NYTimes “Tees Up” A Discussion of Winner’s “Frankenstein’s Problem”

I always enjoy my class discussions around Langdon Winner’s “Frankenstein’s Problem: Autonomous Technology,” but I so rarely see a precise analog in the public press. But todays Facebook’s Frankenstein Moment [pdf] is a great example for a technology and policy cohort. Unfortunately, the article perpetuates the damaging perception that engineers are only stewards of technological instruments, rather than actors with broader considerations, and it saves the most important word/salient concept for its last paragraph.

If I were a Facebook executive, I might feel a Frankensteinian sense of unease these days. The company has been hit with a series of scandals that have bruised its image, enraged its critics and opened up the possibility that in its quest for global dominance, Facebook may have created something it can’t fully control.

[…] Now that Facebook is aware of its own influence, the company can’t dodge responsibility for the world it has helped to build. In the future, blaming the monster won’t be enough.

Update: Some related articles:

“Patent Exhaustion” Sustained

From Supreme Court Rules Patent Laws Can’t Be Used to Prevent Reselling regarding Impression Products, Inc. v. Lexmark Int’l, Inc. [local pdf]

The Supreme Court on Tuesday placed sharp limits on how much control patent holders have over how their products are used after they are sold.

The case concerned Lexmark International, which makes toner cartridges for use in its printers. The court ruled that the company could not use patent law to stop companies from refilling and selling the cartridges.

The fine point that Justice Ginsburg places on the ruling (dissenting on the notion of US patent exhaustion with respect to foreign sales, where she elects to distinguish the applicability of copyright and patent regimes in the case of exhaustion) is worth noting:

[…] I dissent, however, from the Court’s holding on international exhaustion. A foreign sale, I would hold, does not exhaust a U. S. inventor’s U. S. patent rights.

Patent law is territorial. When an inventor receives a U. S. patent, that patent provides no protection abroad….

Because a sale abroad operates independently of the U. S. patent system, it makes little sense to say that such a sale exhausts an inventor’s U. S. patent rights. U. S. patent protection accompanies none of a U. S. patentee’s sales abroad—a competitor could sell the same patented product abroad with no U. S.-patent-law consequence. Accordingly, the foreign sale should not diminish the protections of U. S. law in the United States.

Fake News

The NYTimes has decided to run with the issues of “fake news” — the generation of clickbait articles grounded in the principles of urban legends, turbocharged by the combination of heightened political fervor and digital interconnectedness.  Both stories are sobering and troubling: How Fake News Goes Viral: A Case Study, and  This Pizzeria Is Not a Child-Trafficking Site.

The emphasis of these articles, as well as much of the online discussion that I have seen, is on the “fake” part; but it seems to me that what we really are struggling with is the “news” part — as in, what *is* “news” anymore?

Is this not the (re-) discovery of the idea that news is more than the distribution platform, but something grounded in the assumption of editorial (and institutional) vetting?  And are we not in the midst of a differential understanding of this distinction — again?  (As in the old joke, “if it’s in a book, it must be true?”)

More importantly, we’re gertting some important examples of what it means when we talk of the role of technologists in the framing and exploitation of their creations — particularly when the interests of those deploying them are best promoted by downplaying (or even disguising) the broader consequences of their use.  (I can’t be the only one flashing back to “Casablanca” when Mark Zuckerberg is `shocked, shocked’ that there’s fake news going on here, am I?)

Certainly it’s led me to an even more scrupulous consideration of what I use something like Facebook for — and “news” is not something I ever want to be relying on Facebook or its ilk to supply.

Archives Reloaded

Well, got the archival posts from the base WordPress site back into the system.  And I moved over the PDF/image archive directories, so at least some of the old links will have PDF equivalents that work.

It looks like some of this is OK; but I expect that there will be seams (e.g., the old Salon links to things like Tom the Dancing Bug cartoons are no longer valid).  But, I’ll keep plugging away, but the goal will be to move forward.

Flease feel free to ping me if a link doesn’t work, and I’ll see what I can do.