad for the public good that is – which in this case is the interests of the organisation he’s bossing you about in. Continue reading