Newsletter, Feb 2023: Workshop highlights, microchips, Big Tech moderation & Quantum decryption
- Workshop highlights
- NEW: Working paper series: Send us your ideas!
- The race for microchip self-sufficiency
- Big Tech’s take on content moderation
- Quantum computing and the future of encryption
- Other stories we’re reading
- Jobs & opportunities
It was so lovely to see you at our joint workshop TIP – MPG “New media, old media? Research challenges, emerging findings and future directions”. We were delighted by the engagement we received from our speakers, panellists and participants. On the 19th of January at Friends Meeting House in Euston lots of questions were answered and many more were generated. We will be sharing a blog post with the day’s key messages on our website very soon!
This month we’re launching a call for expressions of interest in a new working paper forum – see details below and get in touch with your ideas and papers for some friendly and supportive feedback.
Our top stories this month include the confusing state of microchip global value chains, Big Tech’s take on content moderation, and what quantum computing’s impact on encryption means for everyone.
If you would like to highlight your own or colleagues’ work through the TIP newsletter, let us know by emailing us here, or message us on Twitter!
See you next month,
TIP + MPG workshop: Highlights and acknowledgements
Our joint TIP – MPG workshop was quite the whirlwind day, covering a wide range of questions from optimising policymaking collaboration between practitioners and academics to addressing online hate and grasping the future of algorithmic regulation. For those of you who could not attend and/or would like to have additional notes from the event, we have prepared a summary of each discussion and will be sharing it soon. If you are impatient for the summary, do not fret, Liam McLoughlin has written an excellent blogpost on ‘Four lessons on Policy Engagement from the TIP-MPG workshop’ which will be up on our website this week (https://psatip.uk/). Keep your eyes peeled for our fantastic curated photos of the day too! (you might find yourself among them)
I would like to share my appreciation for our group Convenor, Prof Kate Dommett, who led TIP into successfully organising this event, it was a truly enjoyable experience! We are also very thankful to our speakers, panellists and chairs for taking the time to prepare and share their knowledge, insight and opinions on specific issues in the field. And we are particularly grateful to you, our members, for pronouncing interest and engagement in the conversation on the future of policymaking and technology.
New: Working Paper Series Send us your ideas!
Based on the success of our workshop, we are proposing to create a Working Group Forum. Having lots of TIP members together in one space showed what a kind and supportive community we are, and we want to come together more to offer each other feedback and support.
With this in mind, we’re asking members to come forward with any project or work in progress which you might want feedback on. This could include, but will not be limited to:
- An early draft of a paper
- A grant application
- A presentation
- Or anything else!
The idea is to provide a friendly forum in which to share ideas and gain feedback, and will require you to give a short overview of your work and/or circulate a paper in advance for feedback and comment. If you have a piece of work you think would be suitable then please get in touch with your ideas! We’re hoping to start these sessions before the summer, so feel free to send suggestions for new or early projects.
Sessions will be for members only, so if you know anyone who might be interested in joining, make sure to point them towards our membership link (remember, it’s free!).
Latest News, Research, & Opportunities
But sanctions will not make the US more competitive in the long run. To stay at the top of the game, the US needs more skilled employees and needs to buy expensive machinery. The geopolitical consequences of microchip production is being compared to the management of oil production in the 1990s. But unlike oil, semiconductors come in vast ranges of types and costs, and depend on the input of numerous countries. The US’s key allies for manufacturing chips are mainly in Asia, specifically Taiwan, South Korea and Japan (although they are also competitors). The stability of these alliances will depend on other geopolitical factors, such as China’s potential forceful incorporation of Taiwan under its jurisdiction. In addition to domestic measures, China has taken the US to the WTO for dispute settlement. The ruling will most likely take years to be processed, and it is unlikely either country will abide to sanctions.
In more immediate terms, China has readied its own $143 billion incentive package for its semiconductor sector, to be rolled out over the next 5 years. The majority of the benefits will be used to allocate a 20% subsidy for Chinese firms buying domestic chips. It is safe to say that Chinese chips are going to keep powering most of our manufactured goods, keeping them affordable. But China’s chipmaking industry is vulnerable to corruption scandals and high profile arrests, which we began to witness last year. This is due to political rather than commercial interest in making the industry more successful. We can expect therefore, that as more public investment pours in, more corruption awaits.
An additional element of uncertainty was recently introduced to the chip-making saga: a new open standard for microchip production for computers. The standard is called RISC-V, and it is overturning the previous ‘expensive and hard to license’ model that computer chip designs have previously followed. For years, chips were produced based on a variety of proprietary instruction sets, which were patented and licensed for millions of dollars. RISC-V is openly available, empowering smaller companies and producing a wave of software and hardware convergence. This will make microchip production a lot more affordable, but will most probably introduce lower quality products into the market. And as we already know in global economic terms, more is not necessarily better.Further articles
US, Canada, Mexico envision collaborating on microchip supply during their “Three Amigos” summit The Register
Europe’s bid to catch up in the microchip race: plans to double its share in global production in the next 10 years FT
Big Tech’s take on content moderation
Content moderation is often framed as the responsibility of governments in imposing regulation on Big Tech. But a different stream of thought argues that this is part of companies’ responsibility towards their users.
The strength of this argument lies in the inside knowledge Big Tech have on the algorithmic and user tendencies specific to their platforms. Overarching legislative-style rules applied to individual pieces of content in the painstakingly slow milieus of bureaucracy spell inefficiency. The weakness in leaving moderation in-house however, means that governments intrust the safeguarding of user wellbeing to Big Tech. In The Harvard Law Review, Evelyn Douek describes how content moderation functions, discusses the trade-offs in distributing responsibility and suggests potential avenues for improving moderation efficiency. One of her main arguments is related to requiring further transparency in moderation algorithms and decision-making. For a more historical take on the argument in favour of ‘in-sourced’ content moderation, see Paul Barrett’s piece in Tech Policy Press.
It seems like the US and European governments’ concerns and regulation attempts of content moderation pressures are having an effect. Following a request from Meta’s president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, Oversight Board published a policy advisory opinion on the company’s controversial Cross-Check programme. The report notably finds unequal treatment of users and a lack of transparency in how the programme works. Time will tell if Meta addresses these shortcomings. There is reason to be optimistic. Meta is upping its game in tracking and stopping covert influence operations and has recently launched a new content moderation tool against counter-terrorism.
The trend is picking up steam. Within the last couple of months, YouTube, TikTok and even Yelp have been working on updates to their content moderation and user protection processes (see also TikTok’s state-affiliated media policy).
Looking to watch porn in Louisiana? Expect to hand over your ID New online moderation law in the US state of Louisiana NPR
Google argues that Biden-initiated change to Section 230 would upend content moderation as we know it WSJ
How Germany became Europe’s leading Big Tech trust buster FT
Finland’s students are learning to identify misinformation NYT
China is strengthening its control in online content by acquiring ‘golden shares’ in tech companies Alibaba and Tencent FT
Forecasting Potential Misuses of Language Models for Disinformation Campaigns— and How to Reduce Risk OpenAI
Livestreaming is one of Big Tech’s biggest challenges FT
The uncertain future of encryption
Uncertainty is the theme of the early 2020s. Yet, for once the uncertainty does not have to do with Covid-19, inflation or online regulation. In this case, it is a technological advancement that we remain quite unprepared for, and it has the potential to drastically change how online privacy is managed: encryption.
For years we have depended on cryptographic algorithms to keep our data secret because they are mathematically difficult and intensive to break. But experts expect that quantum computing will be able to break encryption by 2035, putting digital currencies, e-commerce, mobile banking and ultimately internet data exchange at high risk of breach (for those who use public-key encryption, at least). Chinese researchers have recently claimed to already have broken it, with only 372 qubits (quantum bits). But its application remains hypothetical, as the algorithm has not been tested on a scaled up system. While the Chinese break encryption, the US seeks higher performance. IBM, a US firm, is set to announce a record-breaking high qubit processor in 2023 (1,121-qubits). Creating linkages between modules (up to 1,200 kilometres apart) to increase processing capacity is also being tested. It also plans to make its 433 qubit Osprey system available to its customers in early 2023.
But private companies are more interested in practical and marketable uses of quantum computing rather than setting qubit records. Baidu, a Chinese search company says it has designed a 36-qubit superconducting quantum chip it hopes to apply to materials design and pharmaceutical development. Japan and India are also trying to create their own niches of superconducting production. For now, international competition remains amicable and collaborative. Although global competition is not zero-sum, it may soon be witnessing the dawn of a global bipolar race to quantum computing dominance, in parallel to the current microchip self-sufficiency race.
The tricky legality of police hacking encryption to catch criminals WIRED
Child Rights International Network report warns against banning encryption & client-side scanning Center forDemocracy & Technology
Other News, Books, and Stories we are reading
- Making Government Deliver for the British People UK Government (amidst the recent reshuffle, the Online Safety Bill and Ofcom are placed in different departments)
- The Technopolar moment: How digital powers will reshape the global order Foreign Affairs
- Starlink signals can be reverse-engineered to work like GPS—whether SpaceX likes it or not MIT Tech Review
- Amazon ends AmazonSmile, its charity donation programme, in additional attempt to cut costs NPR
- Twitter replaces its free API with paid tier in attempt to cover recent losses The Verge
- The US Justice Department is suing Google over digital ad dominance Vox
- India bans YouTube and Twitter posts on BBC’s Modi documentary TechCrunch
- First Chess, then Go, now Art
Books & Articles
Braghieri, L., Levy, R. & Makarin, A. (2022) Social Media and Mental Health, American Economic Review, pp. 3660-93. The article draws a causal link between Facebook use and its negative impact on mental health.
What we’ve been doing & Jobs
Jobs & Opportunities!
- Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence Digital Policy Rounds, 16th February
- AI Futures: An Interdisciplinary Conversation on Large Language Models and the Future of Human Writing Rutgers Center for Cultural Analysis, 16th February
- Automation by Design: Politics, Culture, and Landscape in an Age of Machines That Learn Charles Babbage Institute, 17-18th February
- There’s Always Been a Metaverse by Sarah Brin Research & Knowledge Exchange, 20th February
- A Better Tech Future Summit Tech & Democracy, 1st March
Call for Papers
- Tufts University Putting the Tech into Cybersecurity Policy: A Workshop for Social Science and Legal Scholars, Deadline 15th March
- Digital Technology and Civic Activism Advisor, USAID (US)
- Lead Researcher for Greater Internet Freedom, Internews (remote)
- Director of Open Scholarship and Research Data Services, Harvard Library (US)
- Policy Lead, Trust & Safety, Epic Games (US)
- Policy Director, Open Technology Institute, New America (US)
- Senior Manager, Offensive Content Etsy (US)
- Research Director, Internet and Technology, Pew Research Center (US)
- Director, Trustworthy AI Campaigns, Mozilla (US)
- Research Associate in Digital Humanities and Digital Skills Training, Durham University
- Postdoc and Practitioner fellowships Digital Civil Society Lab, Stanford University
- Postdoc in AI and Inclusion, University of Ottawa
- Lecturer in Politics and/or International relations (x2), University of Glasgow
- Assistant Professor in Computer Science (Digital Humanities) Durham University
- Assistant Professorships at Utrecht University
- Assistant Professor of Computational Linguistics
- Assistant Professor of Ethics or Political Philosophy of Technology
- Assistant Professor of Philosophy of AI
- Assistant Professor of Cultural AI & Computational Methods
- Assistant Professor of Digital Heritage
- Assistant Professor of Media, Citizenship & Public Engagement
- Assistant Professor of Computational Social Science with a focus on Communication, University of Zurich
- Professorships in Communications at Goldsmiths University of London
- PSA is looking for new Journal Editors, Political Studies Journal
|Want to share your own updates, research, jobs, events, publications, and more with the network? Simply get in contact with us at email@example.com, or tag us on Twitter @PSA_tip (You can follow us while you’re there too)|
You can join TIP and get our newsletters direct to your inbox by joining here.