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Editorial N° 3

Dear readers,

 

Send an e-mail and it will reach the moon in just a few seconds. But a postcard will often only arrive at its destination after a week. Communication is easy nowadays; e-mails and WhatsApp move via electromagnetic waves at lightning speed – making the mailman seem incredibly slow in comparison. The internet is a communication technology that shapes our everyday life. We stumble upon new information before witnessing it through more traditional media like the evening news or morning newspaper. But who can guarantee that the flood of information that we are exposed to stems from verified sources and explains issues in their proper context? In an interview, the physicist and science journalist Ranga Yogeshwar demands a public debate to determine who is supposed to filter the mass of information. In ten interviews, the experts of this issue discuss the repercussions of digital transformation on our societies.

According to media scientist Norbert Bolz, the digital transformation is one of the three deep breaks within the history of media. It has reached all levels: from the app that allows us to order food from our favourite restaurant, to international conflicts that are now being carried out in cyberspace. The phenomena of the digital transformation are often far-reaching, but not always obvious. In his interview with 42 Magazine, the economist Philipp Hergovich emphasises the benefits of online dating. According to Hergovich, dating platforms like Tinder make society more liberal by connecting people from all different kinds of socio-economic backgrounds.

42 Magazine has also been impacted by digital change, and since September, you can find us at fortytwomagazine.com. Our webmaster Frederik Junge is credited with the new look and feel of our website. We also welcome our new head of translations Eva Fürst, and PR manager Judith Ponwitz, who both joined us earlier this year to support our international team. As part of our artist cooperation with photographer Max Dauven, we are pleased to present his work, which seems to be made digitally but is produced through analogue processes like negative photomontage. His photographs connect the digital with the analogue world, and are reminiscent of the balancing act we also have to accomplish in our personal lives.

I hope you will gain new insights and enjoy reading 42 Magazine.

Sincerely,

Lena Kronenbürger

Lena Kronenbürger
Editor-in-chief, 42 magazine

 

Cover: Louis Lehmann

“Even the very best academic, the most critical journalist can be manipulated”

0 1 #2 Detail © Max Dauven

How do we distinguish relevant from irrelevant information? In his interview with 42 Magazine, science journalist Ranga Yogeshwar talks about the overflow of information and why it is important to filter it. He calls for the disclosure of algorithms while simultaneously pointing out the positive sides of digital transformation and suggests that its benefits should be used beyond economic ends.

 


 

Mister Yogeshwar – as a physicist and science journalist, you must often find yourself at the source of research and innovation. When did you first notice how rapidly digital transformation was changing our lives?

I started programming very early on. I built my first computer in the late seventies. I think I was one of the first people in Germany who could send e-mails. The problem was that hardly anyone had an e-mail account back then. That was when I realised that the internet was going to change the grammar of communication.

So are we in the middle of a revolution?

We are at the beginning of a revolution and its consequences are not entirely predictable yet. When printing was invented, we were suddenly able to reproduce communication. Fundamentally, that was what enabled Martin Luther’s Reformation. It wouldn’t have been possible without the invention of printing. So when the internet came along, it was no surprise that this new communication technology had a huge potential to change how we interact as a society.

What sort of change are you thinking of in particular?

A simple example: right now, we are doing an interview. Later, this interview will be published as a text. It is not clear if this will be the same in fifteen years. Even today, there are new technologies, for example intelligent assistants, who use speech as a source of direct input instead of written text. On the book market, audiobook sales rival those of traditional books. When people have a problem with a device and need a manual, they watch a YouTube video. There is a possibility, incredible as it may sound, that we are becoming a post-text society – that within 20-30 years, we may be establishing a culture in which the written word as we know it will be replaced – by speech, by videos, maybe by something else entirely.

Isn’t the idea of a post-text society, of a culture without text or writing, a little far-fetched?

It does seem far-fetched. But thinking about it bears an important potential: for example, as the world becomes more and more complex, we are noticing that the intersection of man-machine-interface is becoming increasingly simple. You needed a whole manual to use the first telephones. Today, interfaces are designed to be intuitive. In a way, they can reveal their own virtual grammar. It is possible that this trend will continue.

What does that mean for the individual?

Of course there are intellectual consequences. The development of language, written and spoken language, was the instrument of enlightenment. When you write, you distil your thoughts by arranging them in writing. Writing is a vehicle – not just of communication, but also of reflection. What happens when most people stop reading and watch videos or talk to devices instead, is unpredictable.

What effects could this development have on society?

On the one hand, the articulation of the individual through language, through writing, is something phenomenally simple. On the other hand, it is phenomenally complicated. Reading means deciphering a code – letters – and that means a lot of work. It is much easier if a device does the job for you or if someone shows you a video. But language is part of a thinking society. In some areas, we may even see a renaissance of the written word. My concern is that society will be divided into a small group of people who will write, maybe program, maybe design – and a huge group of people who will simply consume, won’t write anymore, but will only listen.

… and won’t think anymore?

And will think differently, maybe. One-hundred years ago, greater access to information enabled the expansion of democracy. Censorship meant that the flow of information was cut off and information was held back from the public. Of course, that wasn’t good. But today, the situation has reversed and there is an overflow of information. This is a big disadvantage, because as we see more information, it becomes a sea of information, an ocean, even: It becomes harder and harder to distinguish relevant information from irrelevant information.

Social media profits from showing users wrong information”

 

What role does social media play in this overflow of information?

The business model of a social network is to operate so that users will stay in their ecosystem for as long as possible, so that they can show them as many ads as they can. We know from research that the appeal of loud content, maybe even fake news, is very high. This means that social media profits from showing users wrong information. A specific example from an MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) study: A fake post on Twitter will reach 1500 people six times faster than a true story. The result is that we experience a peculiar agitation in the media that doesn’t always go hand in hand with the truth. In the past, the procurement of information was the problem – in the future, it will be the filtering of information, the distillment to relevance or significance.

Who will be responsible for developing these information filters?

That is an interesting and very current debate. If you followed Mark Zuckerberg’s Senate hearing in April 2018, you could sense the same question hanging in the air, although it wasn’t answered. But implicitly, Zuckerberg said that in the future, he would be able to detect and delete fake news automatically, to identify terrorist groups, to potentially carry out the whole process of filtering information – all with the help of artificial intelligence.

But this statement was never questioned. Could a social network that connects more than two billion people worldwide become a censor? What consequences would that have for different cultures? The things you can say in the US; you aren’t always allowed to say in Germany. The situation is different again in countries like Egypt or China.

“In the past, the procurement of information was the problem. In the future, it will be the filtering of information”

 

What would such a regulation look like in Germany for example?

In Germany, you could establish a government authority. But that would be dangerous because as a result, you would create an apparatus of censorship. Maybe we would need an independent authority? The public-service broadcasters? What criteria should be used to filter? Who defines what is and isn’t fake news? What mechanisms can ensure that we will allow correct information in the future? Even when it supports a position outside the mainstream? We need to have this debate.

Do you think that politicians and political scholars are aware of the relevance of the debate you demand?

No, politicians aren’t aware of the debate’s relevance at all. So much was obvious during Zuckerberg’s hearing. The total lack of awareness in politics was remarkable. There were obviously people in the room who didn’t even have a Facebook account and had a peculiar view of social media as a result. Unfortunately, this meant that they weren’t able to ask the really important questions. Nobody asked or stated what criteria the algorithms are based on. Or about the phenomenon of the echo chamber. If economic reasons can increase fake news, that can have a tangible influence on society and could even decide a political vote.

So if politicians shouldn’t be responsible for the correct use of data, do we need an independent organisation for that?

The internet and social media confront us with the same sort of questions that the invention of printing did. At first, there was an uncontrolled growth. Then Rome stepped in and censorship was established, with all its resulting consequences. Basically, this happened because Rome claimed that people were publishing lies. We have to learn from that and take a stand. There must be no institution that controls the flow of information based on political interest. On the other hand, it is a political task to establish an independent body that does just that.

What would you suggest?

There are a number of possibilities. A censor is one of them. You could approach the problem from the legal side and toughen the laws regarding fake news. If an institution published a piece of news that could have disastrous consequences and might be misused politically, they would be punished for that. It is slowly becoming clear that the uncontrolled growth – that unlimited, unfiltered information – isn’t viable anymore.

In your opinion, where should we draw the line?

There are already a lot of good laws. We have to be clear on the fact that the internet and social networks reverse the flow of the media. Mass media has become the media of the masses. Individuals can suddenly become mass media. We have established words like “influencer”, individuals who have so many “followers”, that they, in the truest sense of the word, influence people. In traditional press laws, there is a clear separation between advertising and content. Advertising has to be clearly marked. Many “influencers” are in fact more like infomercials. That has to be made absolutely clear.

How does the digital space change the relationship between media and consumer?

In the future, we will not only have to talk about media in the traditional sense. We will also have to talk about the traces that the use of digital content leaves. In the past, when we read a book, we did it on our own on a green lawn. Today, everything we read electronically is logged. In other words: the book reads us. Everyone who reads this article in its published form reveals their own data while reading.

None of that has been sufficiently settled in legal terms yet. On top of that, we have noticed that, similarly to advertising, we can gather political stances through “targeting”. Just as it is possible to persuade someone to buy something, it is possible to persuade them to vote for someone. For the first time in history, we are experiencing the confrontation between the public and an enormously powerful machinery capable of manipulation. A couple of people might say: “That will never happen.” And I think that is a huge mistake. Even the best academic, the most critical journalist has to be aware that they can be manipulated.

How dangerous is our digital infrastructure when even critical minds can be manipulated?

There is a Facebook experiment that was only mentioned briefly during the Senate hearing. Facebook tested what would happen if they put positive or largely negative content in a user’s news feed. So, we are not just talking about intellectual manipulation, we are talking about emotional manipulation. This experiment, which has only been dealt with on a surface level, has enormous potential. There is a huge danger that manipulation will not remain limited to consuming. It is also misused by nations that, due to their digital infrastructure, can evaluate their citizens in no time at all. China is already trying it. It is now possible to control citizens completely. It is vital that we understand that. The digital infrastructure offers great opportunities but is also an extremely dangerous breeding ground for dictators and authoritarian systems. This is a danger we have to be aware of.

We might soon able to predict human behaviour with the help of technical tools. What would that mean in this context?

Yes, “predicting” is one of the next steps. Advertising tries to influence people but at the moment, there is no way of knowing if such manipulation works. If they can anticipate the next step, advertisers will have a much stronger hold on the consumer. “Predicting” is already used extensively in other areas, because it’s not just about ads that you click on. When you write a message, your mobile phone suggests words you might use next. If you take a closer look, the suggestions aren’t half bad. In a couple of years, through machine learning, the software will have a pretty precise idea of what you will write next. Precise predictions of your behaviour are the next step. When that time comes, we will need a new term. Not “I would like” but “I am made to like”.

What consequences would that have?

Everyone can ask themselves today: Why did I buy this jumper? Why did I book this holiday? Often, when we really think about it, we realise that an ad or an influencer led us to this decision. An artificial desire was increased. That’s the same as before. The difference is that today, we are able to execute this process individually, due to gigantic mechanical support. Today, there is a form of control that isn’t as obvious as it used to be. I remember how it used to be in the Soviet Union: There were huge loudspeakers, and each morning a radio programme was broadcast across the streets. Everyone knew: this is propaganda. Unfortunately, today’s propaganda isn’t as obvious.

“Communication is more than a business model”

 

With that in mind, is it time to recognise the more positive sides of digital transformation?

Well, first of all, the digital development in the early phases of the internet was largely driven by economic factors. If you talk to a company in Silicon Valley, the question is always the same: “What’s the business model?”. Every action, each one of the countless apps, the social networks, the search engines, the video platforms – at their core, they are all economic models with the goal to earn money. It is slowly time to realise that communication is more than a business model.

If that becomes clear, we might see that there are more degrees of freedom. And we even know of some! Wikipedia is an example. Wikipedia is a model where the sense of community is central; where people try to make knowledge accessible together. There are many initiatives that serve the public good instead of the advancement of an individual. Maybe it is time to change tack and to say: “We have the chance to use the benefits of digital culture for something beyond economic means.”

And second of all?

The cost of a product’s reproduction, the terminal costs, are reduced to a minimum in the digital space. If I write a text today and share it online, the costs are close to zero. That means, we are developing into a culture where traditional economic entities dissolve. In some areas, we are approaching a world of no terminal costs. That would be a kind of ideal and the internet would really become an asset for many.

Nevertheless, there are many sceptics…

…who say, for example, we should stay clear of social networks completely. But I think that’s the wrong approach, because they have an enormous potential. As with many other technologies, there is a period of adjustment here. Right now, we don’t have many rules, and we are just starting to ask the question who should establish them. If you ask me, it is the responsibility of the state. Just like over a hundred years ago, when cars started to appear on our roads and we realised: we can’t go on like this. We need traffic rules, we need road signs, we need traffic lights. It was the state’s responsibility then. It should be the same here.

In your opinion, what needs to be done?

We are starting to create the necessary conditions. The awareness that we need to do more than we did in the past is definitely there. For example, when it comes to the monopolisation of the digital space: Today, the motto is “The winner takes it all”. The consequence is that there is only one big search engine, namely Google – and just one big social network – Facebook. In business, we have the cartel law. It’s time to apply it to digital spaces as well. My personal opinion is that algorithms should be disclosed when they gain a certain level of relevance. In a democratic society, we cannot allow streams of information to be controlled by a private company in a non-transparent way.

Interview: Katharina Tesch

Translation: Elisabeth Lewerenz

 

 

digital-transformation-and-information

 

Ranga Yogeshwar is a physicist, science journalist, author and presenter. In his book “Nächste Ausfahrt Zukunft” (“Next Exit: the Future”), published in October 2017, he deals with the digital revolution and the effects of artificial intelligence.

“He who controls the algorithm has the power”

Grauverlauf #1 © Max Dauven

The digital transformation has given rise to platform companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Deliveroo. Although they present themselves as mere intermediaries between supply and demand of services, they also engage in the large-scale aggregation and mining of data produced by workers and consumers alike. Dr Karen Gregory, lecturer in Digital Sociology, explains how these companies operate, how they have changed the nature of work, and finally, what they are really up to.

 


 

This year marks the 200th birthday of Karl Marx. Let us assume that the old man strolls about the streets of today’s London and encounters an Uber driver, a Deliveroo rider, and a TaskRabbit worker. What would his thoughts be?

I think he would ask the same questions that he did in his time and think about working conditions. One thing that Marx would immediately be aware of, is that this is a form of labour – and not a new one. Cities have always been places that gave rise to complex divisions of labour. Seeing someone like a Deliveroo rider, or TaskRabbiter, or an Uber driver would probably not have been that much of a surprise to him. Markets have always created spaces for new forms of work. In cities there have always been people who deliver food, take in lodgers, and transport other people. In some ways this would not surprise Marx that much. Moreover, these people are often working in dangerous, unprotected, and unorganised conditions, similar to the workers in his own time.

However, I think he would be curious to learn that these workers are not given the designation of an employee: The companies organising these new forms of work do not recognise these workers as workers. Marx might even be a bit shocked that there are people doing jobs that are clearly value-creating but have been excluded from the category of “worker”.

Could you unpack that a little bit? In which ways has the emergence of these digital platforms changed the traditional roles of employers and employees?

I don’t think we can say that platforms like Airbnb, Uber, and TaskRabbit are responsible for a changing relationship around work contracts. These platforms are the logical extension of phenomena that have been happening for thirty, forty, or even fifty years. We are talking about a long trajectory of outsourcing labour, increasingly precarious work, casualising work itself and also privatising work and pushing the responsibility for work back on to workers. Some scholars talk about the demutualisation of work, meaning that the employer and the employee do not have a mutual relationship anymore. However, that is not really a new thing and is many years in the making, already. This development is also related to the decrease in unionised and organised worker power. All these factors have created a situation where a company like Uber can “disrupt the market” and set itself up as just a broker for labour rather than having to call itself an employer.

Why are platform workers not represented by trade unions? Traditionally it would be their role to protect workers’ rights. Where are the trade unions in all of this?

The fact that platforms specifically claim that they are not employers is provoking a number of legal battles. In the absence of the designation of employees, workers do not have the rights to organise. However, this does not mean that people are not organising at all. There are institutions like the IWJB (Independent Workers Union of Great Britain) or the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) that do not consider themselves as formal trade unions in the proper sense. They see themselves as worker-organising entities. Their goal is to organise and to agitate towards direct action. These informal organisations are making tremendous progress in the Uber and Deliveroo world. Most Deliveroo workers I have spoken to know about labour organising or are involved themselves.

It is a bifurcated situation where the formal trade unions have not quite gotten into the whole issue, but there are certainly a lot of activities happening. Workers have been on strike in Bristol and in London. We have seen nascent organising in Edinburgh. Wherever the platform economy has shown up, there has been an unrest among the workers. The narrative around the platform of capitalism is preceding it now. People who sign up for Airbnb or became Deliveroo riders are aware of the labour problems of this business model even if they are not interested in organising themselves.

Could you elaborate on the term “platform capitalism”?

Platform capitalism is a rather new sociotechnical arrangement that is – as some scholars would put it – acting as an intermediary. It allows groups of people to meet: “Would you like to buy my service? I would like to sell my service”, so we are simply using this platform, which is a website, a database or a forum to make that possible. A platform is a multisided market, that allows multiple groups to come to a specific place to trade with one another. At first glance that sounds very simple. However, the ramifications of doing business through this digital multisided market are quite complicated. It changes how we consume, how we produce, how we work, how we will be visible as workers – if at all – and how we get paid. The other side of platform capitalism is that companies claim to be mere platforms and thus have no responsibility for the social effects of their doings. At the same time, they have a tendency of becoming monopolies and there in lies the tension.

That sounds like platform companies do not create any new jobs but rather reorganise and manage demand and supply of services. Why are they so valuable?

Platform companies are particularly valuable because they attract venture capitalists, not only because of the companies’ potential growth, but also because they are data aggregating systems. Everyone has heard the phrase that data is the new oil. What all these platforms are doing, regardless of whether they are delivering your food or helping to clean your house, is not only to aggregate data but also to generate new forms of data that have not existed before. Airbnb, for instance, has one of the world’s largest databases of interior photographs. That is valuable to advertisers, architects, and city planners.

If a company like Uber, Airbnb or Deliveroo goes bust tomorrow, it will still be valuable to civic and urban infrastructures because they will have data that cities want and need. Uber data, for example, is often relied on for making inferences about city traffic or even metro planning. The metro of Washington DC has consulted Uber data in order to understand what happens when the metro collapses. Thus, these platforms should primarily be thought of as data aggregators.

What are they doing with this data?

I think their long-term vision is that this data will help to build the so-called “smart city.” As city governance increasingly starts to look at data driven initiatives, these companies will be the people holding that information. Uber does not necessarily want to be voted into a city council. They do not want to be a utility, something you would have control over. They are aiming for soft power in cities which will allow them to set agendas and establish themselves as private owners of aggregated data.

At least we are really starting to see that platforms have an interest in understanding the future of cities. One of Deliveroo’s recent pitch decks, these decks that you would take to an advertiser or potential investor, lays out the future vision of the company. They claim that they will have infinite amounts of data on food consumption, food delivery, and basic eating patterns in cities. Their long-term vision is to control the entire chain of logistics: how food is generated and how it arrives at your place. It is a grand vision indeed.

That is a dystopian vision, isn’t it?

Definitely. And one that is actively trying to build itself in the absence of any kind of democratic or transparent politics. We are not only talking about the diminished agency and quality of life for workers. We are also talking about real long-term investments in city planning with actors who are not democratically oriented.

Since your research focuses on Deliveroo at the moment, could you give us some more insight into what they are doing?

Deliveroo is essentially a data science company. It is very interested in your consumption patterns: the time you ordered, what you ordered, how much you ordered. The whole business model relies on an algorithm that deploys workers when they are needed and removes them when they are not. In fact, if you talk to Deliveroo riders, their biggest complaint is that there is no transparency. They do not understand how the company is functioning and how the algorithms work that govern their lives.

On some day there are jobs, on others there are none. Nothing is predictable. The company keeps tweaking and changing how it operates. The one thing I took away from interviews with Deliveroo riders is that from their perspective the company actually sounds like a scam. It sounds like a chaotic, fly-by-night pop-up shop that you would not sign up for in any way. However, from the perspective of the consumer side it is obviously convenient. You can download this app and five minutes later you can order food from any restaurant and it is going to arrive at your door. I think the trade-off for your data is what is driving a large proportion of the digital economy. If you thought about it, you might not want the company to have your data, but you definitely want that cheeseburger and you would prefer it to be convenient and easy.

The companies portray these platforms as impartial extensions of the free market. But the question is of course: Who has the power? A platform cannot hire and fire people. The Deliveroo riders of Cologne recently tried to establish a work council. What happened then was that the work contracts of all the involved riders were miraculously discontinued. Who is responsible for that? An algorithm?

The case you mentioned is not the first time that organising Deliveroo riders have just suddenly been dismissed – or deleted – from the app. There is no transparency around the algorithm or what is actually driving management decisions. That is very stressful for workers day-to-day, because you cannot plan on anything. You do not know whether you are going to make money that day or not, whether it is worth going out. It is hard to plan your life around that kind of inconsistent income.

On top of that, it only takes a couple of people around you to be deleted for you to start worrying. Am I doing a good job? Are these decisions based on job performance? Or is it the algorithm that suddenly decided that it just does not need the people? Have I done something wrong? Can this app actually access things on my phone where I have criticised the company in an e-mail? All this creates stress, but also paranoia because the workers do not and cannot understand the rules of the game.

This insecurity is the reason why the whole sector is often called the “gig economy”. The phrase suggests a form of work that takes place occasionally and is typically not the worker’s primary income. Is that the case?

Recent surveys suggest that most platform workers are not entirely relying on income made through the platform. However, that does not mean that they are not relying on that source of income. They often have multiple part-time jobs. In Edinburgh, there is a clear bifurcation. On the one hand, there are student labourers, which I think most people are not paying attention to. These are young people and they do not necessarily think through the risks they are undertaking. Being rider for Deliveroo may seem like a great job when you are riding your bike anyway.

They tend not to see it as work and are not particularly worried about getting hit by a car. One may call it “the exploitation of an eighteen-year-old person’s interest in being healthy, fit, and attractive”. On the other hand, there are people who are really struggling and that are fully dependent on these platforms. However, for these companies, the ideal worker is someone who does not need a job, and that is highly problematic. This also makes the organisation very challenging, because only a part of the work force is in a desperate situation. A good portion of the people would say: “I don’t want this to be regulated, I don’t want to be called an employee, I just want to hop on my bike and make twenty-five pounds when I want it.”

“What does it really look like to have nothing but a gig economy running things? From my perspective, that looks like chaos”

 

The companies thus rightfully argue that many platform workers actually appreciate that freedom. Technically, most of them are self-employed. But are they really? And what about social security?

This is an intractable problem. We are either going to decide that these platforms need a form of state regulation and that the status of the employees is actually bogus self-employment. That would mean that these people are workers and that companies owe them higher wages, pensions systems, and sick pay. On the other hand, there could be a continued push that the notion of this free market, flexible worker wins out. The long-term problem with that is social security. What does it really look like to have nothing but a gig economy running things? From my perspective, that looks like chaos. I just do not believe it to be a sustainable model. Imagine the health care sector, for example, reshaped as a platform. An NHS (National Health Service) according to the gig economy model sounds to me like a lot of people dying.

Being technically self-employed, platform workers are also responsible for their own hardware. Uber drivers have to provide their own cars. Deliveroo riders have to maintain their own bikes. If we return to Marx, the irony of the situation is that, in a way, these workers do own the means of production. Is that not a form of empowerment?

We have to ask where to locate the real value of these companies. Investment is not flowing into Deliveroo or AirBnB because they deliver food and allow people to rent living space. It is because they are also data aggregators. He who controls the algorithm and the data science has more power in a work relationship than the person actually doing the labour.You can be the best craftsman or the best bike rider, but that will not help you if you are subject to a whole new form of management which is entangled in data science, and you cannot understand or even access the algorithm. There are no choices of opting in or out. That also applies to consumers. Maybe you still want to use the service, but would you not want to have more control over the variables that you offer up? None of that is on the table for consumers or workers. You can either hand over all your data or not use the service. There is definitely more going on than just the bike riders on the street and a lot of it is completely obscure and proprietary.

“What you need is a sense that what is creating value is not just your own embodied“

 

Does that mean that both workers and consumers will have to acquire a basic understanding of data science in order to regain control?

You do not necessarily have to be a data scientist to understand all that. What you do need is a sense that what is creating value is not just your own embodied labour. You have to understand that you are generating data yourself by simply riding a bike. It may appear that you are simply delivering pizza to a customer. However, you have had this app on your phone the entire time and what you really have been doing is mapping the city for Deliveroo. You are teaching the algorithm how to maximise profit. People have to be able to see those data infrastructures in order to ask good questions about them. They should be transparent in a civic society. We have lived through the process of building a digital economy, and we take it for granted that companies have proprietary resources that we do not have access to. However, I think we should really regard these algorithms as something we have the right to look at, to critique, and make choices about.

So far we have talked about the negative effects of the digital transformation on work. What are the good sides and what possibilities do they offer?

We have to remember that the internet itself was born of incredible enthusiasm for access, participation, and non-hierarchical networks. That also applies to many of the newly emerged platforms. Airbnb, for instance, comes out of the couch surfing movement, where people were excited about new forms of sharing and peer-to-peer production. The sharing economy, in the original sense, could open up new ways of sustainable consumption and production. With it comes the narrative that sharing might equal more sustainability or more equitable social practices – and fair enough, those are great ideas.

If we look at the precursors of some of these platforms we can see that they really created new and interesting arrangements. However, once venture capital flows into something that subsequently needs to scale and actively desires a monopoly, we are no longer in a simple sharing or barter economy. We are looking at new, sophisticated financial instruments for extracting profit from both people and cities. The positive aspects of the digital economy open themselves up to exploitation almost immediately. The capital is much faster than we are. If it sees a chance to make money and create new markets, it does so. We find ourselves in a kind of contradiction: The digital transformation could change the way we life and work for the better, but instead we are now deeply entangled in a new nefarious capitalism.

Interview: Jonas Hermann

Translation: Hannah Riegert-Wirtz

 

 

Digital-Transformation-and-Employment

Dr Karen Gregory is a lecturer of Digital Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. Her research is mainly concerned with the digital economy and its effects on society. Recently, she has been conducting interviews with Deliveroo riders in Edinburgh about their work experience.

“Intelligence as such is not interested in the concept of domination”

 

Should we be wary of Artificial Intelligence? In this interview with 42 Magazine, Professor Robert Trappl shares his understandings of the interplay of rationality and emotions, a possible cohabit of humans and machines, and provides some reasons for optimism.

 


 

Prof. Dr Trappl – Are there any misconceptions about Artificial Intelligence that you would like to clear up?

I would like to clarify the common misconception that the further development of Artificial Intelligence comes along with the risk of a superintelligence, an intelligence which accedes to world domination and enslaves human kind or eliminates humans entirely. I do not believe this, despite the fact that this position is represented by people like Elon Musik or Stephen Hawking, who are by all means competent in other domains.

Why do you have doubts about the notion of a hostile superintelligence?

The term superintelligence awards intelligence with an uncharacteristic feature, namely intention. First of all, intelligence describes the effort to solve problems and to survive in an often unpredictable environment. Motives and associated ambitions – of course adapted to the respective living environment – emanate from us humans, from a different system. Intelligence as such, however, is not interested in the concept of domination. Nevertheless, at the moment we are working on the modelling of personalities at the OFAI, the Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence. I do not want to entirely rule out that such a simulation of personalities might some day become problematic for human kind.

“First of all, intelligence describes the effort to solve problems and to survive in an often unpredictable environment”

 

How does the relationship between humans and machines evolve alongside the increasing embodiment of Artificial Intelligence?

Let me give you an example: David Levy’s book “Love and Sex with Robots”, sketches a future in which it is possible to get married to robots. Because I was inquisitive I studied the Austrian marriage law. According to the law, robots were in no way excluded from becoming a marriage partner. However, the marriage law requires both partners to be at least sixteen years of age. And who wants to marry a sixteen-year-old robot? Another book, published in the 1980s, which discusses interesting approaches to this topic is “The Intimate Machine” by Neil Frude.

According to this book, robots need to be unpredictable to a certain degree in order to remain of interest, which means they need to have the human factor, so to say. The algorithms of online dating agencies are based on a similar principle, because they search for partners as similar as possible, whose small differences illustrate a particular charm. The adventure of meeting someone by accident is replaced by a systematic partner choice based on similarities. From there the ability to arbitrate between humans and robots is not too far away.

The age of Artificial Intelligence has often been proclaimed in the past, but has not occurred thus far. What is different this time?

By now, the necessary steps in technological development have been made, something which humans now come to recognise. The defeat of Gari Kasparow by the IBM-Computer Deep Blue in a game of chess in 1997 was predictable, because the development of computing power followed Moore’s Law, and hence always doubled in a time span of 12 to 24 months. The defeat of the world’s best GO-player Lee Sedol by the program “Alpha GO” has however baffled experts. In this instance, the principles of “Deep Learning” have been used effectively in public for the first time. Deep Learning is a subsection of Machine Learning and combines large quantities of data with those structures of neuronal networks we know from the human brain. Through this network structure, the system is able to link the newly learnt information to new contents like an algorithm, and in this way, it can autonomously enhance itself. Even though these approaches had already been employed in the 70s and 80s, they could not perform to their full potential, because computers back then were not fast enough and had neither sufficient memory nor a connection to the internet.

The possibilities of Deep Learning lead people to think: “this poses a real danger”, because machines and algorithms can effectively replace manpower in the long run. And indeed, many jobs become superfluous – interestingly enough not so much on the part of workers and craftspeople, as was expected, but more on the part of office staff. When you enter a bank nowadays, almost no one is sitting inside. Those job positions simply do not exist anymore. That is of course weird. Forecasts like the one of the management consultancy McKinsey International expect that about 40-50 per cent of all jobs could possibly be replaced due to the digital shift.

Admittedly, the substance of such forecasts can fluctuate strongly over time. In its entirety, what you have just described thus puts emphasis on the fact that the digital transformation initiates a change in the working world.

Absolutely, but everyone agrees that something disruptive is about to happen. The evolution of digital transformation, meaning the increased computing power and the extent of networking, are all developments which have made the topic of Artificial Intelligence tangible.

In terms of Deep Learning: Alan Turing had already developed the idea of the „Child Machine“: a basic algorithm capable of learning autonomously. Does this mean that prospective AI will undergo a process of growth, similar to that of a child?

At present we are working on two projects which investigate how children learn to speak by interacting with their environment. These projects contribute a great deal to our research about how one can teach a robot to do certain kinds of work, such as fixing a car engine. In order for this to work, we need to establish a shared vocabulary, so that humans and machines can effectively interact with each other. This vocabulary can then be expanded, for example by presenting a robot with things while saying: “This is a tube, as opposed to a pipe”. Like this, a robot is able to understand relations and apply instructions, similar to an apprentice or a child. It is certainly a more complex task than one might think, but it is possible.

The development of Augmented Personality or Augmented Reality can already be clearly felt, for my smartphone is nothing else than an extension of myself, only that the interface of a finger on a touchscreen is still relatively simple.

Yes, that is right, but the technology is constantly being improved. We are, however, far from what we see in science fiction films. The notion that we can download our self in the form of a brain-program in the future is in a certain sense an illusion, because in our brain, “Hardware” and “Software” are inseparable, they are sometimes even called “Wetware”. Hence, you cannot download anything from there. This stands in contrast to a computer, of which we know: when I have this or that composition of the hardware and this kind of operating system, I can load any desired program onto it. We as humans do not have such things. This vision does not seem to be attainable at the moment, but who knows what it will be like in 50 years.

“I believe we have made a big mistake in AI-research by treating intelligence as rational processing while neglecting emotions”

 

Now, research has shown that we also need emotional intelligence in order to make successful decisions. What are your thoughts on this?

I believe we have made a big mistake in AI-research by treating intelligence as rational processing while neglecting emotions. Since at least the mid-1990s, we have known that less emotional people tend to have problems making rational decisions. The original idea of viewing rationality and emotionality as polar opposites is therefore wrong, since they mutually define each other for a variety of reasons.

Not only in the field of communication, where interpersonal relations are incredibly important, but also in recalling memory contents, especially when the contents are emotionally charged, in which case the most emotionally charged will be preferably retrieved from episodic memory. Hence, when we think of Artificial Intelligence we cannot get past emotionality. As of yet, computers most likely do not have emotions. But what they are quite good at is to recognise, process and express emotions. This is comparable to an actor, who does not necessarily feel the emotions he displays outwardly. He acts and simulates, and this is something that computers, robots, Synthetic Actors are increasingly good at.

Is it hence possible that relationships and understanding as between humans will similarly develop between humans and machines?

To be honest, I do not know. But I believe that a lot is possible in this regard. For humans already love objects which do not have any kind of intelligence – for example simulated animal life. It started with “Paro”, the robot-seal, which was followed by “Aibo”, the robot-dog. The dog, however, rather constitutes a counter-example. Robots made of metal or plastic cannot be touched the same pleasant way that fur can be touched, not even fake fur. I cannot rule out that there will some day be a robot that has such a thing as a sense of self.

There is already the notion that robots have some form of awareness, like a predecessor of consciousness, because they know where they are and where they should go. Thus, they command a representation of their surroundings, or else they would constantly bump into something. However, they most likely do not command an actual consciousness yet. But perhaps this will happen some day. Maybe robots will need something like a consciousness in the future because they won’t be able to do certain tasks any other way. Far more than 90 per cent of our actions happen subconsciously, but we have learnt most of them once before. In that moment, we consciously saved them, and robots may function in the same way.

We are so enthusiastic in seeing only the dangers!“

 

Are there cultural differences in the way robots and Artificial Intelligence are accepted or rather dealt with?

Yes, there are. Germans – as well as Austrians – are globally the most sceptical about technologies due to the high technology that has been used during the Second World War in the concentration camps to murder human beings. When renowned scientists, for example from the field of AI, come to Germany, the dangers and horrors associated with technology are oftentimes exclusively dealt with. We are so enthusiastic in seeing only the dangers! This stands in stark contrast to other nations, which tend to view technology in a more positive light, and for example say about cars: “Sure, humans have died from them, but cars have also significantly increased the degree of mobility.” Germany is at present caught in a way of thinking which I cannot comprehend. I would like to tell you quite clearly that Germany and Austria run into the danger of falling behind technologically. In Japan, for instance, the relationship to technology is completely different.

Over there, robots used for nursing care are much more accepted because it is embarrassing to show weakness. To lie in the hospital bed and be taken care of by a robot is hence much less unpleasant for the patient than to be taken care of by a real person. Over here one would say: “The health insurance wants to save money and therefore sends a robot to take care of me, whereas I would have liked to be taken care of by Miss XY, with whom I am able to talk about the weather.” In this situation, nobody is right or wrong, it is simply a matter of cultural differences in dealing with technology. I was surprised that one of the most well-known Japanese researchers of robots has written a book with the title “The Buddha in the Robot”.

If someone from the Catholic Church talked of “Christ as a Robot”, it would be seen as pure blasphemy. I recently had fun giving a lecture about the “Robot Deus” as a reaction to Harari’s book “Homo Deus”. Everyone says that the robot is about to become the Lord of the World, so we should develop a theology of the prospective robot-god early enough. This idea was already practically implemented in Silicon Valley, where Anthony Levandowski has founded the new church “Way of the Future”, which positions Artificial Intelligence at the centre of its religious practices.

You are obviously not afraid of a future in which Artificial Intelligence plays an increasingly important role in society. Where does your optimism come from?

My personal history certainly is one reason. I was born in 1939 and have hence consciously experienced the Second World War as well as the reconstruction. Our lives have improved enormously through technological advances; they have brought incredible benefits. We live longer and under better conditions, we do not have to freeze anymore in the winter, we work less and always carry the Encyclopedia Britannica with us in our smartphone. This does not mean that each technical innovation should be welcomed in a completely unbiased way. One should also be sceptical and critically question the effects of new technologies, something that becomes clear when looking at the phenomenon of Fake News. But nowadays a majority of people in Central Europe already live under paradisiac circumstances. The people who do not recognise this, I am afraid, do not have historical awareness.

What do you think poses more of a threat to our future, humans or Artificial Intelligence?

Since the election of Donald Trump I am pretty sure that humans pose more of a threat. In my opinion, Artificial Intelligence does not pose a threat at the present time.

What role can Artificial Intelligence play in the positive development of our society?

In the ideal case we all work even less and enjoy life even more. I can definitely imagine that that which creates personal and physical connections will gain greater importance, when we have more time and are able to use this time positively. My prognosis is: More free time, more independence, more focus on the emotional, on the artistic, on personality and literature. I think art and creativeness will have an even greater importance than they do now. This opens up infinite possibilities for us. Personally, I find it desirable to be exempted from drudgery, if this does not lead one to suffer financial losses.

What further steps are necessary in order to realise this potential with regard to Artificial Intelligence and robotics?

I think the pejorative manner in which mathematics and informatics are sometimes talked about needs to be changed. What we need is a change of mindset to be able to see the beauty and the aesthetics of abstract things. A mathematical formula, for instance, can be perceived as beautiful and intuitively correct without knowing its derivation. Of course one should not create a formula only with regard to aesthetic perceptions, but the result has the potential to fascinate people. In the same way, an algorithm can potentially fascinate people. We need to enable people to experience the aesthetics inherent to the MINT subjects – mathematics, informatics, natural sciences and technology. I would imagine quality education to be headed in this direction. Because the fact that interaction so far consists of swiping with a finger over the surface of a glass plate is eventually a tragedy.

What we thus need is a stronger appreciation of the technological, but at the same time, we cannot lose appreciation for the non-technological?

Absolutely. One needs to come to value both, and above all, one should not place them in competition with each other. But especially the German-speaking realm with its many rules and provisions will provide a lot of room to the fear of technologies – exactly like the European Union. However, the EU actually had an interesting work group under the leadership of Mady Delvaux, which developed the proposition that intelligent computers could have something like a legal personality.

That sounds like you wish for more precise legal frameworks in order to enable a natural handling of Artificial Intelligence.

Yes, but above all it enables the legal autonomy of intelligent computers. This could mean that one cannot simply pull the plug anymore. But in case of misconduct, for example in a car accident, it could have direct consequences for the computer in question.

Does this mean that we will assign responsibility to Artificial Intelligence?

Yes, of course, we will even have to. In earlier times, the notion that an imaginary construct such as a business could take on responsibility was perceived as absurd. Today, it is a self-evident aspect of our economic system and our society. Needless to say, mistakes will oftentimes still be able to be traced back to humans. Nevertheless, we need the concept of self-responsibility for a natural handling with autonomously operating artefacts which is integrated in our societal everyday life.

Interview: Kurt Bille

Translation: Leonie Dieske

 

 

Digital-Transformation-And--Artificial-Intelligence

Robert Trappl is the director of the Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence and a European pioneer in the fields of cybernetics and Artificial Intelligence. A central focus of his work is exploring the role that emotions play in the development of Artificial intelligence

“After this conversation, your brain will not be the same”

0 1 #3 © Max Dauven

How does the digital transformation affect our psyche and our brain? In this interview with 42, Professor Montag discusses the use of Counter Strike, conditioned behaviour, and explains why we urgently need to find better ways to control digital transformation.

 


 

Professor Montag – I hardly know any telephone number by heart and I cannot find my way around without the help of Google Maps. Has my brain fallen victim to the digital revolution?

The fact that we no longer know telephone numbers by heart does not necessarily mean that we have become “more stupid”. Nowadays, skills other than the memorisation of said numbers are needed. Unfortunately, there are only a couple of studies on this topic. That is why we do not really know whether and how the digital revolution has negative effects on our capacity to memorise things.

What do the studies that have been done say?

There is an exciting study by a team of Israeli researchers. They gave smartphone novices a mobile phone for three months. Before and afterwards, they conducted neuropsychological tests; these measured impulsiveness, memory capacity, but also simple mathematical skills. The participants showed no decrease in memory capacity after the three months.

Of course the question is always how you measure a complex construct such as memory capacity – there are very different methods. Interestingly, the participants that used the smartphone a lot scored lower in the mathematical tests after three months. In a different study by Kostadin Kushlev, the instruction to use the smartphone frequently during the experiment led to a lack of concentration and behaviour that resembled symptoms of ADHD These first smartphone studies indicate that the frequent interruptions created by smartphone usage can indeed influence our psyche.

Apart from these negative effects, are there also positive ones?

Positive transfer effects have mostly been studied in the context of computer games, especially those that have fallen into disrepute: ego-shooter games such as Counter Strike. In these games, players have to react to stimuli very quickly. Some studies have shown that the games can improve spatial awareness. But here I have to say that a new review by Giovanni Sala and his colleagues could not demonstrate these effects in a wider context over a number of studies. This means that there are perhaps no transfer effects of this kind, or only weak ones. However, reviews have also shown the effects of these types of games on the potential for aggression, which are rather weak according to some studies.

Today, our brain is confronted with completely different conditions than twenty years ago. How does digital transformation fundamentally affect its structure?

Our brain is neuroplastic, which means that it is constantly changing. After this conversation, your brain will not be the same as it was before. Actually, it’s a nice thought: everything we experience in our day-to-day lives leaves a footprint. The intensity of the experience influences how big this footprint will be at the end of the day. By the way: if your brain did not change, you would not be able to remember this conversation. What we are still missing in our research, however, are “in vivo” methods, which are imaging techniques of the brain in the living human being, to map these changes on the molecular level. Our current methods in the studying humans mostly use magnetic resonance tomography techniques. These techniques are great, but at the moment only provide us with a rough overview of how the human brain works.

I am convinced that the daily confrontation with the digital world will leave traces. The question is what kind of traces it will leave exactly. One example: in a study with players of a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Play Games (MMORPG), we discovered that experienced players that described themselves as more addicted to the game had a smaller orbitofrontal cortex. After six weeks of playing the MMORPG, the brain volume in this area had decreased for participants that had not played the game before. At the same time, the participants of this group described themselves as more addicted after six weeks of playing. The area seems to be directly connected to the development of addiction. We could show that this effect is possibly due to playing this game.

„There is a difference between reading Die Zeit’s feuilleton on a tablet computer and being addicted to online pornography”

 

There seem to be two camps of psychologists and neuroscientists when it comes to the topic of digital transformation: those that see the devil’s work in it and those that see new potentials in it. What group do you belong to?

Digital transformation always has two sides. The invention of the iPhone, only eleven years ago, was an incredible achievement. But this has not only simplified communication – it also accelerated the speed of our work. I am convinced that we need half the amount of time to do certain jobs today, compared to twenty years ago. Nevertheless, we do not work four hours less, but often work even longer than before. We have to recognise that the digital revolution – a development that should really also relieve work-related burdens – is in fact accelerating everything, to the point that we are spending even more time in the (mobile) office. This seems to be one of the core problems to me.

Apart from this you have to see that we use very different forms of digital content in our daily lives. This means that you cannot make sweeping generalisations about their effects. There is a difference between reading Die Zeit’s feuilleton on a tablet computer and constantly browsing online pornography websites and perhaps becoming addicted to them. The smartphone, as such, is not good or bad either. Positive and negative consequences depend on how we use these technologies. In other words, the usefulness of the digital revolution for every individual person will be reflected in whether we learn to use devices like smartphones in a smart way.

What does smart usage look like?

Years ago, I set up a reversed U-function that describes the connection between productive working and smartphone usage to illustrate this. If you use your smartphone in a smart way, then the device will make you more productive. But there is a turning point where the whole thing changes and the device makes you unproductive. In my view, this starts at the point where you are constantly interrupted in your daily life. Later on, when you’ll be writing up our conversation, you will never get it done if you check your emails or WhatsApp messages every two minutes.

Our poor brain cannot but react to these new cues – after all, they might be important. In fact, what we are dealing with today are numerous micro-interruptions which often prevent us from becoming properly absorbed in our work. By the way, there is an exciting new study which has shown that smartphones draw cognitive resources simply by lying on a desk. You cannot concentrate on your work on the computer if you are constantly waiting for something nice to happen on your smartphone.

So am I simply conditioned?

Yes, what we are observing here is indeed a simple learning process. Let us travel back to the time before the introduction of the iPhone: you are walking to the bus stop after work and miss your bus. What do you do? Perhaps you read a book or talk to a colleague. The same situation after the introduction of the smartphone: the bus drives away, you are annoyed – and then you remember that you can now answer emails on your phone. At this point, reaching for your smartphone when you are at the bus stop starts to become a habit. After a couple of weeks, the cue bus stop alone will be enough for you to reach for your device.

What can I do to break this vicious circle?

Unfortunately, I can only give you a disillusioning answer to this question. A study recently examined how long it takes to learn a new habit – the median number of days it takes is 66. That is quite a long time. If this number could be transferred to the development of habits regarding the smartphone, this would mean that you would have to put it into the back pocket of your rucksack every time you leave work. Then you would have to walk to the bus stop and reach into thin air for about 66 days. But the problem is: the bus stop is not the only cue that is connected to the smartphone. By now, there are numerous other cues that make us reach for our phones automatically.

„The smartphone is a sleep killer”

 

So the back pocket of the rucksack alone will not do the trick. What else can we do to reduce our smartphone-usage?

I myself spend too much time on my phone. That is why I have stopped using it altogether in the bedroom. For this reason I have bought an analogue alarm clock again. We know that using a smartphone in the evening correlates with a lack of sleep duration and quality. This is because many of us do not only use the device as an alarm clock in the bedroom, but instead browse the internet for a long time before going to sleep. All of a sudden, it’s one o’clock in the morning, but the smartphone alarm is still going to ring at six… What’s more, a lot of people forget to put the messenger functions on mute, so they get woken up by incoming messages during the night. You have to admit that the device is a sleep killer.

Furthermore, I wear a wrist watch in my daily life. Because of this, I don’t need my smartphone anymore to see what time it is. After all, the bad thing is that it never ends at checking what time it is. While I have the device in my hand, I suddenly see that I have received a message on WhatsApp. And all of a sudden I am on my phone for 20 minutes, and when I put it away I still don’t know what time it is.

„Social networks use perfidious mechanisms to increase social pressures”

 

Apart from habit, social pressure is also a factor. Your boss, your friends – everybody expects a fast reply…

Social networks use perfidious mechanisms to increase this social pressure. A typical example is WhatsApp’s double tick function – I see that you have read my message, why aren’t you answering me? In my view, providers introduce things like this to accelerate and increase the traffic on their platform.

Facebook uses another significant mechanism: one motivation to use the platform is the expectation of positive feedback in the form of likes. There is no ‚thumbs down‘. Users could use a thumbs down to signal their disapproval of hate speech, for instance. In my opinion there is no thumbs down because users would not feel as well at ease on Facebook if it existed. After all, who wants to get negative feedback? It would reduce traffic, Facebook would get less data and earn less money.

We urgently need to think about Silicon Valley’s payment model in this context: most internet platforms lead users to believe that they are getting something for free. But the service is not free of charge – we pay with our data, and the platforms are designed to make us generate as much data as possible. Wouldn’t it be better to pay something like €2.99 a month for a service like this and be safe in the knowledge that the data will only be used to improve the service, and not to manipulate elections or influence users in other ways?

Apart from the fact that we pay with our data, the digital also generates a lot of stress. Are analogue people happier?

No, I would not generalise it like that. What’s more, this seems to be more of a theoretical question to me; in Germany, about 82 per cent of people uses the internet. The rest will mainly be made up of toddlers and very old people. Everyone in between has at least a connection to the internet, and most will have a smartphone. Today, there is hardly anyone who lives completely analogously.

How have we adapted our environment to this behaviour?

It has come to the point where changes in urban development are being made for smartphone users. Cologne and Augsburg are testing so-called “smombie“ traffic lights. They are embedded in the ground at train stations and shine a light on the smartphone user from below when the train comes. In the USA, in New Jersey, you can even get a fine for texting while crossing the street as a pedestrian.

Would you want something like this for Europe?

I think this could quickly lead to overregulation. Really, we should trust our common sense. But that is difficult because our behaviour is overlearned with regards to the smartphone in particular – we are no longer aware of our own usage. If I asked you how much you have used your smartphone since last Wednesday, you would only have a rough idea. We perceive this time in a distorted way. Our measurements have shown that the average smartphone user uses his or her device for about two and a half hours a day – that is in direct interaction. If we project this onto a week, that is almost a whole day. We could surely use this whole day more sensibly – to learn new skills, to meet up with friends, and last but not least, to spend more time with our children.

The digital revolution has completely overrun us“

 

That does sound rather pessimistic.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not critical of technology across the board. We need digital transformation, but we have to make sure we steer it in the right direction so it can improve our society – from the individual health and psychological level to the socio-political level. We are currently looking at problems brought on by digital transformation in a lot of different areas.

In our defence, though, we have to admit that the digital revolution completely overrun us. It is still steamrolling us and we are still lagging behind in many respects without being able to take a moment to answer questions like: where is all of this supposed to lead us? We really need this debate. But we cannot turn back time and our modern society is dependent on a well functioning digital infrastructure. Personally, I do not want to live without Skype when I am in my lab in China for several months, and could hardly stay in contact with my wife and daughter otherwise. All the same, a lot of companies have become so powerful that some regulation is necessary. That I am convinced of.

Interview: Eliana Berger

Translation: Charlotte Bander

 

 

Digitalisierung und Gehirn

Prof. Dr Christian Montag is the Head of Molecular Psychology at Ulm University and a visiting professor at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China. He primarily conducts research on the effects of digital processes on human nature. At the end of 2017, he published a book on the topic called “Homo Digitalis”.

digital-transformation-and-blockchain

“The blockchain is a machine and therefore it acts like a machine”

© Max Dauven 0 1 1 0

The bitcoin boom has initiated a digital Gold Rush and has also put focus on blockchain technology. But what is blockchain actually? Prof. Gilbert Fridgen explains blockchain in this interview, since blockchain offers – apart from its potential for investing and financing – surprising opportunities for a modern society.

 


 

Prof. Fridgen –blockchain seems to be the defining technology of digital transformation. Bitcoin and other crypto currencies have truly caused a Gold Rush in the last few years. We would like to investigate the technology on which those are based – the blockchain – and its potential for business. Prof. Fridgen, what is blockchain?

To put it simply, the blockchain is a network between many computers all over the world. It is different from a bank which has just one big server in its seat; the blockchain is a decentralised system with devices strewn all over the world. Just imagine the blockchain as a notebook everybody carries in their bag. But in this case, it is a notebook with special features. Whenever someone writes anything down in their book, the writing appears in everyone’s book and once I’ve written something down in my book, I cannot erase it anymore.

These features set the possibilities for crypto currencies. When I want to transfer money to you I’ll write it in my notebook and everybody can see that I have transferred you some money. The transaction becomes transparent. If you want to forward part of that money, everybody who has got a notebook can see that you are able to transfer the money because you got it from me before that. That is what you call “common truth”.

So transparency is the keyword. What opportunities does blockchain offer for society, apart from crypto currencies?

You can write a lot more than just a crypto currency on the pages of your “notebook”. The idea of the common truth is the base. Smart Contracts are the next step. These are contracts which become valid because of the features the blockchain inherits: Everybody can see the digital transactions, therefore they are transparent. Through that transparency, it is possible for them to be controlled, and via control and acknowledge, they become valid. Due to this common validity, the intermediary between two or more parties becomes obsolete. That is the interesting part.

 Why is that so?

Suddenly I am able to make contracts and transactions without the need for a third party. The blockchain as a network validates a transaction or a contract on its own. For example, I do not need a bank for me to coordinate and execute my transactions any longer. That offers a lot of new possibilities – also for society.

 So, will banks become obsolete in the future?

No. Banks have become aware of blockchain and crypto currencies very early on, also because they saw their positions as mediators threatened. The banks feared people no longer needing a provider for financial services. It is in fact true that in the future, some transactional processes may be executed without banks at all or at least with less barriers. However, banks provide a lot more services for society and for their clients than just financial transactions. The blockchain will not be able to substitute personal contact between humans, for example when one needs financial advice or wants to plan their pension. What is interesting about the blockchain are the cases in which there is currently no intermediary at all.

There is still a lot of control via third parties: legislature, union of states, management – at what point do we lack an intermediary?

For the most part those are fields in which there are arguments against an intermediary due to geographic or organisational reasons. One of the big fields is the International Trade Finance. There is definitely a chance for the blockchain in that department since international trade is still very much executed on paper. If a German merchant orders a container of goods from China, he not only receives the container with the goods but also a stack of paper documents about 15 cm high. These papers document the trade, control it, validate it. And this stack of papers is not delivered with the container – it is transferred between the trade partners, banks, the port authorities, and the custom services, often a few times around the world.

 Why are those paper documents necessary? How can the blockchain improve the situation?

A digital standard for international trade has not yet been established. This is mostly because introducing it would be very complex. There are several parties involved with different goals that sometimes clash with each other. All these interests would have to be included in a common agreement. That is extremely important since the system is actually desperately in need of a platform provider for international trade, an intermediary to coordinate and execute the processes. But this raises some questions: where would the provider, for example the intermediary, be based geographically? Who would be providing the services?

If the Americans were to provide the service, the Chinese would not use it for their trade business, especially not if the seat of that company is geographically located in a legal area under the influence of Donald Trump. And it is the same situation the other way around – international trade is just too complex and important. This is the part where a geographically independent blockchain comes into play. All transactions, processes, contracts and actions would be transparent, based upon the idea of a “common truth”, for all parties involved in the trade, not depending on geographic borders. The blockchain could become the intermediary for international trade. And apart from that one would save a lot of paper.

„I reckon the blockchain will hit us next year, if it hasn’t done so already. I just hope you won’t notice at all”

 

Make an educated guess: When will this technology impact everyday life?

I reckon the blockchain will hit us next year, if it hasn’t done so already. I just hope you won’t notice at all.

 Why would you hope so?

Solutions for crypto currencies, intermediaries and international trade involving the blockchain are far too complicated for amateurs. The blockchain will never be understood by everyone. That is not necessary since the consumer is not the one who uses the blockchain actively. I just think that we have to get used to stuff happening more quickly and simply in the future. The background activities involving the blockchain are not for everyone to understand. It is just like online banking: we got used to it and use it every day without questioning what is happening on our bank’s server. It just works. If you were to ask someone on the street how their online banking works, they will tell you that they open their browser to open the website of their bank and then they start transferring money. It is not important how that is happening, and that is how it will be with blockchain technology. Technology is really embedded into our lives once we do not notice it anymore.

“Costs for bureaucracy and administration will vanish since all transactions will happen transparently via blockchain”

 

But international trade is a complicated field to understand, with or without blockchain. Why does the blockchain offer a opportunity for society in that context?

Once the technology has entered everyday life, you will notice the details. Suddenly, groceries will become cheaper because costs for bureaucracy and administration vanish for all the transactions are executed via blockchain. Or you will read about its positive impact on the environment because there are millions of documents that will no longer need to be flown around the world. The products you buy will have a smaller ecological footprint.

That is indeed something to wish for. But are there more practical uses for the blockchain in my everyday life?

I hope that there will be opportunities for that. But I have to repeat: The blockchain is an intermediary, a transparent institution which is different from what was used before. We currently have only companies and we pay those for their services. If you were to book a trip to visit me at the University of Bayreuth, how would you do it?

 I would probably go to the station and get a ticket to Bayreuth and then take the train. In Bayreuth I would get a taxi or use public transport.

Exactly. But you might go further than that. You might book a bike via a bike sharing service, using your phone, then buy a ticket, take the train to Bayreuth. In Bayreuth, you would book a car at a car sharing service and drive to my place. In any case you would start comparing different modes of transportation or combine them with each other for your journey. There are apps and online services that offer routes and possible ways of transportation. However, you do not have a “Book Now” button for all transport services at once. There is no way to book a complete trip from your stating point up to the final destination. Why does that button not exist, even though almost everyone who travels would agree on that being highly useful?

 Probably because the intermediary is missing?

Exactly. Why is it missing? Because every provider would like to be the intermediary. Companies could get extra money from that, and since everyone wants to be the mediating institution, everybody blocks everyone else and, in the end, you have nobody in this position.

The German railroad company Deutsche Bahn is one of the more integrative companies. They have their own app, the “DB Navigator”, which also features other public transport systems apart from theirs in the search option. The automobile companies are also open to these possibilities. As self-driving cars become more popular, there will be self-driving taxis on the streets. That will be the future of the companies – not just building the cars, but also offering services as a mobility provider. They will want you to plan your travels with their assistance. Everybody is aiming to be the intermediary and because that could only work if everyone cooperated, the position remains vacant. There have been start-ups that tried to mediate between big companies, but as soon as a big corporate group enters the deal, everyone else quits. The economic interest is more important than usability for the customers.

So that is why the blockchain might be helpful in that context?

Exactly. Just as it is with international trade, there is no economic interest with the blockchain. Transparency for the companies and usability for the customers would be more important. I travel a lot and I would be so happy to have a “Book Now”-button, and that is how everyone who travels would feel. Nobody would care if the blockchain worked as an intermediary in the background, just as it is with online banking in the present.

Transparency, usability, fairness, unchangeable rules – sounds just like blockchain were an ultimate solution. Does that technology have disadvantages and problems, too? Could it be even dangerous?

Yes, but the major problem is the power usage. It is true that the blockchain – that is, the bitcoin blockchain – does need a lot of power. But that technology is ten years old and not up to date. That would be just like looking at the first computer and saying that It is slow and has a high power drain. The technology has been updated and more efficient systems exist now.

 What is the bigger problem, then, with the blockchain?

The blockchain is a machine and therefore it acts like a machine. It acts upon the rules, contracts and processes without thinking.

Could you elaborate on that?

Sure. Some have considered digitalising our public administration via blockchain technology and using transparent contracts to do so. We’d save a lot of paper that way. Still, we would have a dimension of bureaucracy we cannot begin to imagine. The blockchain would act and decide upon hard rules. It would end up as a system without empathy and human control. We would feel like we were being chased by the machine. So that is a danger, but there is also a solution. It is quite complex, but nevertheless it is our duty to take up on that problem and solve it.

 Are there further problems with the blockchain?

Yes, there are some. It is a severe problem that the blockchain is not under any legal rule because it is international and not located anywhere geographically. For example: if I transferred too much money to you and you refused to return it, and you were based in a country which is not participating in a legal agreement, then I would have no chance to solve that problem. That is why we have to establish an international legal standard for blockchains. As soon as we start to transfer more and more processes to the blockchain we will discover problems that would be hard to solve without a standard. This problem is not just technological, so we have to start working interdisciplinarily: economy, law, society.

“The hype and the gold rush are over”

 

 Where do you think will we end up with the blockchain?

The bitcoin boom opened the topic to the public. Right away everyone wanted to be involved and a lot of people thought the blockchain would change the world in a day. I was in favour of people getting to know the new technology. The ones that were involved early on and got rich due to the bitcoin boom thrived, and rightfully so. They took the chance and are the ones who can finance their start-ups and now develop new, exciting ideas for society. Money flowed into an innovative and creative sector, so I think that was a positive aspect of bitcoin. Additionally, I think that the European Central Bank should offer the Euro as a crypto currency sooner or later. We still want to do trade with a hard currency such as the Euro; we do not like to rely on bitcoin, Ethereum or other digital currencies. That even goes as far as people printing their bitcoin as a physical coin with a code on it.

I think it is just getting started. The hype and the gold rush are over. Now companies and the creative industry will really get to know the technology and try to use its new potential. The technology will still play a role, not as a currency, but as a valuable infrastructure.

Interview: Martin Böhmer

Translation: Paulin Sander

 

 

Digital-Transformation-and-Blockchain

Gilbert Fridgen is Professor for Business Informatics and Sustainable IT-Management at the University of Bayreuth. He also is deputy leader of the project group for Business Informatics at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technics and founder as well as leader of the Fraunhofer Blockchain Laboratory.

digital-transformation-and-communication

“Only those who are ignorant can act intelligently”

© Max Dauven Module #1

In the digital world, everybody seems to be connected to everybody simultaneously. The result: a heightened sense of the events occurring all around the globe. In this interview with 42 Magazine, Prof. Bolz discusses how the suffering of the world we witness daily changes our morality and where we search for stability.

 


 

Professor Bolz – does the current surplus of information pose a problem?

“Information overload”, the accessibility of too much information, is an old topic but it is more of a pseudo problem because there is an infinite amount of naturally occurring filters working against the overload. Ignorance and oblivion are our most important abilities. Only those who are ignorant can act intelligently as they are able to focus on specific pieces of information and process them properly. Oblivion is an essential element of staying agile. “Information overload” is purely a technical term without any anthropological foundation, because our natural filters only allow a certain amount of information to be processed. Of course, it is still possible to feel overworked or overwhelmed, but since we have found new, media-effective terms like “burnout” or “information overload” for these instances, they are somewhat justified, even excused.

Are there any other examples in the history of mass media that portray a similarly far-reaching change or is digital transformation a novelty in this case?

Digital transformation is obviously a course-setting development, but it is not unparalleled in the history of mass media. Two comparable events were the invention of the phonetic alphabet by the ancient Greeks and, of course, the invention of mechanical movable type printing by Gutenberg. These developments brought about a similar revolution of global culture, however today, script and printing are taken for granted. This evolution occurred naturally in both cases – 2500 and 500 years ago respectively – which has caused us to view these events as trivial while we are currently living through digital transformation. This makes it feel more spectacular and more revolutionary, but ultimately, there have been three big, quite comparable turning points in the history of mass media.

That means we are currently transitioning from the world of the printing press – characterised by the book as its defining medium – to the digital age. What will characterise this new era?

We are moving into a time of secondary orality as media science scholars Walter Ong and Marshall McLuhan predicted. This is most noticeable in the expanding oral characteristics of the medium of script, which of course is still prescriptive. Due to the technological possibilities, we are assimilating our use of writing progressively with our speaking behaviour. There is more nonchalance, also carelessness if you will, and we are interacting more spontaneously. The forms of politeness are also blurring. All this is due to the loss of distance, which the medium of writing originally offered. When you sit down to write a letter, you are not expecting an immediate reaction. You are expecting there to be a certain temporal distance between what you wrote and the response.

 As a result, the time to process, to contemplate disappears. The time of reflection, which used to be a given due to the postal system, no longer exists. We live in a world of simultaneity and our communicative behaviour is accelerating accordingly. This is most tangible in the context of instant messaging services like WhatsApp, iMessage or Facebook. Here, the expectation of an immediate response is implicit in every message. Furthermore, voice messages can be sent easily, which bypass the medium of script altogether. All these developments are forms of a secondary orality.

In his thesis “The Medium is the Message”, McLuhan relativizes the meaning of media content and emphasises the societal influence of the specific characteristics of the medium utilised.

I believe McLuhan’s thesis to be the most extensive work, because it focuses on the character of the medium itself, not the content. As McLuhan said himself: People are baited with content to distract them from what is really having an impact on them, namely the formatting done by the media. Here, formatting describes the manipulation of our behaviour concerning media consumption. McLuhan breaks with this nearly amateurish fixation on content. The cultural pessimists have essentially got this right. It is not as important what we read in the newspapers, but the fact that we use their form of medium as a source of information and no longer a book.

“The more modern the world becomes, the more technology dependence increases”

 

McLuhan also interprets media as a kind of extension of the body. What does he mean by that?

That is an almost simplistic transfer from sociology, much like the hammer as the extension of the human fist, or the telescope as the extension of the human eye. It is essentially what we have experienced in our daily lives for centuries: Humans equip their five senses with technology, even the computer, which McLuhan already defined as an extension of the central nervous system. Therefore, media, as a technological expansion of our perceptive faculty, changes our view of the world. This might be a little exaggerated figuratively, but the limits of man are undeniably no longer the limits of his five senses, but rather the limits of his technologies.

Due to these technological prostheses, alluding to Sigmund Freud’s term of the “prosthetic god”, we now have different points of intersection with the world and consequently we also have new worldviews. Here, the “divine” is a self-attribution of man, who, fantasising himself to be omniscient and omnipotent, puts himself at the centre of creation. But man is in fact a being radically dependent on technology. The more modern the world becomes, the more technology dependence increases. However, this doesn’t necessarily culminate in the Cyborg-fantasies of transhumanism. That is more marketing.

Does the technological progress lead to a kind of global communication?

Yes. Global communication already exists on certain levels. Not so much on the level of spoken language even though there have been numerous efforts. It rather exists in communicative relations, which have already been long established worldwide: think of economic or scientific communication which both cross national borders and are universal. Science has standards and mechanisms of falsification.

In the field of economics, there is the medium of money, which offers a more or less global understanding without actors having to communicate. Particularly, the universalising and homogenising forces of technology, science and economics are influences that prompted the sociologist Niklas Luhmann – and rightly so in my opinion – to speak of a global society. Obviously, there are numerous systems and many inequalities, but if we examine the central parts of our lives, we witness something like global communication, which does not have to occur linguistically.

Does that mean, global communication is not bound to a uniform use of language, but rather the common usage of social institutions?

Correct, institutionalisation is always a prerequisite for successful communication. The capitalist market-based system is a successful example. The world has developed in a common direction and as a result, we can say today: Evidently, there is only one successful economic system, namely capitalism. We have not yet witnessed a comparable success story in politics.

Generally, it seems difficult to speak of a success story when we are able to directly stream the suffering of the world on our laptops.

Yes, that is true. More than ever, we now live in a culture of guilt. We feel as if we are at least partly responsible for everything. This culture of guilt is defined by our attempts to construct our identity through our own or our collective guilt. Practical politics also use this approach. The philosopher Hermann Lübbe examines this political practice in his book “Ich entschuldige mich” [I apologise]. He detects narratives of atonement all over the world: the apologies to former colonies, the apologies to Native Americans in the United States or in Australia towards the Aborigines.

Hundreds of apology-rituals exist by now. Identity is no longer defined by pride, as it still is the case in many Islamic countries and, in Europe, maybe only in France – the Grand Nation. The question of “Who are we?” has been diverted to the question of “What crimes have we committed and how can we be forgiven for them?”. This topic has become the subject of scientific research and studies have shown that hypersensitivity and hyper-morality are effects of this new world of mass media.

What is your opinion on the remark that the omnipresence of suffering and misery causes an emotional deadening, numbness?

This process of deadening and increasing numbness can actually be observed and is summarised by the term “compassion fatigue” – the fatigue caused by one’s compassion. However, it has not been determined how this form of compassion fatigue and the culture of atonement rituals interact, whether or not a kind of pendulum movement occurs. The common denominator would ultimately be hypocrisy. But I do not wish to take a position on this matter, because it would be very expansive to dismiss movements of compassion – as for example the migration crisis – as hypocrisy. But on the other hand, the modern mass media put us in a global simultaneity, which continuously offers us the impulse of: “Man, we should do something about that. We cannot let this happen.”

“No matter what happens in the world – every individual feels affected by it”

 

How does increasingly emotionalised media content relate to the process of deadening?

There is interdependency between them. Due to deadening, media content has to be increasingly emotionally charged in order to reach an audience. This heightened emotional clamour and the collective moral overload trigger a kind of self-defence reflex to push everything away. It remains to be seen how this relation will develop. I would not dare to attempt a predication of the future of global society, which concerns and plagues everybody. In this context, Walter Ong illustrated the image of the “social skin”, which encompassed the entire globe. No matter what happens in the world – every individual feels affected by it. There is a kind of world simultaneity and omnipresence of everything occurring. It used to take weeks before a revolution became common knowledge. Today, we can be practically be there the same night. Due to Internet communication, where we live has become essentially unimportant as everything that happens around the world seems to occur simultaneously.

We increasingly search for guidance in this hyper-morality world. You have called mass media a substitute for religion. What do you mean by that?

I have mainly thought of communication as a substitute for religion. It is basically a kind of extended Protestantism. Step by step, Protestants have given up their dogmas – or at least cast them aside. Today, hardly any Protestant minister speaks of the Christian Central Dogmas. They have been dissolved by the “willingness to communicate”. The infamous “talking-to-one-another” or “let’s-talk-about-it” has become universal and created the conviction that all problems of the world can be solved through communication. This is the salvific panacea of our time and has made its way into politics.

Many politicians no longer associate politics with power and authority, but rather with communication or diplomacy. As I see it, this has become a civil religion. There is only the global ecumenism, which has to recognise itself and once that has happened, all problems can be solved through discourse. The function of religion is thus perfectly fulfilled in my opinion. Whether you can also call it a religion is a separate question. This is something that never interested Niklas Luhmann, because he was only concerned with the function of religion and not with religion’s promise of purpose or meaning.

“Civil religions functionally supersede Christian Churches”

 

Are you referring to Luhmann’s remark, only religion could replace religion?

Yes, Luhmann was not interested in religion in the sense of the church, but the sociological examination of the nature of religion. For example, the most powerful movement in Germany after the Second World War has been the environmental movement. We can observe all religious elements: Instead of God, the Father in heaven, there is mother Earth. There are rituals to bring oneself closer to this goddess and of course there is the religious intolerance towards those not believing in this righteous faith. Even though they are not registered as a religious community in any way, I would take the liberty of saying that the Greens are a religion. Therefore, civil religions are functionally superseding, for example, Christian Churches.

How does that fit together with the thesis of communication as a substitute for religion?

It depends on the level on which we approach the phenomenon religion. I want to emphasise that the role of dogma is lessened as ritualistic and cultic performances gain in importance. Most of all, I am interested in the enormous longing many people feel for this. I assume that religious longing is growing, but the appeal of big, organised religions is decreasing. Increasingly fewer people attend church, but the longing for a religion in itself continues to rise. Hence, people search for alternatives. A similar substitutive religious setting is consumption. If we – in contrast to Luhmann – connect religion with the question of purpose, we can observe the emergence of such substitute settings.

How do you recognise such a substitute setting?

The willingness to believe is still great nowadays, but if we can no longer believe in salvation or the Last Judgment, then we can at least believe in the catastrophe, in absolute doom. This is nothing else than an absolute certainty of faith, which we can hold onto and be guided by. This way, we become immune against arguments or critique. Maybe we can determine religion or belief systems by them being dogmatic, meaning they are completely immune to enlightenment. The dogmatism is no accusation for the believer, but quite the contrary: praise. The dogma is the true doctrine.

Where does the increased longing for religion come from?

On the abstract level, it is the loss of traditional bonds and the loss of institutional certainties, such as family or marriage, due to their dwindling role in society. There are a number of reasons why we have to carry the question of the meaning of life on our own shoulders. Obviously, that is completely overwhelming for the individual and we are grateful for every offer of relief in the form of a substitute religion.

Does communication as a substitute setting not only provide guidance, but also feed into the overload?

Yes, absolutely. That is why communication is only temporarily able to satisfy our desire for absolute certainty. However, it appears to be significantly easier to replace one substitute religion with another one rather than to remove oneself from the fundamental illustrations and ideas. In that sense, I believe that the substitute religions we see today are not the final form of their kind. They will also be substituted by something new as time moves forward, because the longing for absolute certainty continuously increases.

Why is it that substitute religions are easier to replace than their predecessors?

Probably because they can be chosen individually and always bear the risk of becoming outdated. The individualism gaining prominence, particularly in Western societies, causes the individually chosen substitute settings to no longer be a collective and leaves us lacking a broad collective community as the church initially was. This leads them to supersede each other more quickly. Therefore, I assume that subsequent forms of substitute religions will also have this boutique-like character: individually created and free of a properly formulated dogma. Instead we are dogmatic sans dogma.

Interview: Leo Rasch, Kurt Bille

Translation: Hannah Bliersbach

 

 

Digital-Transformation-and-Communication

Norbert Bolz is one of the most renowned media science scholars in Germany and regularly offers his opinion on current social discourse in mass media. He mainly concerns himself with topics related to social justice, family policy and consumption.

digital-transformation-and-cyber-conflicts

“We will probably experience the migration of terrorist acts into cyberspace”

© Max Dauven 0 1 #1

Attacks on the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Ukrainian electricity suppliers in 2015, and the encryption software WannaCry in 2017 are just three examples that have demonstrated that cyber operations are increasingly being used to influence elections, to spy, to blackmail, and to manipulate via the internet. For states cybersecurity thus becomes an elementary component of national and international security. Dr Sven Herpig, head of the Transatlantic Cyber Forum at the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, will shed light on the interplay between cyber resources – hacking tools – and international conflict resolution.

 


 

Dr Herpig – to what extent are international conflicts carried out online today?

International conflicts are increasingly taking place in cyber and information space. If we take a look at history, we see that the first cyber operations were carried out in the 1990s. At first it was political espionage, later increasingly economic espionage as well. In the early 2000s, several disruptive events took place, which used malicious software for the first time, designed not to spy but to sabotage institutions and operational processes. In 2007, the Estonian parliament and other government agencies, as well as banks and the media were attacked. In 2012, cyber-attacks were directed at the Saudi oil company Saudi Aramco.

As a result, Estonia’s parliament and government websites were temporarily unavailable and business transactions, such as online banking, were disrupted. At Saudi Aramco, the production process could not be directly affected, but the hard drives of 30,00 computers were erased and rendered useless. In addition to the well-known Stuxnet cyber operation against uranium enrichment plants in Iran in 2010, these two events initiated the transition to the current phase, in which the political IT infrastructure is also increasingly under attack.

Examples include the attack on the German Bundestag in 2015, the US election campaign in 2016 and the French election campaign in 2017. Another development that we will probably still experience is the migration of terrorist acts into cyberspace. So far, terrorists only use it to communicate with one another and to promote their cause. Even the conventional military still rarely uses cyber weapons – but this is where developments are likely headed. Thus, we see both a quantitative and a qualitative expansion of international conflict resolution with hacking tools.

“Whereas a spy had to be infiltrated somewhere, nowadays the internet can be used to spy from anywhere in the world”

 

Economic and political espionage as well as less direct ways of exerting influence are not new phenomena. What is the difference between digital and analogue international disputes?

One of the main differences is that today most of these actions can be carried out from afar. Whereas a spy had to be infiltrated somewhere, meaning physically present, nowadays the internet can be used to spy from anywhere in the world. Furthermore, due to the large amounts of data transmitted on the internet within a short amount of time, attacks can be much more effective. In addition, more and more documents and conversations are digitised, thus increasing the surface of attack.

Countries like North Korea or Iran are frequently referred to when it comes to the leading global hacker groups even though they are rather local powers working on an analogue level. Do these characteristics of cyberspace shift the international power balance?

North Korea and Iran are certainly among the top 15 cybernations. For these states, a power projection is taking place, therefore they seem more powerful than they are in terms of their conventional capabilities. The WannaCry encryption software – possibly from North Korea – brought hospitals, global logistics companies and car manufacturers all over the world to a standstill last year. It is quite clear that an attack of such global scale, using conventional analogue means, would never have been feasible from North Korea.

The same applies to Iran, where several cyber operations were uncovered this spring that would probably have been very difficult for the state to carry out with conventional means. Therefore, these states appear to be more powerful by using cyber weapons and thus, are perceived to be much stronger. Whether these operations ultimately have a greater impact than traditional means of warfare, however, depends on our understanding of conflict resolution. If we look at the part that takes place below the threshold of armed conflict, cyber weapons clearly reach a new quality. However, if we look beyond this threshold, it is still completely uncertain whether cyber weapons alone could make a big qualitative difference in international power relations.

“Cyberspace has a completely different nature than the traditional domains of land, air, sea and space”

 

WannaCry prompted a debate on how states can take even more security measures to protect themselves from these types of attacks. Why is it not possible to rely on the same defense mechanisms in cyberspace as in traditional active defence?

This is because cyberspace presents a completely different nature than the traditional domains of land, air, sea and space. The systems and software used in cyberspace are man-made; they can be altered, removed or simply disconnected from the internet within a short period of time. Thus, this comparison does not work. Another aspect are Hackbacks, currently under discussion, in which an offensive cyber operation is carried out to fend off an ongoing offensive cyber operation by the opponent: here, the comparison to the air defense is often referred to, which shoots down enemy aircrafts that have invaded our airspace in order to drop bombs on our country. This analogy might work anywhere, but not in cyberspace. Rather, imagine it this way: someone shoots a rocket from A to B and you place a rocket launcher at the border and shoot back over a wall, not knowing what you might hit. That would be a more appropriate analogy.

“In Germany, the one who shouts the loudest that we need to expand our offensive means of action is currently winning the debate”

 

What would alternative defence mechanisms look like? In your opinion, how should cyber security for the state, the economy and civil society be improved?

It would help if we were to focus more on our defensive capabilities. In Germany, the one who shouts the loudest that we need to expand our offensive means of action is currently winning the debate. In my opinion, this is a complete misjudgement. We can achieve more by using resources in our defense and that is where we must invest in. If we split the little resources, we currently have, between new agencies, offensive and defensive measures, we will get to a point at which neither the offense nor the defense are working properly.

Let’s go back to the compromised German government networks. At the beginning of the year it was revealed that the attackers had been inside the systems of the Foreign Ministry for over a year. For a long time, it was unclear who was responsible. Why is it so difficult to identify a perpetrator in cyberspace?

First of all, I do not consider identification to be the most relevant aspect of such an operation. It is certainly good to know who it was to avoid further attacks and to impose sanctions. But it is more important to question how this happened and how we can protect ourselves better in the future. There are several reasons why identifying an attack is so difficult. On the one hand, many technical “fingerprints” of an attack – for example from where it is carried out, which means are used, etcetera – can be forged.

Of course, we know that certain groups operate with certain tools, for example code elements, which they use repeatedly as well as certain IT infrastructures. However, these can also be imitated by a third actor. In the past, for example, Americans have been systematically investigating how different groups of attackers proceed to partially copy those approaches and to disguise who they are. Thus, this means that a truly technically flawless forensic investigation requires a lot of patience, good people and possibly the support of various intelligence agencies. This takes a lot of time and resources. Even if we find out that the attack originated from computer B in country Z, we still do not know who exactly used this computer.

We do not even know if any of the groups responsible are supported or tolerated by the respective government or paid by someone entirely different. In the past, we have seen that some hacker groups have both economic and political interests. This means that, for example, they encrypt foreign computers and release them for ransom, but at the same time scan all the data for specific keywords such as “NATO” and then extract those documents. In the case of such conflations it is quite difficult to pinpoint an attack.

Which possibilities of identification ultimately remain?

Overall, there are two ways which can help to conclusively identify where an attack originated. On the one hand, there are cases in which intelligence agencies infiltrated entire networks. In the case of the attack on Sony Pictures it was speculated that the Americans were able to prove the attack so well because they had infiltrated the North Korean infrastructure and could thus also see and understand the attacks first-hand. On the other hand, there is also the previously mentioned aspect of how big groups often use the same approaches, code snippets, and infrastructures. If one manages to clearly assign individuals to an intelligence agency, as, for example, the Dutch domestic intelligence agency did with the Russian attacks on the US election, then one can of course examine which other operations are very similar in their approach.

We need to provide more resources to establish cyber security in Germany”

 

What consequences does the complicated allocation have on international political relations?

If cyber operations cannot be clearly identified it allows the defense to not react at all or to do so in secret. This is beneficial if the government does not want to publicly denounce the alleged attacking country, for example due to overriding political interests or important international relationships.

Given the circumstances, what recommendations would you make to the German federal government?

First, we need to promote a strategic understanding of what those attacks mean, where we position ourselves, and how we want to react. Second, we need to provide more resources to establish cyber security in Germany. But we also must ensure that our cyber security architecture does not fray, so that we do not end up having ten departments, all of whom are doing something cyber related, but rather that we have a central person in charge in the department of defence. In Germany this is the Federal Office for Information Security, which is set up in a civil and defensive manner and is the central body for all cyber security measures.

If we continue to establish new departments or give existing departments new responsibilities in cyberspace, the existing structure will duplicate itself and we will not make adequate use of our resources. Ultimately, this makes us rather vulnerable, not safer. I would advise the Federal Government against pursuing this approach. Especially, considering the growing number of actors using this new, relatively inexpensive tool worldwide. If we set the wrong strategic focus, we will lose this race.

Interview: Tabea Breternitz

Translation: Hannah Riegert-Wirtz

 

 

Digital-Transformation-and-Cyber-Conflicts

Dr Sven Herpig, head of the Transatlantic Cyber Forum at the Berlin-based think tank StiftungNeueVerantwortung, works on standards of government hacking, political IT infrastructure protection in election campaigns and elections, government IT vulnerability management and EU cyber diplomacy. He is also a lecturer at the University of Bonn. Prior to that, he was a member of the IT security staff at the Federal Foreign Office and Deputy Head of Unit at the Federal Office for Information Security.

digital-transformation-and-online-dating

“Online dating leads to a better society“

© Max Dauven 0 1 #7

Online dating is still stigmatised. Scientists Josue Ortega from Mexico and Philipp Hergovich from Austria suggest two reasons to rethink the bad image of dating apps: they argue that relationships that start online last longer, and that online dating has a liberating effect on a society. 

 


 

Mister Hergovich – are you on Tinder?

No.

Nonetheless, you and your Mexican colleague Josue Ortega from the University of Essex discovered that a relationship lasted considerably longer if couples had met through Tinder.

(laughs) Yes, that is true, but I am already in a happy relationship. Admittedly, we did indeed discover that finding your partner online leads to longer, steadier relationships than those of couples that met in the real world. Marriages that evolve from online relationships less often result in divorce, and both parties tend to be happier in the marriage. We first noticed this phenomenon among our friends when more and more people started using dating apps. To gather data, we first developed a theoretical framework. This led us to simulate social circles and observe the results of people getting to know each other online in our small, mimicked societies.  Eventually, we were able to generate two predictions, one of them being that relationships last longer if the couple meets each other online.

And in actual life?

This has been confirmed in real life. We applied our theory to multiple American studies and our prognosis was actually confirmed.

Does Tinder, as a medium, have a bad reputation regarding its possibilities to find a quick and simple hook up?

Obviously, Tinder makes it simpler to experiment, and it is very likely that the dating platform makes it easier than in real life. We did not concentrate on that aspect because our research focuses on long-term relationships. Regardless of the possibility that online dating might be helpful to find one night stands easily, we believe that it can lead to better and more serious long-term relationships.

How do you explain that?

The larger online pool of potential partners is at the core of our explanation. In other words, it is way more efficient to search online. Dating in the real world limits you to places like the workplace, friend groups or social circles, or even a bar, which makes the potential compatible group smaller and statistically reduces your chances of meeting the right person. On the contrary, if you use online dating sites, there are more people to choose from and everyone you meet is single.

But does the paradox of choice not make it harder to find the right person?

Obviously, that can be difficult, just like in real life. But we believe that a bigger range leads to a better idea of what is out there. Also, most people are not single because they know too many potential partners, but because they do not know anyone who could be a possible match…

That sounds a lot like a free market approach.

I come from a background of economics, so yes, our theory does tie in with market theories.

That does not sound very romantic. Does your theory degrade love to a sterile probability equation and take out all the magic in the process?  

Ah yes, the magic of love. I would never dare to question that. I do believe in the magical aspects of romantic relationships, but I do not believe that it is linked to how people find each other. The magic of love, as you would call it, takes place after finding a partner and then during the relationship. This applies to all kinds of relationships; the ones started online, and those started offline. I do not see it as a negative thing to contribute to the probability of individuals meeting someone they can share these magical feelings with.

Once I found someone I share the same feelings with, I still know that there are other great partners waiting for me on Tinder. Does this extended supply destroy our ability to really get involved with one person?

That is not something we were able to study. But the other way around, you could also assume that both individuals will put more effort into the relationship because it is so much easier to find someone else.

Your other research question studies how online dating could potentially lead to a more diverse society.

Precisely. Through empirical data, we were also able to prove this thesis. Offline, we tend to stick to the same communities when looking for a partner. If you are searching at work or among your friend groups, the likelihood of you finding someone who has the same socioeconomic background as yourself is very high. Especially platforms like Tinder, which assign matches more or less on a random basis and allow couples to meet who would never have found each other in the real world. These couples have the potential to be more diverse and not share the same social background with their new partner. Realistically, these kinds of relationships have a harder time being formed offline. These developments could result in a more egalitarian society.

And a white collar type will not have prejudices towards a punk or vice versa when they meet online?

That is a good point: prejudices do pose a sort of obstacle. But on the other hand, studies have shown that people put off their prejudices more easily in dating scenarios. A group of researchers from Columbia University, the University of Chicago and Stanford University have studied speed dating and concluded that people are more likely and willing to put prejudices about other cultural backgrounds aside in such scenarios. You just have to be given the opportunity to get in touch with someone from a different background than your own, which happens far more often while speed dating than in real life.

So can we call Tinder the death of racist societies?

Well, you are right, we have to be careful with such an assumption. For a start, online dating is utilised more by liberal people who have fewer tendencies to employ racism in general. Also, multicultural relationships have become more and more common throughout the past years and we cannot conclusively tie that development to online dating. Diverse societies and online dating have no confirmed relation with each other and we cannot prove a direct connection without a doubt. We are currently considering ways to prove that by conducting experiments.

Can digital dating help modernise societal rolls?

Generally, we believe that more people interact with each other who never had the chance to do so beforehand. So it is possible that people are now starting relationships that would otherwise never have been formed. For example, a relationship between an older woman and a younger man. However, it is important to emphasise one’s individual choice when starting a new relationship.

Does the famous bubble also exist when it comes to dating?

Yes! Which obviously endangers our thesis around online dating and a diverse society. When affluent people sign up for one platform, and less well-off people for another one, then obviously a diversification of society is not going to happen. Interestingly, platforms that lead people to that kind of segregation are rare.

Why is that?

That can be tied to the so-called Networking Effect, which we also know from social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter. This means that when the majority is on Facebook, it makes sense for an individual to join Facebook, rather than Studi-VZ (a German social media platform), because all their friends are already on Facebook. Social networks have a certain tendency to create monopolistic markets and this also seems to apply to dating sites.

“So many parts of our lives are shifting online – why should our love lives be the exception?“

 

Of couples that meet each other over the internet, only a third is heterosexual. Amongst homosexuals, the internet is by far the most common way to find a partner. Cultural pessimists think of this as a societal step back.

I think such statements make no sense. Everything and anything that helps to bring people together and fall in love with each other is a step forward. As I just mentioned, the chances for homosexuals to find a partner have risen a lot. Before online dating, it was so much harder and this one change had such a positive effect. I do not believe that a relationship is more romantic because of the way a couple met for the first time, but it is romantic because they work well together. Besides, I believe that even more couples will find each other online going forward. So many parts of our lives are shifting online, and why should our love life be the exception?

So dating apps are more than just a hype?

Definitely! Of course, people will also continue to meet offline in the future, but online dating will naturally gain more and more relevance. This is simply because over the past few years, we have developed the tendency to leave the house less and less, and spend more time on our laptops and phones. Due to this development, many other areas of life, such as grocery shopping, have also been moved online. I don’t understand how our love life should be excluded from that.

Is there a common factor between your ideas of online dating as a guarantee for more solid relationships, and as a way to form more diverse couples?

Yes, in a way. Online dating, in general, does lead to a better and more liberal society.

Does this not lead us to the chicken-and-egg problem?

Actually, we cannot prove a liberalising power of online dating, but we can point out a connection between the two. Liberal societies tend to tolerate online dating more.

A digital world and more liberalism seem to go well together. Is this an idea that can be applied to other parts of our social lives?

Yes, within reason. Obviously, you cannot apply our results directly to other ways of digital transformation, but in general, digital transformation means that other parts of our lives can be designed more efficiently. For example, relationships that never seemed to be feasible up to this point. Social media has made it possible for long-distance couples to have relationships when there are continents between them. It is possible to be part of the life of a person who we only see very rarely in person. Obviously, there are also limitations to this.

What kind of limitations?

For example, the famous echo chambers and bubbles that most of us seem to be living in. In theory, the internet has the power to connect people from other social backgrounds with different opinions, or people that live in completely different parts of the world, and give them the chance to exchange ideas and values. But the algorithms of many social networks prevent that from happening and lead us to connect mostly with our peers. It would be interesting to study which one would eventually prevail: the liberal nature of the internet or algorithms. As I have said before, this tendency is noticeable on some social media platforms.

“The digital world should always remain the means and not the objective“

 

Elitepartner.de for example – which is a German dating platform advertising an “elite” client base.

Exactly. If these kinds of platforms establish themselves, the egalitarian potential of the internet is over. But for the moment, it seems that online dating impacts our society in a positive way.

Where is the limit? Which parts of our social lives should not be shifted online?  

I believe that the limit is automatically reached once we spend all of our time in front of the computer. Best-case scenario, social networks as much as dating sites should give us the possibility to enrich our daily lives; they should function as extra support. The digital world should always remain the means and not the objective.

Interview: Yves Bellinghausen

Translation: Laura Emily Schulze

 

 

Digital-Transformation-and-Online-Dating

Philipp Hergovich is an economist who teaches at the University of Vienna. Together with colleague Josue Ortega from the University of Essex, he studied how online dating affects societies.

“Thinking about a «state trojan» does not keep me up at night”

Messe © Max Dauven

The world is going digital – including states and bureaucracies. While E-Governance has already become a part of everyday life in many Southeast Asian countries, many other states, like Germany, have trouble keeping up. In his interview with 42, Prof. Dr Wolfgang Drechsler from Tallinn University of Technology discusses the threat of mass surveillance, why E-Governance is crucial for the EU and why he believes E-Health to be sensible.

 


 

Professor Drechsler – the state is organised completely digitally: we only have one card in our wallets that simultaneously collects loyalty points for the supermarket and serves as our ID. During elections, nobody has to leave the house, we just have to open up our laptops and our tax returns are submitted online. How far are we from this type of E-Governance-future here in Europe?

Countries that make E-Governance a priority – I am referring to the digital transformation of state and administration in action – and have the technological competence, would need about one to two years to accomplish an almost all-encompassing implementation. For Germany, I would estimate about five to ten years.

What are the causes of these different paces of development?

Germany does not make digital transformation a real priority. We have many councils, advisory boards and speeches engaging with the topic – they are a dime a dozen. But proper implementation has been delayed. These delays are also related to Germany’s history and the current political and societal climate, which favours security, predictability and reliability. There is only little room for agility or to try new things – even though counterexamples do exist of course.

Would you then say, Germany is rather lacking in political will for implementation instead of technical requirements?

Definitely. We are not only lacking in political will, but also in societal enthusiasm for the cause.

Speaking of data security: Are people in Germany more sceptical towards E-Governance than those in other European states?

You could definitely assess it that way; nearly all empirical studies show it. This scepticism exists in all political camps by the way. Of course, it is rooted – as I said – in German historical experiences, a general distrust of the state. Most Germans do believe in the competence of the state, but they also fear its capabilities. On top of that, German culture is heavily informed by juridical matters, a focus on laws and rights that is nearly unique in today’s world. Technological developments matter very little to judges and courts.

In public discourse, you can hear some say: We would like to keep all our rights, all our securities, but also want all the conveniences a digitalised world can offer. You can ask for these things simultaneously, but to get them is at least not an easy task. It is the same for digital transformation as for internal security, which also has its price.

Does this mean that in Germany, the legal side of things brings more problems than the technological one?

Without a doubt. Germany’s technological competence might not be world-leading but is still very good. Digital signatures, digital cooperation, an entirely digitalised administrative body and maybe even a transformation of the economy, society and politics: we have seen less of these things around the world than expected – to establish all this in Germany would be no problem, technologically speaking.

“Digital transformation offers technologically literate people more access to the political and societal reality”

 

Not all people possess the same abilities to access information and communication technology. How do you assess the risk of a part of society being excluded from the rest, older citizens for example?

Age and poverty are less of a problem than one might think. In most cases – especially globally speaking – we find no correlation between income or social status and time spent online, at least not a linear correlation. What remains unclear is what people do online: are they sorting sweets in Candy Crush or are they informing themselves? The digital divide – the unequal access to information and communication technology across different sections of society – is of course still real. But currently, the problem is often solved through analogue alternatives. In Estonia, the Chancellor of Justice, who also serves as ombudsperson, has declared these alternatives as kind of a civil right. It is definitely true that digital transformation offers technologically literate people more access to the political and societal reality.

One threat that is often mentioned in public discourse is mass surveillance or even a “state trojan”. How real are these threats?

Thinking about a “state trojan” does not keep me up at night. Regarding mass surveillance – the loss of sovereignty over our personal data turning each individual completely transparent, including habits, interests and inclinations, which justifiably are an integral part of our privacy – the threat is less the state and rather economic actors. I believe that ship has sailed already. We should assume that no online activity is private. We already know that, but we are lazier than privacy-conscious. In that sense, the issue of mass surveillance is real. The trust in the state is a whole other matter that has to distinguish between an absence of fear and confidence in a competent and honest administration.

The latter indicates: I trust the state and its bureaucracies. They might have my data, but I know they will handle it responsibly and with care. The former means: I am not sure of the state and its bureaucracies want what is best for me, but I am not afraid of them and do not believe that the state apparatus poses a threat or danger to me. In smaller states, where the difference between “those at the top” and “us” is less tangible, an absence of fear is quite common.

“The best E-Governance countries stand out due to their consideration of how much technologisation they want”

 

The varying reservations people in the different European countries hold seem to be a crucial reason as to why European states tend to lag so far behind others in the field of E-Governance.

When you say “behind”, you insinuate a natural process. As I see it, the best E-Governance countries stand out due to their consideration of how much technologisation they want: They do not just implement everything that is technologically possible but rather determine each time whether it is desirable. That means: the solution does not lie in the implementation of all technological developments, but in an approach that is positive and open towards developments yet assesses them critically. But when it comes to doubting everything, Germans are definitely the world champions. This level of scepticism greatly exceeds the necessary level.

Which countries would you deem to be role models concerning the implementation of E-Governance?

That depends on whether I only evaluate the technological advancements or also prioritise careful considerations. Overall, I would say that the leading European countries – in different aspects mind you – are Finland, Denmark, Estonia and in a sense also the UK. Finland is very successful due to its taking action based on technology, but not driven by it.

What can other European states learn from these four?

If the assessment of the digital transformation done by governments and administrations is really based as strongly on society as it seems, it would be advisable to not just apply the exact model another state has implemented. We should learn from them: What have they done correctly? What do we want? Can we use their approach and integrate it properly? The most successful countries stand out, because they prioritise digital transformation at the governmental level. They ensure there is both talk and action.

This might sound cliché, but it is true. The implementation of a general approach to administrative reform centred around the users, i.e. the citizens, is also crucial. It does not get you anywhere to just digitise. By the way, digital transformation tends to lead to an improvement of administrative action instead of a reduction of public service, which, if you think of “Public Value Creation” and less of neoliberal models, is not a bad thing altogether.

If we look beyond Europe, which countries are global leaders in implementing E-Governance?

When someone asks me about the biggest challenges of our time, I always name two: one is digital transformation and the other is the rise of Asia. Our world is shifting on all levels more and more towards East and Southeast Asia, South Asia also. Based on population size alone, that is the centre of the world. In my opinion – and most rankings agree – Singapore is the leading country regarding E-Governance followed by South Korea. There is not country in Europe that can keep up with Singapore.

The reason for that is that Singapore possesses a highly competent administrative body focused on the citizen, which legitimises it. Thus it possesses both the mandate and the ability to implement digital transformation wherever it sees fit. But Asia also demonstrates what E-Governance looks like if it is constructed to further government interests. Simply positing that E-Governance has to be beneficial to citizens misses that phenomenon.

“Digital transformation is always ambivalent, as is all mechanisation actually”

 

Can China be seen as a discouraging example due to its introduction of facial recognition software and social credit points used to control society to a certain degree?

Digital transformation is always ambivalent, as is all mechanisation actually. There is a nice comparison that illustrates just that. E-Governance is like MSG, like monosodium glutamate. MSG is a substance often used particularly by Chinese restaurants to intensify certain tastes that are already a part of a dish without changing them. This phenomenon can be transferred onto E-Governance: When you implement E-Governance, you notice that existing political and societal tendencies are intensified by it. Digital Governance does not automatically mean that a society will be democratised or liberalised, which is what we first assumed as the phenomenon gained in prominence, but we were wrong. And whether blockchain can change that is still entirely uncertain.

An oppressive system becomes more oppressive, because it improves its ability to oppress. And an already liberal or more open regime, which prioritises liberality and openness, becomes even more liberal and open. If you have online elections and a truly democratic system, then you can reach even more people with it – even though a change of electorate would be inevitable, which can cause problems if it distorts the results. But if you only have pseudo-elections, the respective ruler can just say: “Today I would like 97.5, not 98.2 percent” which he then gets. You do not even have to fake ballots. You just inform two or three IT engineers ahead of time and you get the election results you wanted. All this means E-Governance intensifies already existing tendencies. It generally improves – from a German point of view – good things and worsens bad things.

You just mentioned E-Voting and the possibility of manipulation. In which sectors do you see E-Governance most easily implemented?

In my opinion, service provision – services provided through civil service – works a lot better than E-Participation or E-Democracy, which both face problems like the digital divide. But using an app or a visual display at a bus stop to check live arrival times and not just timetables is very achievable progress and people are rightly asking for it. To visit authorities in person might not be a medieval idea, but it is a thing of the late 20th century. Emphasising digital services therefore suggests itself. We also have to consider that the legitimacy of a state, which is of crucial importance, depends on personal experiences with bureaucracies, especially in relatively conflict-free times. That means, the more an administrative body is perceived positively, the more people are generally in favour of a liberal democratic system.

Besides “Digital Services” – what else do you deem reasonable?

E-Health is controversial, but very sensible: moving healthcare into the digital sphere. If you are at the doctor’s waiting your turn, it should be normal to step outside and to receive a WhatsApp message once there are only three people left ahead of you. It is 2018 after all. Technically speaking, this has been possible for many years. Most importantly: the digital storage of medical records makes a lot of sense. If an emergency physician can access your medical history easily, he or she can help you much better. A certain level of transparency of health is in our self-interest. Digital transformation is not just efficient when it comes to waiting at the doctor’s but it is medical progress.

But in many countries people still have reservations concerning the implementation of E-Health. Do you sympathise with that?

It is completely understandable that in a country like Germany many have reservations due to the fact that there was a time when people were killed because of their medical records. Or when they were fired or not even hired because of them. In Estonia, people do not care about that. You have to accept that the implementation of E-Health is more difficult in countries like Germany and if all efforts of persuasion have no influence then we have to accept that as well. But in the case of E-Health, people’s health can benefit and actually improve due to an E-Health system.

When it comes to E-Governance Europe seems to be a Europe of different paces. How much of a problem is that and which consequences does it have?

That depends on the one hand on whether you favour a united, uniform Europe or whether you believe that Europe’s strength lies in the diversity of our beautiful patchwork carpet. The different speeds result from different experiences, but not entirely. It is quite complicated and hardly legitimate to dictate the attitude a certain country should have if the old attitude is deep-rooted and simply does not change. On the other hand, there are certain obstacles put in place by an administrative tradition that makes no sense nowadays: a lack of information and a lack of political will. In that case, it depends on the competence of the political leadership and whether it is future-oriented. Then we can and do take action. After all, it is a priority of the EU and consequently we have the Vice President Andrus Ansip and two more EU-commissioners dealing with nothing else but Europe-wide digital transformation.

Why is this topic so important for the EU?

Well, besides the possibility to strengthen Europeanisation through digital transformation: Because we have realised that Europe has to be careful not to be left behind economically by the US on one side and caught up with by East Asia states on the other. That has been the goal of European politics overall since 2000 since the Lisbon-strategy. In this era, these things have a lot to do with digital transformation. The European social model is based on Europe’s economic superiority. We have to make more money than we are globally entitled to in order to finance our social model. That is why we have to be at the forefront regarding the techno-economical paradigm of our time, namely information and communication technology. It is clear that this is a pan-European priority. In that sense, it would pose real challenges on multiple levels if parts of Europe were seriously lagging behind – not just because of economic competitiveness. That is particularly crucial for the legitimacy of the EU.

Interview: Vera Szybalski

Translation: Hannah Bliersbach

 

 

 Digital-Transformation-and-E-Governance

Prof. Dr Wolfgang Drechsler is professor of Governance at Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) in Estonia focusing on public administration, political philosophy and innovation. He is also an Associate at Harvard University’s Davis Center and a member of its Advisory Board.

“Humans are animals who make meaning of their experiences”

Module #2 © Max Dauven

Stories are essential for each of us to make sense of the world. How do they change under the impact of the digital transformation? Prof. Henry Jenkins speaks about the value of transmedia stories and about new ways to participate in and shape the political agenda.

 


 

Prof. Jenkins – has the digital transformation changed the way we tell and perceive stories?

Yes, and no. Stories are stories but who gets to share their stories and how they circulate has changed dramatically. Over the past twenty plus years, our culture has become more participatory – that is, more people are producing and sharing media content with each other. The costs of producing media have lowered, and that means there are lower financial risks when people experiment with new media forms and practices. We can see this, for example, in the explosion of podcasts over the past five years, with content coming from commercial producers, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, religious groups, and various amateur and semiprofessional producers.

You have been accredited for coining the term ‘transmedia storytelling’. What is it about?

I neither coined the phrase nor came up with the concept, but I helped to draw it to the public’s attention and I have been a key voice in the conversations around it. A transmedia story is one that is told across multiple media platforms with each making some meaningful contribution to the experience of the whole. Think about a modern entertainment franchise, the Marvel Cinematic universe or Star Wars, to cite two obvious examples. How do we know what we know about these characters?

In both cases, the feature films are at the center but much of the story arises elsewhere – via television shows, comics, computer games, amusement park attractions, websites, and much more. And some of what matters originates from the audience, via fan practices such as fan fiction, fanvids, cosplay, and much more. What we call transmedia storytelling is all of that put together.

This seems to propose a high dependency on digital media. Is the phenomenon of transmedia storytelling a new one?

Not necessarily. People have been telling stories across media for a long time. Go to Notre Dame cathedral in Paris and you will see the biblical story told in many different media forms – from painted panels to stain glass windows, from gargoyles to choirs. We might understand the nativity set as serving some of the same functions as action figures, offering us a microworld that stands in for the story we know from other sources.

But the modern franchise involves a much higher degree of conscious planning in terms of which platforms media experiences are distributed through. And above all, consumption is networked. So fans are pulling together information from many sources as resources for their conversations, which are occurring via internet forums, recaps, and podcasts, to cite a few examples. We are demanding more elaborate storyworlds to sustain our collective engagement with stories that matter to us.

If we take a look at examples of popular culture, let’s say the Harry Potter universe: Do more complex storyworlds lend themselves better to transmedia storytelling than others?

Absolutely. We can imagine a simple linear story which deals with Harry and his close friends. But these books create multiple sources of identification through the multiple houses. Let’s say I am a Ravenclaw – then I want to see more stories centered around Ravenclaw characters such as Luna Lovegood, and so there is an incentive to expand the story in that direction. Then consider that Harry’s experiences represent one moment in the larger history of Hogwarts and people want to know about other chapters.

I am, for example, interested in Harry’s parents’ generation, the so-called Marauder timelines, though others want to know more about earlier moments resulting in the Fantastic Beasts film series or about what happened in Harry’s adult lifetime, thus resulting in the current theatrical play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. So yes, the richer the world the more story opportunities.

Keyword ‘participatory culture’: Has the way we engage with and participate in stories changed?

In the era of mass media, some selected few constructed the stories which the rest of us consumed. In an era of participatory culture, the public voices its response to those stories – often in real time – lobbying for developments that matter to them and creating and sharing their own versions of the story. This can be as basic as ‘shipping’ that is, pushing for particular versions of character relationships which satisfy your yearnings. But it can also take the form of pushing for more inclusive representations of women and people of color.

It can consist of rallying in support of a film like Black Panther which addresses long-repressed desires for heroic black representation on the big screen or for a vision of Africa as technologically advanced. It may also take the form of reactionary responses to Star Wars films and online wars with other fans, practices that some have labeled ‘Toxic Fandom’. As we expand the number of people who have a voice about our culture, not all of those voices will be agreeable and there may be conflicting ideas about what constitutes appropriate communication. We still have lots to work through as far as participatory culture is concerned.

We seem to get the idea that storytelling is limited to the production or consumption of fiction. However, you’ve been doing extensive research on examples of non-fiction transmedia storytelling.

Yes, and there are many contemporary examples. Look at the Parkland kids and the March for Our Lives, for instance. I have written much about contemporary activists fighting for social change by any media necessary. These young activists are using every tool at their disposal to get their message out, showing enormous sophistication in their understanding of how contemporary media works. Of course, they are using YouTube, Twitter, and other social media to connect victims of school shootings around the country and to mobilize walkouts and marches across the country.

They are spreading out to tell their stories through broadcast media, often rewriting the rules of how guests on these shows behave in order to break the stalemate on how we think about gun control. They are performing a song from Rent on the Tony Awards. They are challenging Fox newscasters by putting pressure on their advertisers. And they are writing bios about their experiences. This, too, is transmedia storytelling. In this way, a small number of high school students have dramatically altered the debate about gun violence in America. This is transmedia activism.

Does participatory culture inspire transmedia activism?

Right now, many people are learning through play skills that they are then quickly directing towards more serious tasks, such as resistance and social change. Our research is finding that young people who participate in online fandoms or gaming groups are more likely to participate politically both online and off. They will have found their own voice, learned how to work together via networked communities, developed a sense of what a better world might look like, what we call the civic imagination, and in some cases, they will have used pop culture references as a shared vocabulary for shaping public opinion. That is how participatory politics works.

“We each need to learn to take greater responsibility for the quality of information we pass along to others”

 

Another recurring term in your research is ‘spreadable media’ – media content that is shaped by grassroots circulation and spread through social media. It could be argued that participatory culture also gives rise to fake news. What is your opinion on that?

Much of what people chose to circulate is meaningful – in that it expresses what they are feeling, how they see the world – but it is not necessarily accurate. Fake news is consciously being constructed as news which people want to spread because it hits a certain emotional chord with them, because it speaks to their deepest fears or desires. To understand why fake news circulates, we need to try to understand why it resonates with the way everyday people think about the political realm.

But ultimately, in a world where we have more control collectively over the way information travels across the culture, we each need to learn to take greater responsibility for the quality of information we pass along to others. Such a context places new emphasis on the importance of media literacy education. That cause is not helped by a president who models all of the worst forms of social media behavior: from name-calling and bullying to seeming to be totally indifferent to the accuracy of what he spreads through his high profile account.

Can actions of collective intelligence counter this particular development?

Collective intelligence refers to the capacity of networks of people to pool knowledge, draw on each other’s expertise, and work through problems more complex than any of us could manage on our own. We see collective intelligence at once when, say, the women’s march comes together in record time, creating ad-hoc coalitions of diverse groups around the country, and getting them out in the streets at the same date and time. Collective intelligence is also at work when people debunk fake news or misleading statements from political leaders, testing them against information gathered from different parts of the country. This may be our best resource for combating the misinformation campaigns we’ve seen in recent years.

“Whatever story we tell, we need to recognize our own agency”

 

Collective participation in the shaping of stories seems to a be a powerful means to an end. Can stories change the way we perceive the digital transformation?

It matters what stories we tell ourselves about digital change. Over the past few decades, we’ve seen shifts from utopian stories about a digital revolution that will unsettle traditional gatekeepers and dystopian stories about the concentration of power in the hands of Google or Facebook. Both stories are compelling, both capture part of the truth, but buying into either story fully may distort our understanding of what remains a complex and unstable situation. Whatever story we tell, we need to recognize our own agency. The core question needs to be what are we doing with media and not what is media doing to us.

In his book The Storytelling Animal Jonathan Gottschall claims that telling stories is essentially what makes us human. How would you define the relevance of story?

I would say that humans are animals who make meaning of their experiences. Stories are one of the most powerful structures for communicating meaningful experiences with each other: They shape how we feel about and make sense of the world around us. But the key insight I would suggest is that humans do not engage in meaningless activities. I may not understand why a particular story is meaningful to you: We may need to discuss it to reach a deeper understanding of its significance, but we should not start from the premise that it is meaningless or that your interest in it is dumb. We need to learn to listen and understand each other’s stories if we are going to share the world with each other. Mass media has given us a restricted range of stories; today, digital media is expanding its scope of who can share their stories, and we need to learn to listen to each other’s narratives.

Interview: Lara von Richthofen

 

 

Digital-Transformation-and-Storytelling

Henry Jenkins is Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education at the University of Southern California. His research embraces phenomena and processes of media and popular culture, including the interplay of story, media and politics. His latest book By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism, published in 2016, examines youth activism in the digital age.