Smart, smarter, intelligent technology, issues to be addressed by society

An example, reflections after looking at a publicity from Toyota

 Toyota is running an advertising in the US for one of its new cars. The publicity shows the Toyota car driving behind a camping car, and performing an automatic emergency braking procedure when the camping car in front suddenly brakes for a deer crossing the road.

Disclaimer: The text hereafter gives some reflections after looking at this publicity, that, probably unexpectedly and unintentionally, is also suitable for use as an illustration of some societal issues. The quality and characteristics of the specific brand and car are not questioned and are not the subject of the discussion.

One could question whether this publicity is advocating responsible driving, or rather ‘sporty’ and less responsible driving.

But more fundamentally, why is there the camping car in the publicity?
Well, the presence of the camping car may be hiding the real issues to be addressed by society:

  • a technical question:    would the automatic braking system be able to brake for a deer?
  • an ethical question:        should the automatic braking system brake for a deer?


Societal aspects

Answering these two questions is central to ‘assisted driving’ and ‘autonomous driving’. And, in fact, many similar technical and ethical issues in other, related or even seemingly unrelated applications of smart technology, including in the medical domain.

The technical question is more complex than often realised; it requires, at least:

  • complete knowledge of the working of the algorithms used (there are e.g. face recognition algorithms in use not understood by providers of products and/or services applying them . . . )
  • sufficient testing of the systems in a sufficient set of representative situations
  • failure risk assessment
  • maintenance and upgrade management

The ethical question may be the more difficult; it requires, at least:

  • complete knowledge of the situation:
    • can the car be stopped in time / within the distance given?
    • can an emergency brake procedure be executed without risks for persons seated in the car, for following cars, etc.?
    • can other vehicles be warned and/or consulted?
  • If not, what compromises are possible and what are the consequences?
    • Is there enough time to consult cloud based applications advising on the impact as a function of all relevant parameters, including the size and estimated weight of the deer?

An agreed guidance for taking decisions, understood by other road users

Legal versus Societal aspects

In many discussions the legal aspects are put on the foreground. It could be argued that the legal issues are important, but possibly are less complex and less fundamental than is often presented, and that the perceived legal issues overshadow the societal issues.
On the legal aspects

  • an autonomous driving vehicle could be considered equivalent to a car equipped with an automatic parking function: the automatic parking function may create damage or injure a person ‘on behalf of the user’
  • the user may hold the owner or service provider (rent, lease) of the car liable, the owner may hold the manufacturer of the car or its representative, or the maintenance service provider liable.

In this respect, additional legislation may be useful, but may be not strictly required immediately, while ground-breaking cases will establish case law, interpretation of the existing laws and give possibly rise to additional laws.
Beyond ‘break-glass’: stopping an autonomous vehicle

In the medical domain the need for an overriding emergency function has been recognised, it is often referred to as a ‘break-glass’ function. The use of the ‘break-glass’ function is assumed to be reserved for use by medical and para-medical personnel, or at least persons with sufficient knowledge and training to be able to use it.

Whereas such as function is certainly necessary, it may not be sufficient: e.g. in case of a life-saving implant such as a cardiac stimulator, the ‘break-glass’ function may be too binary in nature, and needs to be protected against misuse, so there is a need for a more complete ‘Protected Emergency Function’.


Industrial applications likely require the equivalent of a ‘Protected Emergency Function’ (PEF):

  • simply stopping a process may not be practical, safe, or may even cause dangerous situations (e.g. stopping a steel oven, a chemical process or nuclear power plant may not be a great idea), likely one or more a graceful interruption and arresting processes will be required
  • the access to the PEF needs to be accessible in emergency situations as well as sufficiently protected against misuse, abuse, terrorism


Autonomous and assisted driving vehicles will need more than that:

  • in addition to a ‘Protected Emergency Function’ (PEF), they need a ‘Policing Response Function’ with very clear rules and protection/security
  • a ‘Protected Emergency Function’ and a ‘break-glass’ function need to be protected, but as the same time in emergency situation accessible to . . . anyone able to help prevent or contain dangers; this may require a 100% reliable, fool-proof, hacking proof system to provide, in real time, modular ‘emergency keys’ to allow local interventions to be made, in addition to remote interventions (that, it may be assumed ‘according to Murphy’, that this will not work when really needed; maybe Machiavelli could have given us advice . . . )

New entry on this blog

With this new entry on this blog, I will try to make from time to time a contribution.

Today, a first contribution

Smart, smarter, intelligent technology, issues to be addressed by society

Then, in coming weeks will follow a series of contributions on

Reflections on Democracy and the media

  • Effects of news from international operating media
  • How good are the new media, in particular the social networks / media
  • Social networks / media and junk news

Hope you will enjoy reading, and more importantly, find some interesting stimuli for further thoughts.




Democracy in a complex digital world

Jacques Bus, Digital Enlightenment Forum

In “The Open Society and its Enemies” Popper[1] states that the change of the closed (tribal) society into the open society can be described as one of the more far reaching revolutions of human kind. It started with the change towards agricultural settlement and development of fenced villages, castles, and walled cities (security by perimeters); followed by the industrial revolution and strong urbanization which led to open urban environments and distributed physical security; now we are making another large step forward towards global interaction, open worldwide trade, global communication and data sharing, and with it open data, open innovation and the need for a new generation of cyber security at local and global levels.

However, is this a transition process with a steady-state ending or an ongoing search for balance between on one side the individual with its need for privacy and freedom, and on the other side the societal limits that enable these individuals living together? Is the struggle of individuals to live in closed protected communities gone with globalization? The contrary might be true seeing the fierce opposition of large groups in society against immigration, flaring up of racism and discrimination against other cultures, as well as emergence and fast growth of populist parties with slogans like “My people first and above all else”.  Continue reading

The emergence of the IoT: challenges


  1. The data analytics challenge; given the volume and the real-time nature of the data coming from IoT artefacts there is a need for distributed (and often real-time) analytics. Need for infrastructures to enable such analytics supporting access control and data integration.
  2. The tangibility challenge: IoT produce and can report data. You cannot own data but you can own things. When you own things you may wish to be in control of who your things report to.
  3. The ownership challenge: There is a range of business models on IoT data. On one end of the range a corporation can own the things that you have in your property, their data are reported to the company and the company, in turn, provides you with analytics; on the other end of the range you own the things in your property and provide third parties with access to them based on an agreed price or value. Some IoT artefacts could be public goods.
  4. The networking challenge: The debate on net neutrality needs to be had in a context that includes IoT.
  5. The privacy challenge. Debate in progress. Privacy breaches could be possible due to IoT data sharing but they could also prevented or at least detected at an early stage through the same means.
  6. The cyber-security challenge. Debate in progress. How many parties do we want to be in control of access to IoT data? Could de-centralisation be an answer?
  7. The “what things may come” challenge. We cannot take for granted that IoT artefacts will be only existing things extended with internet connectivity, sensors and actuators. Humans could create things that we cannot currently envisage. Developments in 3D printing could further support that. Maybe we will end up with more things that we like and face ‘things’ pollution.
  8. The ethical challenge; the “what things may come” challenge makes stronger the case for ethical frameworks in world of things that have their own idiosyncrasy

Towards addressing those challenges

Addressing those challenges cannot be without engagement of people. Digital literacy, data literacy and what it means to have Things on the Web, who can benefit from them and how involves people. The debate on policy for IoT needs to be bottom-up, informed by people who understand and are in control of their IoT data. The same bottom-up approach holds the potential for innovation in the emergent IoT world.

Will experts survive the digital revolution?

This post  was originally posted on LinkedIn Pulse (

In my LinkedIn profile, I define myself as an “expert”.  Not very original, isn’t it? Indeed, other 855.522 LinkedIn  users define themselves as experts. The world is definitely crowded by experts. What is an expert?

The dictionary reads that an expert is a person wise through experience.   The English word “expert” comes from Latin expertus, the past participle of the verb experiri, which means, “to try in different ways”, in order to overcome a challenge. Ancient Greeks used a similar word, empeiros, which ultimately derived from the verb peirao (to attempt).  Both Latin and Greek terms are likely to originate from an oldest Indo-European root *pe(i)r, which expressed the idea of “beyond”. In Latin, this root gave also origin to periculus (peril), pereo (to pass away), partus (that gives birth to, childbirth), porta (that takes beyond, i.e., gate, door), peritus (skillful), pirata (someone who trespasses the bulwark of a ship, i.e., a pirate). In Ancient Greek, the root *pe(i)r  generated  the verb peirao (to attempt to go beyond a problem, and thus, simply “to attempt”), and the verbpeiro (to pierce through, to spit).  In turn, peiro generated the nouns peran(across) and peras (end, extremity), which, by adding the privative pre-fix “a”, became a-poria (without passage, i.e, uncertainty) and a-peiron (without a beyond, i.e., infinite).

The idea of experience has thus to do with the spectrum of meanings related to the idea of “beyond”. In other words, the expert is someone who deals with a “beyond”. There are two types of “beyond”. There are big “Beyond”, written in capital letters, such as Nation, Offspring, Afterlife, Future, Progress, Humanity, or even Socialism (I must confess that I’m a bit suspicious of them). Then, there are “beyond” written in small letters: beyond my problems, beyond our pleasure,beyond that incomprehension, beyond your reproach, and so.  Big and small “beyond” are more essential to us than the air that we breathe, because they allow overcoming a present state of affairs.  They create horizons – small or big horizons – but always horizons.  Each horizon is indeed the joint between a “within” and a “beyond”. As the two faced Janus, the horizon looks both backward and forward. When it looks backward, it tells where you are, and, by using the horizon as a reference, you could locate yourself. When it looks forward, the horizon allows you to dream – sometimes to fear – of the unknown.  If the skyline were a complete conclusion, we would be walled up alive in our grave. If the horizon were unconditionally open, there would be only an infinite, endless, “here and now”. Human beings cannot put up both with the nothingness of complete conclusion, and with the infinite of unconditional openness.  The horizon is ultimately their sole possibility.  In fact, when the horizon comes unstuck, when “within” and “beyond” disarticulate themselves –  i.e., when the time is out of joint – nonsense infiltrates their life. Continue reading

a more global view of data

I recently published a post on the Society and Space site, suggesting that it’s time for researchers to consider and debate in much greater detail the kinds of data that we can use, and how much they can tell us about the world. ‘Big data’ research is the subject of all kinds of claims (it can solve poverty, save the rhino, prevent tooth decay…), and therefore there are potential advantages to labelling our work that way in terms of getting funding and attention. So it’s up to us to be as clear as possible about what we can’t say about the world using the new data sources. Here’s how it began:

The social sciences are engaged in a trans-disciplinary debate on the meaning and use of new forms of digital data. One of the most important repercussions from Dalton and Thatcher’s call (2014) for a critical data studies has been an awareness that researchers need to continually sensitise themselves to the contextualities of data’s production and use (Kitchin 2014, Graham and Shelton 2013, Nissenbaum 2010). This short essay responds to this ongoing debate, laying out the case for such an awareness and asking how we might better operationalise it in data studies. If researchers working with the new data sources – and geographers in particular – can learn to think across contexts in a more inclusive way, it may take us further toward realising big data’s promise as a tool for social scientific research.

You can read the rest here

DEF 2015: The implications of the Code as Law

Ajit Jaokar was a speaker at the Digital Enlightenment forum 2015 (DEF2015). A blog of him focuses on a specific talk from DEF 2015: Legal questions in the digital world by TJ McIntyre – UCD and Digital rights Ireland. The event talks and presentations can be found HERE.

The discussion related to the loss of Utopian ideals on which the Internet has been founded – specifically in the legally murky world of ‘Code as law’ – which encapsulates legal enforcement in the form of Code. “Code as law” also creates a new (often reluctant) law enforcer in the form of ICT companies.  This issue is thus a key part of Internet Governance today. Ajit’s views on this talk can be found at the EIF News.