Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/05/2018 - 5:11am in


information, News

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Philosopher to Chair Board Advising UK Parliament Commission on Technology Ethics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/04/2018 - 1:38am in

Member of Parliament Darren Jones has announced the creation of a Parliamentary Commission on Technology Ethics run by him and fellow MP Lee Rowley. The Commission will work with an advisory board chaired by Luciano Floridi, Oll’s Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at Oxford University.

Recent events, Jones says, such as the Facebook – Cambridge Analytica scandal, have “shone a light onto a quickly developing and powerful marketplace: a wild west with no property ownership, and a lack of regulated boundaries.” The pace of technological innovation has outstripped the government’s ability to make sure it is respectful of people’s privacy and rights, and its sophistication makes it difficult for people to understand. Public input and regulation is needed, he says, “but for that to be done properly, our institutions, our legislators and the public need to understand what the hell is going on, and how it all works.”

Floridi, who has written extensively about information technology and ethics, has worked as an ethicist for Google and serves in many public capacities advising on these matters, including as chair of the Advisory Board of the European Data Protection Supervisor’s 2018 International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, Co-chair of the Ethics in Data Science Working Group in the British Cabinet Office, and Co-author of the UNESCO Code of Ethics for the Information Society. You can learn more about him here.

In a tweet announcing his appointment to chair of the new commission’s advisory board, Floridi says: “There is so much good work to be done. I look forward to it.”

The post Philosopher to Chair Board Advising UK Parliament Commission on Technology Ethics appeared first on Daily Nous.

Our countries need us.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/02/2018 - 10:05pm in

Humanity is at a high point. What our ancestors dreamed of is slowly becoming a reality: a world without hunger in which the vast majority of mankind live peaceful and long lives. We are not there yet, but in Europe, East Asia, Latin America, and even in Africa (our cradle), mankind is emerging from dark times. People live longer, healthier, happier, and more educated lives. Paid for and organised by countries, helped by international flows of people and information.

And yet, our countries are under threat from a disconnect between the elites and the population of individual countries.

The elites are having a great time. They can live almost anywhere they want; they have access to all the food and living space they could wish for; and their children are assured a fantastic education and long lives, aided by all the ingenious inventions of our best minds. They have multiple passports and speak multiple languages, choosing where to live, love, work and die.

This luxury has come with the temptation to abandon their role as the protectors of the institutions and cultures of their countries. Many of them feel constrained by countries, part of a world elite that runs countries and manipulates countries, but is not part of them.

So they live fluid lives, avoiding the duties that countries put on them but enjoying their hospitality and privileges. They and their companies avoid taxes. They trade on internet platforms that evade the scrutiny and regulations of nation-states, which they often re-write. They complain about the stupidity of the populations and how everyone should be like the elites. They are eroding the strength of the countries that gave rise to them.

I too am part of this group, currently living in my fourth country, welcome wherever I go. I am not a billionaire or a famous actor, but part of the academic establishment, the high priesthood of our time. We come and go as we please, enjoying the best of life, working on what we want, and dreaming of even greater powers.

My kind dreams of the world empire in which we are either the emperor or at least important members of his court. This includes the climate scientists who dream of directing the resources and energy uses of the planet. It includes the AI people who dream of a world run by hybrid entities that they create. It includes the economists who dream of transnational structures that they regulate. It includes the lawyers who dream of an international legal order. It includes the businessmen who dream of a world without government.

I too dream of a world governance system that maximises the well-being of the world, for the benefit of the living and the generations to come.

Yet, I say to myself and to you that there will be no world empire and that your country needs you. Yes, your country. You can probably choose which country you want to belong to, but your chosen country still needs you.

Your country needs your help in figuring out how to maintain a tax base so that the next generation too can enjoy a good education, a beautiful local environment, a humane law, and good health. That for instance requires you to figure out how those countries can get tax out of the internet.

Your country’s less able need you to protect their history and their self-image from the attacks to their self-esteem. That requires you to write a history that does not divide the country into victims and perpetrators but that allows everyone some dignity in the story of who they are, including a dignified self-image of who their ancestors were. So help those who are now told that they and their ancestors have always been b*stards, and that all their cultural habits are evil but those of others are not. Do not add to their belittlement by talking down to them, but help them.

Muster some sympathy for the civil servants in your country and the structures around them. They are under threat from within and without. You may not like them and sincerely think they are all useless, but you can’t have a country without a functioning and thinking civil service so help them. There is no police, no universal education, no law, no defence, or even any wealth without them. Make them better and smarter. Their enemies are your enemies, so help them win.

Have a pity for those without a yacht and without a private jet who currently look up in envy at all the images of how the elites live, afflicted by the lie that they too can reach the top as long as they tow the line and obey us. Help figure out how your country and your culture can reduce the reliance on jealousy and feelings of inadequacy to motivate the new generation of workers. Do not tell them to look up to you, but help them feel adequate and valued next to you.

Spare a thought for the criminals, the drug addicted, the ignorant, the homeless, and the miserable in your country. For we now know that you can organise countries such that you have very few of these, so do not condemn them as evil beings that need to be eradicated and hidden. They are produced, not born, so help your country figure out how to stop producing them. Think of them as real humans, even if they disgust you.

In short, please do not abandon your country by evading its demands or by despising the culture of large groups in your country. You may dream of being the world emperor: that is normal. But you are needed by your country. It needs your energy, your talents, your tolerance, and your sympathy.

How to tax the platform economy?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/02/2018 - 10:35pm in

In the engine room of nation states, ie the tax departments, the coming battle with platform providers is taking shape. Uber, airbnb, facebook, linkedin, ebay, jobseek, and a myriad of specialised platform providers facilitate micro-trades that are largely untaxed by the authorities. In stead, the platform providers themselves take a cut, partially via advertising and partially via a direct fee for their services. They have taken over an activity that has mainly been provided by governments in the past: places to trade. The town square, the stock exchange, public infrastructure, and the unemployment office are relics of a past where governments were market providers that facilitated trades. Now, it is largely private companies with tax-avoidance structures that have taken on this role on the internet. That role is set to expand hugely.

This is a crucial battle that, so far, the tax authorities are losing because they have not yet grasped the magnitude of the shift. They lack the key new power that they must attain: the power to deny the operation of a platform provider in their country.

At the moment, tax authorities around the world, lead by the Scandinavians whose tax needs are high, are going the usual ‘reporting route’. They are trying to get Uber, Airbnb, and all the other ones to report the trades and the value of the trades that they have facilitated. Understandably, these companies are refusing to play ball because they of course are taxing the same trades themselves in a different way. They are competing with national tax authorities and hence their business model depends on tax evasion, so of course they refuse to help their competitors. Their lawyers make millions from refusing to play ball. The horror example for these companies is the 2015 data on Uber that had to be released to the Dutch tax authorities and that was subsequently shared with Denmark which promptly went after the drivers for added tax payments. This reflected the circumstance that the administration of Uber was in the Netherlands at that time, which allowed the Dutch to force Uber to hand over some of their data, a mistake Uber wont make again. The others too will have learned a salutary lesson from that episode.

Frustrated, the tax authorities are turning to pretty hopeless measures, such as new international treaties on the reporting of micro-trades by private entities. In a race to the bottom between countries trying to attract large companies, that is just a hopeless avenue where the authorities will always be many steps behind the tax-advisers of the big trading platforms.

What are the next moves we might then see when the tax authorities get up to speed? I think two developments are likely: full internet observation by national agencies and government-lead internet firms.

Full internet observation follows the model of China, which now has the capacity to track most of the internet activity of most of the population. That allows it to observe the trades facilitated on internet platforms, which in turn can be used for tax purposes. Those observations can be used to directly go after individual traders or can be used to go after the platform providers, simply by making their activities illegal if the platforms do not assist in tax observations. Adopting the China route would spell the end of internet privacy, but it probably works. And tax is such a key part of the nation state that it in the end trumps privacy concerns.

The second possibility is for the government to re-enter the market for platforms and set up its own internet firms for micro-trades and social media. It can simply copy the best examples on the internet for how to set these things up. Again, China shows the way with Alibaba competing with Amazon for trading platform business. In a settled market, the transition to new government platforms will come with losses, but authorities can appeal to national pride to get support from their populations and companies cannot compete with that. For micro-trades within a country or tax region (the US and, in the future, the EU) that should work. For international trades, one should expect more difficulties because government-backed firms from different countries might then directly compete with each other, which in turn might lead to competency battles and new dispute resolution mechanisms.

The poverty of voting

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 21/01/2018 - 11:58pm in

A post by John Burnheim.

About ten months ago, John Burnheim wrote to me in terms I’ve reproduced on this blog previously. John was one of the early movers in academia exploring the limitations of electoral democracy with his book Is Democracy Possible published in 1985 and then decades later with his book last year The Demarchy Manifesto. After a long academic career, he’s still gnawing on the bone of how we might make democracy work better in the modern world. And after many quite lengthy exchanges with me by email, he’s writing posts for us here at Troppo. Here’s his first post. There will be more to come:

The poverty of voting

Votes carry very little information, but often give form and content to power. It is sometimes seen as virtue of voting that it hides the motives and understandings that motivate a person to vote in a certain way. From this point of view, a vote is a piece of power. A system of voting determines how many of those pieces of power constitute a valid power that overriding all the other votes and binds the other voters to accept that decision. A constitution determines what matters are being decided by voting and who is entitled to vote.

The voter is thus completely free to vote as she likes, answerable to nobody, in a fully secret ballot. Even In the case of a public ballot, the voter is not required to offer any justification for how she votes. The vote is valid no matter what her motives. If others are entitled to criticise or retaliate; it is because of other undertakings or relationships. The secret ballot is pure liberty, an exercise of power answerable only to one’s own conscience. Advocates of the secret ballot often assume that the voters have a soundly based conscience on the matters on which they may vote and that he danger to be avoided is that others will try to intimidate them into voting against their better judgement. Advocates of public voting often see voters as inclined to vote privately for reasons they cannot defend.

Whatever the weight of such considerations, most systems of voting invalidate votes that are blatantly bribed. Obviously, where to draw the line between what is an agreement to cooperate with other voters or a justifiable tactical move in a wider context and what is simply advantaging oneself at the expense of the common good is often difficult and to some extent arbitrary. But the principle is clear: any authority that the result of a vote can claim rests on its being a distillation of the genuine opinions of the voters about what the collective that accepts that authority should do. Voters are no entitled to use their power for other purposes.

On the other hand, it is asking too much of voters to expect that each of them would have considered every factor that is relevant to a sound collective decision in most circumstances. The tacit expectation in most voting is that most voters will be inclined to vote for or against any proposal by weighing up the benefits they or others about whom they are particularly concerned would on balance be affected by its implementation.

One clear deficiency in such an assumption is that a majority may vote on a particular proposal for a variety of relatively small balances of advantage or disadvantage to them, outvoting a minority for which much more important consequences are at stake. The effect of voting is that it invites voters to treat public goods as if they were private goods, each voter paying attention only to their own costs and benefits. A great deal of libertarian thinking welcomes this consequence, believing that nothing should count as a public good unless it is beneficial to the majority of citizens.

In fact, many goods that are financed by public funds and available freely to any citizen are vitally important to some minority who cannot otherwise provide themselves with them. Obvious examples are many public access facilities for disabled people or observatories for astronomers, playing fields for some sports and so on. In fact, a host of such public goods can make a crucial contribution to our identities if we pride ourselves on the collective achievement of a network of facilities that greatly expand the opportunities our community offers all its citizens. In this perspective, an important advantage that must be credited to any public good is the contribution it makes to the sort of collective achievement we value and with which we wish to be associated.

An intrinsic characteristic of voting is that it divides voters into winners and losers whenever it falls short of unanimity. Such division is exacerbated when it is exploited by the ideologies of political parties competing for a term in government responsible for choosing, regulating and funding by taxation the whole spectrum of constructed public goods. In the electoral process, each party is constrained to define its program by playing up the features that appeal to the section of the electorate that benefit them and vilifying their opponents’ proposals. Politics becomes a scramble to decide “who gets what”. So, public goods are demoted to the status of the spoils of conflict.

The saving grace of this adversarial system is that it makes it possible for the voters to change the government in a genuinely competitive election. That is an important constraint on extremism and ensures that in the long run governments are responsible to the voters. There are increasingly many “singing voters” who will be attracted by less partisan policies. Governments, realising that many voters no longer accept that their being forced to choose between bundles of policies does not show that they support all those items, increasingly accept that they should consult public opinion before acting in controversial matters. So, they spend billions on reports that tell them what to do, while opinion polls tell them how much they can get away with.

In this situation, what seems to be required is a completely independent and open forum that would discuss particular problems and what could be done to solve or ameliorate each of them. The politicians would be faced with a discussion that had a claim to represent public opinion. Perhaps then they might find themselves competing with their opponents by claiming to be best suited to implementing what public opinion wants.

I hope to discuss in a later blog how such a forum might operate. It would, I believe, be best suited to questions which are not matters of what the electorate would like to see done, but of matters where the public needs to get right what needs to be done to avoid impending dangers. Other questions may call for other approaches.

Back Issues No Longer Available

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 14/01/2018 - 1:29pm in

We’ve had several people contact us recently asking about back issues of Whotopia and which issues are, and aren’t, available. Just to remind everyone, Issues 1-28 plus the 2008 Spring Special and the 2013 Summer Special are all out of print and no longer available to download.

However, Issues 29 to present are still available to download.

We don’t have any plans to make those out of print issues available.