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Reading Notes


Notes on the selected reading for the quarter, Tools and Weapons: The Peril and Promise of the Digital Age by Brad Smith.

Table of contents
  1. Introduction - “The Cloud: The World’s Filing Cabinet”
  2. Chapter 1 - “Cybersecurity: A Moment of Reckoning”
  3. Chapter 2 - “Surveillance: A Three-Hour Fuse”
  4. Chapter 3 - “Technology and Public Safety: ‘I’d Rather Be a Loser Than a Liar’”
  5. Chapter 4 - “Privacy: A Fundamental Human Right”
  6. Chapter 7 - “Social Media: The Freedom That Drives Us Apart”
  7. Chapter 8 - “Digital Diplomacy: The Geopolitics of Technology”
  8. Chapter 9 - “Consumer Concerns: ‘The Guns Will Turn’”
  9. Chapter 12 - “AI and Ethics: Don’t Ask What Computers Can Do, Ask What They Should Do”
  10. Chapter 13 - “AI and Facial Recognition: Do Our Faces Deserve the Same Protection as OUr Phones?”
  11. Chapter 2, The Ethical Algorithm

Introduction - “The Cloud: The World’s Filing Cabinet”

  • The world runs on data; the development of civilization accelerated with writing, retrieval, documentation, storage.
  • Data is more than the oil of the twenty-first century.
  • The cloud is a fortress; data is pulled form a mammoth data center.
  • Columbia Data Center, owned by Microsoft - home to hundreds of thousands of server computers and millions of hard disks.
  • Your files reside in this data center.
  • Files are backed up to another set of buildings to ensure smooth connection and no loss of data, even in the case of natural disasters and other large phenomena.
  • A data center is never done.
  • Striking balance between public safety, individual convenience, personal privacy.
  • Can we control the world we are creating?
  • Any tool can be used for good or ill.
  • Reaching a critical inflection point for technology and society; the tech sector will need to change.

Chapter 1 - “Cybersecurity: A Moment of Reckoning”

  • The SVR, FSB, and the GRU emerged out of the splinters of the Communist Bloc and the KGB.
  • In Microsoft, obscure names from the periodic table are used to classify nation-state actors engaged in cyber activity.
  • The SVR is a cyberthreat for many customers and Microsoft itself.
    • Often penetrate privately owned computer networks.
  • Dozens of organizations and countries were impacted.
  • Demonstrating technology’s inherent strengths and weaknesses.
  • Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) - hunts new intrusions and cyberattacks.
  • An attack is both a successful espionage coup and an opportunity for the defender to prevent future attacks.
  • SolarWinds, FireEye, and Microsoft teams began working together.
  • Digital nature of software and the global reach of the internet swing in both directions.
    • The malware code was distributed globally; its fingerprint can be tracked.
  • 21st century coutnerparts to Sherlock Holmes.
  • Two cyberattack questions:
    • How did the attacker gain entry?
    • What network credentials did the attacker obtain?
  • Identified kill switch and preventted attackers from entering additional networks.
  • Relationship between companies and affected consumers - hoax.
  • Cyberthreats around the world have greatly intensified.
  • There is a danger a hammer will see everything as a nail. Multifactor authentication and toher cybersecurity best practices will likely eliminate any substantial loss of sensitive data.
  • Governments and tech companies must work together to secure the world’s digital infrastructure.
  • Why did everyone in 2020 miss the prolonged attack?
  • 9/11 Commission - the attack was a “shock but not a surprise”.
  • There existed no centralized capability to aggregate threat intelligence.
  • Much of the relevant threat intelligence is spread across companies and individual companies.
  • Nonuniform policy across the tech sector.
  • Disclosure of information with the public.
    • Accuracy and solidity of information.
  • Protection of technology supply chains and implications for economics an dpolitics.
  • The internet makes everyone each other’s neighbor.

Chapter 2 - “Surveillance: A Three-Hour Fuse”

  • Dominic Carr - public affairs and communications team.
  • PRISM - company’s annual gathering of sales leaders.
  • Guardian - preparing for publication of article rgarding PRISM, which was reported to be a voluntary, secret program of cooperation between several large US technology companies and the NSA.
  • Message requested a complex 9-point list of comment and imposed an unfeasible deadline.
  • Microsoft accused of sharing data with the NSA for an electronic surveillance program.
  • The source - 29-year-old employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, Edward Snowden.
  • Snowden’s documents struck a nerve with the public; privacy protection concerns.
  • John Wilkes’ lawsuits marked the birth of modern privacy rights.
  • Civil liberties and arbitrary power.
  • The Declaration of Independence woudl later inscribe Otis’ principle.
  • Someone is lying - it’s either Microsoft or Edward Snowden.
  • September 11 - share data with the government or not?
  • Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; invasion of Iraq; antiterrorism efforts.
  • How can Microsoft fulfill their responsibility to customers while answering the call to protect the country?
    • Laws should govern the issue.
  • Trade-offs between individual freedoms and national security.
  • Tech has gone global - tech companies become bank-like institutions. Global banks.
  • Sueing the United States government: arguing for the right to share data and information more transparently.
    • Joined with Google.
  • Journalism and the tech industry.
  • Reform Government Surveillance
  • Careful dialogue; surveillance reform.
  • A new scope of government surveillance; encryption; legal action.

Chapter 3 - “Technology and Public Safety: ‘I’d Rather Be a Loser Than a Liar’”

  • You can’t catch criminals or terrorists if you can’t find them. Information allows for tracking.
  • Balancing people’s privacy and public safety.
  • Daniel Pearl abduction in Karachi, Pakistan.
    • Used Hotmail to communicate ransom demands.
    • Microsoft monitored IP address to monitor where the senders were.
    • The kidnappers killed Pearl.
    • The cyberspace is no longer some peripheral dimension.
  • Ronald Reagan and the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).
  • The government could issue gag orders.
  • Warrants typically come trhough email; requested evidence can be pulled from a data center.
  • January 7, 2015 - murder of 12 people in Charlie Hedbo Paris headqaurters by Al-Qaeda members.
  • Commitment to transparency.
  • Official principles.

Chapter 4 - “Privacy: A Fundamental Human Right”

  • Where is data stored? What are the factors that go with it? Tax incentives, political stability, weather.
  • Countries reaching across borders - what borders?
  • Confidence in judicial systems
  • Bipartisanship, tied to government
  • Can government be a vessel for change?

Chapter 7 - “Social Media: The Freedom That Drives Us Apart”

  • The Internet helped push Estonia out of communism. The “e-democracy”.
  • Estonia suffered the first cyber-based nation-state attack on another country.
  • People find tribes and cybertribes - like-minded people that can replicate human communities.
  • Groups are more connected but less open.
  • Idealism collides with human nature.
  • Being alone, together - the world is smaller, but there is a deafening silence between people sitting next to each other.
  • Disinformation campaigns.
  • Russia’s Internet Research Agency - computational propaganda to misinform and polarize US voters.
  • Mix of action by the government and the tech sector itself
  • Not necessarily proving the veracity of the content itself, but provide information on user identity.
  • Provide/NGO efforts
  • Foreign influence - insistence on borders
  • Lack of real answers

Chapter 8 - “Digital Diplomacy: The Geopolitics of Technology”

  • Tech companies affect nations as much as other countries do.
  • Companies have become a new tpe of nation.
  • Strengthening technical defenses, operational security.
  • Vigilante tech justice
  • All defense, no offense - what does offense and defense mean? Are they necessarily exclusive concepts?
  • Digital Geneva Convention
  • Privacy as a matter of business
  • Arms control
  • Culture and legislation
  • “The only winning move is not to play.”
  • Cold War and Hot Peace
  • Multilateral approach
  • New, digital diplomacy.

Chapter 9 - “Consumer Concerns: ‘The Guns Will Turn’”

  • Demands the tech sector was making of the government would be made on the tech sector itelf - the “guns will turn”.
  • Information safe harbor and transfer of data - water seeks its own level.
  • “Overreaches”, collaboration.
  • The role of government in addressing internal company bureaucracy - things have truly turned.
  • Engineering - a creative processes.
  • Maintaining public trust
  • “Privacy is dead”
  • Apologize, apologize, apologize.
  • Europe - a hope for improved privacy.

Chapter 12 - “AI and Ethics: Don’t Ask What Computers Can Do, Ask What They Should Do”

  • AI is all the buzz; AI is something new, and tech companies have large marketing budgets.
  • Universal vagueness about what AI is.
  • Rushing forward with innovation without helping people understand how it works.
  • New technology is not necessarily beneficial.
  • Theology, religion
  • There is no universally agreed-upon definition of AI.
  • Three important advances: computing power, cloud computing, digital data.
  • Transparency, reliability, safety, privacy, security, accountability.
  • Microsoft continued to provide technolgoy to the US government.
  • What is humanity? Is it worth protecting? Is technology a stain or a taint?

Chapter 13 - “AI and Facial Recognition: Do Our Faces Deserve the Same Protection as OUr Phones?”

  • Minority Report - the use and abuse of technology
  • Facial recognition can be used for good and to repress freedom
  • Our faces are more or less unique.
  • More Americans trust their employer than the government.
  • Companies and universities
  • Microsoft decided that boycotting a government agency was the wrong approach; rather, technology should be governed by new laws and regulation.
  • Democracy and government surveillance

Chapter 2, The Ethical Algorithm

  • Analogy problems may reflect socioeconomic bias.
  • Analogy problems in embedding spaces reflect gender bias from the documents with which they are taken.
  • Science can only take us so far - human judgements and norms will choose where on the Pareto curve society should be.
  • Personalized ML can cause prediction mistakes to harm specific individuals.
  • Inefficacy of forbidden inputs. You can’t restrict inputs to a decision making process.
  • Statistical parity: identify which individuals we wish to protect. Fraction of individuals with protected identity that obtain a certain outcome should be the same as the fraction of individuals without the protected identity.
  • Apparently, there is no escaping the Pareto frontier (really?)
  • Human judgement, policy, and ethics are king.
  • Individual fairness metrics may be incompatible with one another.