Books


The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser shows some of the implications of personalization, especially for the public discussion and our community political discourse. Google is one example, where the search results differ based on geography, previous searches and many many other factors.

When we first started work on federated identity and attributes, we thought the primary use for attributes would be authorization: granting or refusing access. We were wrong. In the first two years of handing out attributes, we discovered that personalization is the primary reason for requesting information about a person. Attributes are used for personalization, and controlling attributes is under-estimated. We need to work more on attributes and how to share enough information without revealing too much. Cross-site scripting is a security threat, cross-site personalization is a risk to our integrity.  Personalization is available on most modern web sites.

The Filter Bubble points out some of the dangers for our society as the news streams get fragmented and we slide into ghettos where there is no shared reality anymore. Shared reality is important for democracy, as we need to sort out where our choices are, during a public discussion.

My sister is a public servant, working for the Norwegian government. Someone set off a bomb just outside her office less than a week ago, because he hated the current political regime, killing 8 people. He then went on to the Labor Youth summer camp, killing 68 (current number, there are several missing persons), where he was arrested. All the evidence reported by the media points to a person who has been living in a filter bubble with a strong reinforcing feedback hatred for Muslims, as explained in the Guardian by Thomas Hylland Eriksen. The terrorist has been using anonymous discussion forums online to confirm his ideas and get ideological backing. Conspiracy theories flourish in such environments.

The Filter Bubble on our Internet gets really scary when we encounter:

  • There is no transparency, we do not know how reality was altered to fit us
  • The invisible ghetto I live in have walls, and I believe they are the end of the world
  • We have no interest in our community and cross-partisan discussion fail to deal with large (and small) political issues
  • Personality tests used for job interviews gets replaced by an interpretation of the bubble the job applicant live in (there is probably an app for doing this, at least in the US, where such information is for sale). Knowing about your bubble gets more important than knowing you.
  • Critical thinking is made more difficult by incongruent information, since search results and news flow differ significantly
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Some of last year’s books made a bigger impression that others. In this context I am talking about the work related books I got around to reading, now that my youngest is not on my arm all the time.

  • The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen.  Why oh why did I not read this book before?  So many of the challenges I run into in my worklife when deploying innovative solutions were described, and most notably how incremental innovation is different from disruptive innovation in how solutions get into the hands, hearts and minds of people.
  • Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen,  Curtis W. Johnson and Michael B. Horn.  If education is to be changed by ICT, what are the underlying principles and drivers that need to be considered? The book claims that if we want disruptive innovation in school, we need to focus on customized learning, one-on-one and school reform; not on small improvements of what happens in the class rooms today.
  • Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.  The discussion in this book about why smart people make stupid choices also turns out to be applicable to technology deployment.
  • The Conscience of a Liberal by Paul Krugman.  Striving for equal access to education, and lowering the gap between parts of society becomes more important after reading about what happened in the US as the vast gap in income has gotten much much worse in the past years.
  • Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman.  This book introduces some of the implications of climate change, Internet and the population changes.  When Internet flattens the world, and competition comes from anywhere, our world turns around.
  • Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn takes its title from a Mao quote “Half the sky is held up by women” and is the second most depressing book I read last year (the most depressing being Nothing to Envy about life in North Korea).  Did you know that almost all children dying of hunger are girls, as the boys are fed before the girls?  Did you know that every year a girl goes to school reduces the average number of children she gives birth to by 0.25?
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.  This book made me fall in love again with scientific method 🙂

Getting access to a Kindle and an iPad resulted in e-reading around the clock, including using the Kindle android app on my cell phone while on the bus.  The basic assumption of bookshelves being new, full or broken is changing, since adding books to the Kindle reading universe does not use shelf space.

One of the more interesting reads recently was Internet Governance by Bygrave and Bing.  The articles cover the fabric of Internet infrastructure, not excluding code and engineers.  The interplay of policy and code (as instantiated in real live protocols and applications) is analyzed and discussed.  Although the book is written as a text book for legal student, it is readable for those of us interested in the social fabric of the Internet, the policy mechanisms and formation process of Internet.

It does not hurt that the opening chapter on Internet history is written by professor Jon Bing, an author I enjoyed ever since his childrens books in my youth .  The other authors also analyze and discuss and interpret, not just make claims or cite endless facts, as so many authors writing about governance and/or Internet tends to do.  Giving food for thought is good.