The characters in Gary Shteyngart’s novel “Super Sad True Love Story” inhabit a continuously surveilled and scored society.
Consider the protagonist, Lenny Abramov, age 39. A digital dossier about him accumulates his every health condition (high cholesterol, depression), liability (mortgage: $560,330), purchase (“bound, printed, nonstreaming media artifact”), tendency (“heterosexual, nonathletic, nonautomotive, nonreligious”) and probability (“life span estimated at 83”). And that profile is available for perusal by employers, friends and even strangers in bars.
It’s a fictional forecast of a data-deterministic culture in which computer algorithms constantly analyze consumers’ profiles, issuing individuals numeric rankings that may benefit or hinder them.
Observing a street billboard that publicly broadcasts the score of each passer-by, the Abramov character says in the novel, “The old Chinese woman had a decent 1,400, but others, the young Latina mothers, even a profligate teenaged Hasid puffing down the street, were showing blinking red scores below 900, and I worried for them.”
In two nonfiction books, scheduled to be published in January, technology experts examine similar consumer-ranking techniques already in widespread use.
… if you’re not careful, modelling has a nasty way of enshrining prejudice with a veneer of “science” and “math.”Cathy has consistently made another point that’s a corollary of her argument about enshrining prejudice. At O’Reilly, we talk a lot about open data. But it’s not just the data that has to be open: it’s also the models. (There are too many must-read articles on Cathy’s blog to link to; you’ll have to find the rest on your own.)
You can have all the crime data you want, all the real estate data you want, all the student performance data you want, all the medical data you want, but if you don’t know what models are being used to generate results, you don’t have much.
HELSINKI, Finland — If there’s something you’d like to know about Helsinki, someone in the city administration most likely has the answer. For more than a century, this city has funded its own statistics bureaus to keep data on the population, businesses, building permits, and most other things you can think of. Today, that information is stored and freely available on the internet by an appropriately named agency, City of Helsinki Urban Facts.
There’s a potential problem, though. Helsinki may be Finland’s capital and largest city, with 620,000 people. But it’s only one of more than a dozen municipalities in a metropolitan area of almost 1.5 million. So in terms of urban data, if you’re only looking at Helsinki, you’re missing out on more than half of the picture.
Helsinki and three of its neighboring cities are now banding together to solve that problem. Through an entity called Helsinki Region Infoshare, they are bringing together their data so that a fuller picture of the metro area can come into view.
That’s not all. At the same time these datasets are going regional, they’re also going “open.” Helsinki Region Infoshare publishes all of its data in formats that make it easy for software developers, researchers, journalists and others to analyze, combine or turn into web-based or mobile applications that citizens may find useful.