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Week 7 - Reading Response

21 October 2019


  • Ethics
    • Claire Bishop: Artificial Hells: Participant Art and the Politics of Spectatorship
    • Weapons of Math Destruction, chapters 1 and 5
    • A Hacker Manifesto by Mackenzie Wark, Hacker chapter
    • Ethics for Socially Engaged Art by Ben Kinmont and Laurel George
    • Situated Encounters with Socially Engaged Art
  • Intellectual Property
    • The Public Domain by James Boyle, chapters 4 and 5
    • Creative Commons
    • Never Mind the Bollocks: Shepard Fairey's Fight for Appropriation, Fair Use, and Free Culture by Evelyn McDonnell
    • Open Source Initiative
    • Free the Orphans project


Lots to digest in this week's reading. I think Weapons of Math Destruction provided quite a good layman explanation of why some forms of computer algorithms (based on models) can be more reliable / just / "impartial" than others by pointing to the transparency and volume of up-to-date representative data in Moneyball-esque endeavors vs. biased proxy data used in WMDs. I liked the succinct definition of models as "opinions embedded in mathematics" (21). The main takeaway for me in chapter 1 was the rubric for detecting WMDs: opacity, scale, and potential for damage to society.

Chapter 5 of Weapons of Math Destruction was also quite compelling with its analysis of predictive policing. It provided some needed color to our discussion from last week's self-taught class where we talked about CompStat for a few minutes. This quote stuck out for me: "... while PredPol delivers a perfectly useful and even high-minded software tool, it is also a do-it-yourself WMD" (91), along with the (now common) knowledge that most people think collecting more data for their models is a good thing. I think what we need here to achieve "Big Data justice" is more literacy and education around statistical methods so that police departments and prison systems know when they are using data to "justify the workings of the system but not to question or improve the system" (98).

The Hacking chapter in A Hacker Manifesto reminded me a bit of Paul Graham's writings on hackers. The writing feels poetic and poignant. I found one bit here linking to the other readings, sort of an explanation of why software patents are bad / ineffective / wasteful: "Property traps only one aspect of the hack, its representation and objectification as property. It cannot capture the infinite and unlimited virtuality from which the hack draws its potential."

Finally, The Public Domain was really engaging to read; as it was written like a story about IP law. Its thought experiments about copyright lawyers blocking the development of internet technology made me think... was it necessary that the internet had to be developed quickly (and, arguably, haphazardly) to avoid prosecution by incumbent commercial and legal interests? How do we think about future technologies which might face such legal challenges, especially if we want to take our time and develop them carefully? The overall impression I got from these two chapters was that "fair use" must continue to be protected in a healthy information-rich society & culture.