Category Archives: Computer magic

Here’s what our Civic Tech Fellows did this summer

Our incredible cohort of Civic Tech Fellows (and Program Manager Saron Yitbarek) spent their summers building useful tools and programs to support the field of civic tech. Here are some demos of new tools and projects that are early in development, shared with the Civic Hall community on August 27th, 2015.

Including:

  • Blockchain for Social Impact
  • Civic Graph
  • Civic Graph check-in
  • USDA Innovation Challenge and Big Apps
  • Maker Kit
  • Civic Tech Casefinder
  • Microsoft Translator
  • BRCK
  • Tech Jobs Academy website launch template
  • An open website launch template

Continue reading Here’s what our Civic Tech Fellows did this summer

Tech in Cuba in 2015

Tech in Cuba 2015

Illustration by J. Longo

Last month, I had the incredible opportunity to visit Cuba with my global travel companion Marco Bani. It’s a dynamic place facing rapid changes. I talked to everyone I met – regular people, but for their exposure to the lucrative tourism sector – about technology. The result is this primer in Kernel, the Daily Dot‘s Sunday magazine, for their travel issue. Thanks to Jesse Hicks for his editing. More photos, below.

Personal Data Geographies

Our phones track our personal geographies. This enables dystopian surveillance, but also provides an interesting layer of biographical data that we haven’t had access to previously. My personal perspective is that if other actors (cellphone companies, marketers, governments) are going to have access to this information, I should at least be able to view and analyze this data, too. That’s why I’m thankful that Google exposes this data to end-users through the Location History page, and also allows outputs of raw geodata.

I’m going to use this data as a personal reflection aid, sort of the way social media data helps power TimeHop‘s semi-automated moments of reflection. I’m also experimenting with artistic visualizations (as in, actual paint and paper). But to start, I’ve taken the data from the 5 or so months that I’ve lived in New York, imported it into Google Earth, and created a GIF of my geographic footprint:

year-nyc
Continue reading Personal Data Geographies

Play into a Broader World View with Terra Incognita

My colleague Catherine D’Ignazio is one of those rare people who manages to create beautiful art and clever software while remaining incredibly down to earth. I’ve been helping out here and there on her Media Lab Master’s thesis, Terra Incognita. Here’s an overview of the project I wrote up for the Internews Center for Innovation & Learning.

We’re building a news game that helps you explore a wider swath of the globe than you may have before. Terra Incognita: 1000 Cities of the World is a game delivered by Chrome browser extension. When you open a new tab, you’ll be prompted to read a news story from one of the top 1,000 global cities. You’ll also get credit for news stories you read on a limited set of news sites. You can get early access to Terra Incognita today.

Terra Incognita screenshot

Continue reading Play into a Broader World View with Terra Incognita

Questioning the Quantified Self as it Marches Towards Mainstream

I’m back at the Media Lab today and got to attend a talk by cultural anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll, of MIT’s Science, Technology, and Society program, who’s speaking at Pattie Maes’s Tools for Well-Being series.

addictionbydesign

Digital technologies can have negative impacts on our well-being. Natasha grew interested in the topic over the course of writing Addiction by Design, on the game elements throughout machine gambling in Las Vegas. Speed, repetition, continuity, and designer chairs lure players into a zen flow and open wallet. The casino industry seeks to produce this bubble state, and closely tracks players’ behavior to further refine its profit engines. Loyalty cards are a key mechanism for these studies, recording the games we prefer, the denominations we default to. As “Dividuals“, we are treated as a collection of habits and preferences that can be marketed upon, often in real-time. Continue reading Questioning the Quantified Self as it Marches Towards Mainstream

Gift Idea: Puzzle States

Puzzle States gerrymandered jigsaws

I’ve combined political nerdery with fabrication nerdery to produce laser cut gerrymandered jigsaw puzzles. Each state’s political boundaries are laser cut into finished maple plywood to create a real wooden jigsaw puzzle. The pieces are the gnarly congressional districts designed every decade or so by politicians. States with lots of congressional districts (like California, Texas, and New York) make for pretty difficult puzzles. Even states with fewer districts get tricky to solve in the more populated areas.

The mere act of assembling a puzzle becomes a lesson in controversial computer-assisted gerrymandering, where politicians use Census results to carve their constituencies into districts that will keep them in power. I’m excited to say that for every puzzle purchased, we’ll be donating an additional puzzle to an innovative school civics education program. Students will learn about congressional representation and the decennial redistricting process. The puzzle pieces are also a great conversation starter for learning about The Great Compromise, whereby the far less populated states receive equal representation in the Senate.

Puzzle States are now for sale over at Etsy (you can always just go to puzzlestates.com). Get one today for the campaign geek in your life.

Laser cut jigsaw puzzle

Thinking ethically about our relationships with social robots

Liveblog of Kate Darling’s Berkman Center lunch, A discussion of near-term ethical, legal, and societal issues in robotics.

Kate begins with the observation that there aren’t nearly enough experts in robotic law. Those that are interested in the emergent field need to become more expert, and many more need to join them in the pursuit.

Here are some of the emerging issues:

  • Liability: the chain of causality of harm is going to get longer and more complex
  • Code is going to contain ethical decisions as autonomous units interact with their environments
  • People’s sensitivity to invasion of privacy is more strongly manifested when infractions are committed by robots (vs. NSA infrastructure-level scripts). Public aversion to such invasions may actually be an opportunity to push for stronger privacy rights.
  • Our tendency to project lifelike qualities on robotic objects. People bond with their cars, phones, stuffed animals, and virtual objects in video games. But this effect is stronger in robots.
  • Physicality: we react differently to objects in our physical space than things on a screen

duckling

Continue reading Thinking ethically about our relationships with social robots