Digital rights groups on Wednesday applauded lawmakers across the European Union after they passed a draft law that would strictly regulate the use of artificial intelligence including facial recognition technology and chatbots, potentially setting a new standard for protecting the public from the misuse of AI—but noted that some provisions could exclude vulnerable people. The European Parliament passed a major legislative hurdle as it voted in favor of the draft rules in the Artificial Intelligence Act, with 499 lawmakers supporting the provisions, 28 opposing, and 93 abstaining from voting.
Science and technology
Many decades ago, when science fiction was still whimsical and fun rather than dark and dystopian, we saw robots appear in popular culture that were benign and friendly. Some may recall Robbie the Robot from the movie “Forbidden Planet” and, of course, there was R2D2 in “Star Wars”, with a demeanor as cute as any Fox Terrier. But now our movies seem to be much darker for reasons we can only speculate about. Cinematically, perhaps, the turning point was the movie “Terminator” which introduced the idea of the cyborg human that was able to project overwhelming power. While the nation was busy coping with Covid, several dystopian trends seem to have sprung from a Pandora’s box.
My expectations are never disappointed when I read the news each day and find out that the solutions to the problems created by our modern technology are to be found in more technology. We do not need to restructure our society, reduce our consumption, moderate our desires or change our habits. Technology will solve our problems without us having to make any substantial change in our way of life. The breathless coverage of a university-based startup company that will draw carbon dioxide out of the ocean—thereby making room for more carbon dioxide from the air to be absorbed—may convince you that we can all sit back and let our tech overlords solve climate change.
Digitization. It’s the threat that modern democracies, and especially cities, must solve – at least according to current dialogues on digital regulation. Many of the social and political problems our cities face today have been exacerbated by technology. Social media and other digital tools have increased the spread of misinformation and overall weakened public trust in our civic, social and political institutions. Recent developments in virtual reality and artificial intelligence raise new concerns for issues around surveillance, bias, automation and exploitation, especially with increasing public scrutiny on technology giants like Meta and Google.
Dorn Cox is a family farmer who has long been in the vanguard of improving regenerative agriculture with open source technologies. He sees participatory science and knowledge commons as powerful tools for improving agriculture in countless ways: crop yields, soil health, water usage, ecosystem resilience. All are especially needed in the face of climate change. I wanted to learn more, so in my latest episode of Frontiers of Commoning (Episode #36), I spoke with Cox about these topics, which are extensively examined in his new book The Great Regeneration: Ecological Agriculture, Open-Source Technology, and a Radical Vision of Hope.
The Mexican government said it will develop a strategy to ban future experimentation with solar geoengineering, which will also include an information campaign and scientific reports. However, the government did not announce more specific actions. “Mexico reiterates its unavoidable commitment to the protection and well-being of the population from practices that generate risks to human and environmental security,” said the government in a statement. Geoengineering refers to the act of deliberately changing the Earth’s systems to control its climate. One theoretical proposal has been to spray sulphur particles to cool the planet —which has been documented to briefly happen after volcanic eruptions. A recent United Nations report found that this practice, known as stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI), “has the potential to reduce global mean temperatures”.
A world war was declared on 7 October. No news station reported on it, even though we will all have to suffer its effects. That day, the Biden administration launched a technological offensive against China, placing stringent limits and extensive controls on the export not only of integrated circuits, but also their designs, the machines used to ‘write’ them on silicon and the tools these machines produce. Henceforth, if a Chinese factory requires any of these components to produce goods – like Apple’s mobile phones, or GM’s cars – other firms must request a special licence to export them. Why has the US implemented these sanctions? And why are they so severe? Because, as Chris Miller writes in his recent book Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology (2022), ‘the semiconductor industry produces more transistors every day than there are cells in the human body’.
The US government has imposed aggressive sanctions that aim to “kneecap” China’s tech sector and halt the country’s rise, Washington policymakers and industry analysts have admitted. The Joe Biden administration took the extraordinarily aggressive action this October of blocking China from importing most semiconductors, machines to create chips, and supercomputer parts. A former Pentagon official acknowledged that this was a “disproportionate” and “unilateral” attack, amounting to a “form of economic containment.” He said this in an article in Foreign Policy, the magazine of the DC political class, titled “Biden Is Now All-In on Taking Out China.” Jon Bateman, an ex analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) who served in several important policy roles in the Pentagon, wrote that US officials have “imposed disproportionate measures” and “strong-armed others into compliance.”
On a summer day last year, a group of real estate tech executives gathered at a conference hall in Nashville to boast about one of their company’s signature products: software that uses a mysterious algorithm to help landlords push the highest possible rents on tenants. “Never before have we seen these numbers,” said Jay Parsons, a vice president of RealPage, as conventiongoers wandered by. Apartment rents had recently shot up by as much as 14.5%, he said in a video touting the company’s services. Turning to his colleague, Parsons asked: What role had the software played? “I think it’s driving it, quite honestly,” answered Andrew Bowen, another RealPage executive. “As a property manager, very few of us would be willing to actually raise rents double digits within a single month by doing it manually.”
For the past five years, with the rapid decline of the U.S. empire and the peaceful rise of China, the U.S. has rapidly developed a baffling policy of anti-China hysteria. From Trump to Biden, Republicans and Democrats, neo-cons and “progressives,” are all now focused entirely on a racist cold war of China-bashing and Russophobia, rather than doing anything constructive for the people of the United States and global society. From a never-ending trade war, financial war, sanctions and the war against Huawei they turned to spreading unfounded stories of Chinese communist “high-tech” spies in the U.S., and a “Wuhan man-made” virus hoax. They play at “gunboat diplomacy” by sending aircraft carriers to the South and East China Seas in an effort to intimidate China, while they provoke ethnic and social tensions by playing their “Taiwan card,” their “Hong Kong card” and their “Xinjiang card,”.
One aspect of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan that has been largely overlooked is her meeting with Mark Lui, chairman of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC). Pelosi’s trip coincided with U.S. efforts to convince TSMC – the world’s largest chip manufacturer, on which the U.S. is heavily dependent – to establish a manufacturing base in the US and to stop making advanced chips for Chinese companies. U.S. support for Taiwan has historically been based on Washington’s opposition to communist rule in Beijing, and Taiwan’s resistance to absorption by China. But in recent years, Taiwan’s autonomy has become a vital geopolitical interest for the U.S, because of the island’s dominance of the semiconductor manufacturing market.
The state of Hawaii has set up a new way to manage the mountain Maunakea, the summit of which is home to many world-class astronomical observatories. A law signed by Hawaii’s governor on 7 July removes the University of Hawaii from its role as the main authority overseeing the land on which the telescopes sit, and gives that responsibility to a newly established group with much broader representation of the community, including Native Hawaiians. Many hope that the shift will mark a path forwards for astronomy in Hawaii, after a years-long impasse over the future of telescopes on Maunakea. Since 2015, some Native Hawaiians have intermittently blocked the road to the summit, primarily to prevent the start of construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) — a next-generation observatory that will have a huge light-gathering mirror to make astronomical discoveries.
For decades, many on the American left have pointed to the Nordic nations as models that we should be striving towards. One frequent response to this has been to say that, although the Nordic nations have built remarkably equal economies, they lag in other important respects like inventing and implementing new technologies. There is no compelling statistical evidence for this claim, but some version of this idea seems to permanently linger in the US discourse. Recently, various liberal commentators — often rallying under the label of supply-side progressivism — have published articles chastising leftists who frequently point to the Nordic and western European models. According to these articles, such leftists are inattentive to the questions of how to steer the invention and deployment of new kinds of production.
Tech workers at The New York Times voted 404-88 to unionize as the New York Times Tech Guild, the union announced Thursday. The guild, which includes more than 500 engineers, project and product managers, designers and analysts, is now the largest unit of tech workers with bargaining rights in the country. They are organized by the NewsGuild, the largest union of journalists. As an official from the National Labor Relations Board counted the ballots Thursday, the guild marked the occasion with a live vote tracker. “This is a historic win,” the union tweeted. “We stand in solidarity with all workers organizing to build better workplaces in the tech and media industries.”