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Quantified Self and Philosophy

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Quantified Self and Philosophy

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Presentation at the Quantified Self Europe Conference 2014 in Amsterdam:

How does the practice of tracking, sharing, and using data for personal meaning challenge our ideas about human connection, ideas traditionally framed as oppositions between between "individuals" and "society."

Presentation at the Quantified Self Europe Conference 2014 in Amsterdam:

How does the practice of tracking, sharing, and using data for personal meaning challenge our ideas about human connection, ideas traditionally framed as oppositions between between "individuals" and "society."

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Quantified Self and Philosophy

  1. 1. QS and Philosophy Quantified Self Europe Conference 2014 Amsterdam, May 11th 2014 @jbenno Jörg Blumtritt
  2. 2. Pythagorean World or Metaphors? • Do we regard the world as comprehensible through numbers (as is the claim of QS)? Is this in the sense of St. Augustine, that we think of the world that way? Is it Kant's schemata resp. the Platonists' ideals that we think of, or is it even further, reality being in principle numeric? • Many talks and sessions at #qseu14 touch this question: how to quantize or track emotions, scents, memories, even grief? And in many sessions we experienced a rather postmodernist way of dealing with it: • Do we want to find facts, empirical evidence? • Or do we use tracking to tell a story about ourselves (to us in private or to others that we share our data with)? • The first makes sense in the context of science (->next slide); the latter makes QS into a meaningful extension of social media. I took the allegory from the title engraving of "Vollständiges Mathematisches Lexicon Darinnen alle Kunst=Wörter und Sachen Welche In der erwegenden und ausübenden Mathesi vorzukommen pflegen", Leipzig 1747 2 #qseu14, Joerg Blumtritt
  3. 3. 3 Sozialdynamik bewegter Körper • Or modernist social paradigm is aggregating people to sets, represented by an average value or one representative member (like we see with sampling, panel research, or with the concept of a constituency, where one member of parliaments speaks for the total population of his electorate). • End of the 19th century, experiments and measurements in physics became so precise, that the paradigm of Newtonian science had to be overthrown. Einstein and Planck changed the perspective from the aggregates of moving particles that where used in thermodynamics, to looking after the single particle, and thus formulating quantum physics. • With the possibility of tracking each single person in a large set of people without the need to aggregate (which for me is essentially what "Big Data" is about), do we get into a quantum-physics- like paradigm shift in social science, or even in humanities? • Certainly, most of the topics covered with QS are far more qualitative than quantitative social science, however at the same time dealt with in a numerical way. (Particle or Person? This could be someone walking down a street, seeing her cat on the other side, and then just walking on. Of course it could also be my drawing a Feinman diagram of a neutron beta-decaying to a proton.) #qseu14, Joerg Blumtritt
  4. 4. 4 Mistakes like a bounced check or a small overdraft have effectively blacklisted more than a million low-income Americans from the mainstream financial system for as long as seven years as a result of little-known private databases that are used by the nation’s major banks. Algorithm Ethics • Most technologies have built in implicit value judgements. This can be parameters that someone (e.g. an engineer in the development team) just set to a value that seamt to her appropriate; it could also be governed by some assuptions someone made at a certain point in time. • More often than not we cannot see into, let alone access our gadgets and applications; so they remain black boxes. • Value judgements are neither per se bad nor avoidable. • However, it is our responsibility to demand access to the "black boxes", to have transparency with technology that effects on our lives, and as makers of such technology to grant others access and have an open conversation with them. • It is also a strong indication to bring digital literacy to people, making them understand the tools they use, helping them becoming as active as possible. For more see http://beautifuldata.net/2013/05/algorithm-ethics/ #qseu14, Joerg Blumtritt
  5. 5. "Privacy" 5 • Privacy - as shown here by the distribution of the term within Google's ngram corpus - has been a big thing in the 80s. It might be already on the decline. • Open data for the public good: There is huge incentive in open data, for the society but also economically. • Examples are insurances demanding the tracking of your driving, or various applications in health care. • So it will become increasingly difficult (and expensive) to abstinate from sharing our tracking data. • We should help people understand what that means, we should continuously discuss the consequences of this development, too. #qseu14, Joerg Blumtritt
  6. 6. "Data Protection" 6 • Data protection is on decline in Google trends. • Heartbleed has demonstrated what is a proven mathematical theoreme: there cannot be guaranteed safty in software. (This is equivalent to the halting problem in computer science). • There is two possible routs to deal with this: • Data parsimony, avoid collecting data (certainly not what we intend to do in QS! Not without cause seen as luddite approach. • Postprivacy - just let go. This sounds easy, but it would not work in a society with hierachies that would turn it into a panoptikon (in Zygmund Bauman's sense). If we want postprivacy, we really have to work for a robust framework! #qseu14, Joerg Blumtritt
  7. 7. 7 Veillance • La veillance means "to watch" and "to care". Caring for others and watching them is always closely realted. • Steve Mann came up with the typology of veillance, shown in the diagram. • We tend to see souvaillance as opposed to surveillance. But Mann shows here, that it is rather orthogonal - you can have both at the same time. • The London Metropolitan Police has recently been equipped with lifelogging cameras. This is - with good cause! - called souveillance, becuase it is not getting a view from above but staying on the ground, looking back to people who also may document the police with their devices (which plays a most important role in protests nowadays, as seen e.g. in the uprisings in Turkey). • There is strong evidence that souveillance with a police force tremendously reduces violence on both sides. The diagram is taken from http://www.webcitation.org/6Cb7y7KRb #qseu14, Joerg Blumtritt
  8. 8. 8 "Data begs to be used" (Bruce Schneier) • "We’re living in a world with more transparency, we need to learn to do intelligence with more transparency too." (Bruce Schneier) • In “Snow Crash”, Neal Stephenson imagines a Central Intelligence Corporation, the CIA and NSA becoming a commercial service where everybody just purchases the information they’d need. This was, what came immediately to my mind when I read through the transcript of the talk on “Intelligence Gathering and the Unowned Internet” that was held by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, starring Bruce Schneier, who for every Mathematician in my generation is just the godfather of cryptography. Bruce has been arguing for living “beyond fear” for more than a decade, advocating openness instead of digging trenches and winding up barbed wire. I am convinced, that information does not want to be free (as many of my comrades in arms tend to phrase). However I strongly belief Bruce is right: We can hear data’s call. Link to the event: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/events/2014/04/unownedinternet Link to the transcript: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1dJjE3lBfI2aiO7DGQvEGKx4p0qVcCMD5OH 6tWuRPn9g/edit #qseu14, Joerg Blumtritt
  9. 9. Cyborg Rights 9 • My friend Enno Park, shown in this picture, is deaf. But cochlea implants made him hear again. Enno is a hacker, so he wants to access the technology that has become part of his body. But he can't. It is propriatory, DRM protected, a black box. • So he founded the German Cyborg Association to fight for the rights of people who entangle their lives with technology. • We should keep reminding people that our self- tracking is just a very visible and striking aspect of something that has long become ubiquitous. Technology as always been an "extension of man" (sorry for the gendered term, but it is a quote by Teilhard from the 1930s). As it would have been useless for someone in the 19th century to seperate "the railroad world" from "the real world", it is useless to maintain the ficiton of data being somehow virtual. We have long become cyborgs. Cyborgs e.V.: http://cyborgs.cc/ #qseu14, Joerg Blumtritt
  10. 10. 10 To what end shall we come? Herbert Marshall McLuhan had a useful way to structure his futuristic thoughts: the Tetrad. For each technology we can ask for questions, to better understand, what the technology changes in our lives. 1. What does the new technology enhence? (It certainly does something better, otherwise it would hardly succede). 2. What does it render obsolete? (Other technologies but also professions or even social or cultural practices might get replaced by the new technologies, even if it would not exactly fill the gap that was left by the past technology). 3. What gets retrieved? (New technology might give space to things that were abandoned) 4. What does the new technology become in the end? (What happens if we push the new technology to the edge?) On the following page I put together some possible answers for these four questions. Just my thoughs; happy to discuss! my blogpost on this: http://datarella.com/organizing-a-system-of-10-billion- people/ #qseu14, Joerg Blumtritt
  11. 11. Enhances Health Fitness Science Communication Retrieves Temperance Communal Life Caring Bucolic Village Moral Control Obsolesces MDs The Psychiatrist's Couch Surveillance Reverses into Organizing a System of 10 Billion Noo-Sphere Angelization Weltgeist QS #qseu14, Joerg Blumtritt11
  12. 12. 12 Jörg Blumtritt @jbenno http://datarella.com #qseu14, Joerg Blumtritt

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