Category: Technology (page 1 of 10)

The past, present, and possible future of software architecture

Fungus

It is important to understand the ways in which software may be conjured into the world for the simple reason that software and information technologies more generally have immense social and economic impact. The genesis of such process has been called software architecture, and there have been various attempts over the years to define the term and corresponding activities precisely, specifically in relation to the elements, forms, rationale, and constraints involved (“What Is Your Definition of Software Architecture?,” 2017).

A well-defined understanding of software architecture is critical to its practice and perhaps the word choice alone has helped sustain a certain nature of software architectural practice akin to that undertaken for buildings. The definitional approach taken by Perry and Wolf (1992) is typical of the traditional genre, drawing parallels with the precursors of hardware and network architecture, and their forerunner, the architecture of the built environment.

Samuel Butler (1912) observed:

Analogy points in this direction, and though analogy is often misleading, it is the least misleading thing we have.

To what degree are we misled by the architectural analogy? And might we find a better analogy, that is one that’s less misleading?

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Towards a shared understanding of ‘digital identity’ — reflecting on conversations with Doc Searls and Drummond Reed

water ripples

First published to the generative identity website.


No two people can share an exact understanding of anything deep and meaningful simply because we each have different contexts. Conversation relies upon and can never wholly substitute for context. Nevertheless, we can work to grow a shared understanding through conversation, and the relationship between conversationalists evolves in the process.

The relationship is immanent in such informational exchange[1].

On one level, the opening paragraph here pertains to this being a blog post about conversations I’ve valued in recent months. But there’s another level given that ‘digital identity’ is our subject. Identity, in what you might call the natural and non-bureaucratic sense, is reciprocally defining and co-constitutive with relationships and information exchange[2].

Identities are immanent in the relationships immanent in information exchange.

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The Number 1 Challenge for Humanity – Cooperating at Scale (part 2 of 2)

green plant

First published to the AKASHA Foundation blog.


In the first of this two-part blog post I described why cooperating-at-scale is humanity's primary challenge. Here I outline some candidate concepts and pre-architectural principles to inform the necessary and sufficient 'sociotechnological primitives'.

First I'd like to qualify pre-architectural. It's not oxymoronic despite arche meaning origin or beginning. Both physical and software architecture originate structure and structural relationships, and we're not yet at the stage to prescribe such things. Structure is ossified pattern and our purpose at this early stage demands instead that we offer just a little structure to open up the space to explore and nurture multiple patterns in preparation for the emergence of multiple structural forms. If pre-architectural doesn't do it for you, then perhaps think of it as a parsimony of design.

A means to our purpose is the encouragement of multi-disciplinary cooperation towards ever-improving multi-disciplinary cooperation. At scale.

Nuclear physicists refer to the smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction as the critical mass. No-one can know the variety or volume or patterns or structures of the methods, materials and mindsets required to constitute a critical mass for cooperation-at-scale, but perhaps your spidey senses are similar to our own ... maybe, just maybe, assembling such critical mass is a possibility nearer, rather than further away.

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The Number 1 Challenge for Humanity – Cooperating at Scale (part 1 of 2)

First published to the AKASHA Foundation blog.


Despite the over-emphasis of competition in Darwin's theory of evolution, the great man himself sensed the importance of cooperation.

I should premise that I use the term Struggle for Existence in a large and metaphorical sense, including dependence of one being on another ...

[On the Origin of Species, Darwin, 1859]

Modern day scientists know that any investment of resources by individuals — of the same species or different — in acts of cooperation could in fact make those individuals vulnerable to non-cooperators, and yet cooperating proves to be a continuing strength rather than a weakness. We see cooperation everywhere we look.

[We have] a new view of continual cooperation, strong interaction, and mutual dependence among life forms. Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking.

[Microcosmos, Margulis & Sagan, 1997]

Cooperation confers an irrefutable advantage and we're still grappling with understanding the qualities of the mechanisms that make this the case.

Human beings are brilliant same-species cooperators — hence our parasitic success — and yet a quick scan of typical news headlines would suggest quite the opposite. Without dwelling too deeply on international relations or indeed media theory, the reported character of interactions between the likes of the United States and China and Russia and India and Europe might be said to be more fractious than cooperative. And national news headlines compound the gloom.

Why?

Why can't we just work together for mutual advantage on our little blue marble? As co-pilots of Spaceship Earth?

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Webinar on identity, interpersonal data and collective minds for SSI Meetup

boy with painted face

I was delighted to accept an invitation from Alex Preukschat to host a webinar earlier this week on the topic of digital identity for SSImeetup.org. My presentation is based on the reciprocally-defining, inseparable conceptions of identity, relationships, and personal data — or interpersonal data as I like to call it after my AKASHA colleague Mihai Alisie unjumbled my previous garbled attempts to make a distinction.

The presentation can be downloaded as a PDF here, and can be viewed as a Slideshare and video below. Please get in touch if you want to discuss any facet, over a cup of the good stuff if you find yourself London way.

 


Photo by Sharon McCutcheon.

Why decentralization needs more than cryptonetworks – the Internetome

Aldous Huxley (1937) regarded the decentralization of industry and government necessary for a better society. Norbert Wiener’s insights (1950) into the dynamics and ethics of humans and large computer systems hinted at the advantages. Marshall McLuhan (1962) anticipated a shift from the centralized mechanical age to the decentralized electronic age, coining the term global village as shorthand for such a welcome outcome. E.F. Schumacher (1973) considered decentralization allied with freedom and one of “the truths revealed by nature’s living processes”. Steven Levy’s hacker ethic (1984) includes the tenet “mistrust authority – promote decentralization”. And Nicholas Negroponte (1995) regards decentralization as one of the four cardinal virtues of the information society (alongside globalization, harmonization and empowerment).

When centralization is mediated by an organization, governmental or corporate, its best interests must be aligned perfectly and continuously with the parties subject to its gravity in the mediating context – otherwise decentralization must be preferred to avoid the appropriation and erosion of those parties' valuable agency. Importantly, decentralization demands decentralization at every level without exception for any exception would be centralization. By definition.

This post aims to scope the challenge that still lies ahead to secure decentralization even with the rise and rise of cryptonetworks such as Ethereum. For more information about decentralization in general and why it's important, see Decentralization – a deep cause of causes you care about deeply, written for the World Wide Web Foundation.

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Value flows when data flows meaningfully through sociotechnical networks – in search of the ideal data architecture

Competitive advantage and profitable growth doesn’t come from scale anymore. The rate at which big players in any and all industries beach their supertanker is unprecedented.

Competitive advantage and profitable growth doesn’t come from efficiency anymore either. What’s the point of making unwanted product efficiently?

Competitive advantage and profitable growth comes from adaptability. Pure and simple. Adapt or die.

A 2011 article in the Harvard Business Review pronounced adaptability the new competitive advantage. It asks how your managers can pick up the right signals to understand and harness change when they’re overwhelmed with changing information. The conclusion – instead of being really good at doing some particular thing, companies must be really good at learning how to do new things.

As Peter Senge points out, organizations only learn through individuals who learn, perhaps aided by machine learning these days. And learning craves meaningful data.

Lack of data was the problem of the 20th Century, yet the opportunity and challenge of the 21st is having too much of the stuff. This is the landscape of digital transformation and, I believe, the very bedrock of the meaning of business: establishing and driving mutual value creation (PDF).

Value flows when data flows meaningfully through sociotechnical networks, and I've been on a mission to find out how to make this happen. Read more

The Digital Life Collective

The Digital Life Collective

An invitation to build our technology together
… tech we trust for the web we want.


 

Our motivation

Digital technologies are undermining our privacy, permitting mass state surveillance, enabling censorship, undermining journalism, and spreading fake news. It feels forbidding, uncertain, unsafe – more problem than solution, and far from the original vision for the Internet and Web.

And yet we’re optimistic that we can join together to fix it. The problem isn’t really the technologies we have to work with of course, but rather the way they’re crafted and who gets to do the crafting.

Our purpose

We’re forming the Digital Life Collective to combine our resources to research, design, develop and certify digital products and services to protect privacy, foster trust, and work towards a sustainable and equitable world. We aim to pool $20m p.a. to make this happen.

You're invited

Please join the Digital Life Collective, indeed be the Digital Life Collective. We need you. We can’t do this without each other.

Here's our 16-page stack with a bit more detail. [UPDATE 25th April 2017 – visit www.diglife.com]

If you love it, please join us.

If you sense the deep potential, please join us.

If you feel today's digital landscape is selling us all short, please join us.

If you're intrigued about making this happen as a co-operative, please join us.

Digital Life Collective – introductory stack

Next steps

There's a handful of us right now. We're talking to people who work in this space so that we become dozens or possibly hundreds of likeminds in the coming weeks.

We've been careful to scope the why? and qualify the what? ... but we've stopped short of detailing the what? until we've accrued greater collective intelligence ... by your joining us of course.


✿ We'll be plugging into all the riot.im goodness very soon.

UPDATE 15th June 2017 removing references to our Slack instance. We have since migrated to our own instance of Mattermost, and participation there is restricted to members of our co-operative.

The unfreedom of filter bubbles – let’s pop the bloody things

bubbles
We could see it coming. Sort of.

I wrote a post titled myChannel back in 2005, a time without smartphones, Facebook, Twitter and news aggregators like Flipboard. YouTube was 17 days off launching. Reviewing the tech landscape I concluded:

... mass personalisation has become a ‘qualifying’ rather than ‘winning’ criteria. The advantages to the user include choice (of the most apt personalisation), collation, and access in their own time and filtering. ...The user, the recipient of news and information, the listener, the viewer, the inter-actor, has been empowered to set the schedule. It’s what they want, when they want it and how they want it. They have one channel ... and they own it. It is myChannel.

Seems I got some part right. Two thirds of Facebook users and 59% of Twitter users in the US get their personalised news from the social network. Facebook counts a quarter of the world's population as users.

Seems I got some part wrong, to our collective misery. My post referenced user choice of personalisation service, which is of course absent under monopoly conditions. And alarmingly, my assumption that the individual would own their own channel was way off target.

The Internet and the Web have been radically centralized in the intervening years. The network effect has left many abdicating their choice of media, exposure to ideas, facility to corroborate stories, and the opportunity to debate different points of view, to algorithms written by distant employees of centralised and centralising services whose commercial motivations do not necessarily extend to ensuring you get anything other than the instant gratification that your current viewpoint is spot on. You are right. They are wrong. Empathy be damned.

We've seen this with Brexit and during the US election this year.

Since 2011, the effect has become known as a filter bubble – automated information separation that isolates each of us in own cultural or ideological bubbles.

The hi:project intends to help sort out this mess by re-establishing each and everyone of us back in the driving seat of our own lives. I like this metaphor because driving entails responsibilities as well as rights.


Image source: By Jeff Kubina, BY-SA 2.0

How and why I strive to maintain my privacy – a post in light of the Snooper’s Charter

GCHQ at Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

An aerial image of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
Photographer: GCHQ/Crown Copyright. CC BY-SA 2.0


Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.

Edward Snowden, 2015 (source)


I get asked now and then how to improve one's personal privacy, digitally speaking. It's unsurprising that such questions are directed my way given privacy is a core objective of the hi:project, and yet I seemed to have attracted more than the usual number of questions since my last post – Introducing Google Assistant, the Surveillance Interface.

You might want to stop commercial entities intruding – it's difficult to sum up in a sentence or two how egregious the state of commercial surveillance is today. You might want to help head off the realisation of a surveillance state if only because you've read somewhere that such things don't end well. You might simply want to have less data about your movements and purchases and media habits and general proclivities out there because it's not a case of if the corresponding databases are hacked but when.

Importantly, I write this post the very week the UK has passed the most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy. The so-called Snoopers' Charter is disgusting, distressing and, in good part, stupid. Read more