Stopping Easements Through Copyright

A Canadian artist, Peter von Tiesenhausen, has effectively stopped a pipeline through his 800 acre property by covering it with artwork and copyrighting the top six inches of his land as an artwork. Companies could gain use of his property through easements, but they are severely limited by the addition of a copyright. For lawyers and those who believe in property rights, easements are contentious.

Here is some more:

The copyright claim makes his entire property a work of art since he has covered it with visual art scupltures including “a 33-metre-long ship sculpted with willow stalks, winter ice forms, nest-like structures in trees, statuesque towers and a “lifeline” or visual autobiography composed as a white picket fence built in annual sections left to weather naturally”. The copyright also drastically increases the remuneration of around $200 for lost crops to around $600,000 for an ” artistic property disturbance”.

I am assuming they are in court, but I plan to read more about the claims.

Automation, Robot Economics & Employment

David Autor just released a new paper exploring the intellectual development and paradoxes in machine displacement of labor. The paper is especially timely given the broad discussion of labor markets economics is having post downturn.

It begins with a quote from the better of Polanyi brothers, Michael, who observed, “We can know more than we can tell… The skill of a driver cannot be replaced by a thorough schooling in the theory of the motorcar; the knowledge I have of my own body differs altogether from the knowledge of its physiology.”

In the first page, he cabins his discussion and sets out the course of the paper:

The interplay between machine and human comparative advantage allows computers to substitute for workers in performing routine, codifiable tasks while amplifying the comparative advantage of workers in supplying problem solving skills, adaptability, and creativity. Understanding this interplay is central to interpreting and forecasting the changing structure of employment in the U.S. and other industrialized countries. This understanding is also is at the heart of the increasingly prominent debate about whether the rapid pace of automation threatens to render the demand for human labor obsolete over the next several decades.

For those interested in innovation, I would highly suggest reading all of it.


The (Robot) Revolution Will be Televised

A lot of stories about robot economics have popped up in the past couple weeks. Here is a couple of the most interesting:

And for those who are interested, there is a blog dedicated to robot economics, called appropriately enough RobotEconomics.

With Technology, the Past is No Longer a Foreign Country

Novelist L. P. Hartley once wrote, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Ironically, we may no longer live in his world:

This omnipresence of the past has weird effects on contemporary culture. Take any genre of music, from death metal to R&B to chillwave, and the cloud directs you not just to similar artists in the present but to deep wells of influence from the past. Yes, people still like new things. But the past gets as much preference as the present—Mozart, for example, has more than 100,000 followers on Spotify. In a history glut, the idea of fashionability in music erodes, because new songs sit on the same shelf as songs recorded five, 25, and 55 years ago, all of them waiting to be discovered. In this eternal present, everything can be made contemporary.

Perhaps the biggest result of the history glut is that managing all that history becomes the crucial act, both commercially and intellectually. Wikipedia is cataloging history, but to do so it needs to keep up an epic accounting of its own history—the billion-plus edits, each a record of human activity, that have built the encyclopedia over the years. Companies like Spotify and Netflix are mining the past as they host it, looking at their own enormous usage logs and analyzing that data to draw connections between types of people and types of music.

There’s an irony here: All of the data we’re collecting, all of the data points and metadata, is history itself. Much as we marvel at Babylonian clay tablets listing measures of grain, future generations will find just as much meaning in our log files as they will in the media we consume. Sure, Frank Sinatra sang a bunch of songs; sure, Jennifer Lawrence was a big star in 2014. But the log files tell you who listened, and when, and where they were on the planet. It’s these massive digital archives—and the records that show how we used them—that will be the defining historical objects of our era.

Telecommunication’s Regulatory Cat and Mouse Game

My former colleague Jon Henke has reviewed “The People’s Network: The Political Economy of the Telephone in the Gilded Age” for Reason. I haven’t read the book, but his take has placed it on the top of the list. As anyone who has read about the history of telecommunication regulation, policy formation is and has been a cat-and-mouse game between regulators and the regulated. Jon explains:

The history of telecommunications is a long story of progressives and populists demanding “public interest” regulations that produce and protect monopolies, followed by progressive and populist demands for regulations to fix the problems that their earlier regulations created. At each step, activists were coached and coaxed by the political and business interests in question.

What can this history tell us? A lot, actually:

Progressives today are traveling the well-worn policy path of trying to fix old mistakes by making new ones. They demand competition while promoting municipal public utility broadband systems. “Open access creates competition,” they claim, never minding that the unbundling requirements that force providers to lease their systems to competitors only create “competition” by turning an existing provider into a de facto monopoly. The goals of the modern net neutrality movement—which in effect seeks to prevent Internet Service Providers from providing anything but lowest-common-denominator service—might as well adopt the same early slogan of monopoly-era AT&T: “One System, One Policy, Universal Service.”

The urge to make carriers a public utility or regulate them as such remains deeply embedded in telecommunications policy today. After all, if the telephone networks required the guiding hand of regulators, how could the Internet possibly work without regulations to mandate interconnection, to require settlement-free peering, to set prices, or to dictate which services providers are allowed to offer?

And yet the comparative regulatory anarchy of the Internet does work. We all enjoy a global network of independent systems that interconnect almost entirely through contractual agreements. And yet activists seem determined that, in order to prevent gatekeepers from “destroying the Internet,” the Federal Communications Commission must become the gatekeeper of the World Wide Web.

My post on the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) hits on a couple of these key issues for video law. Changing consumer preferences is ultimately undoing the myriad and complex rules put in place by the FCC under the guise of public interest. Like so many other areas of telecommunication law, the laws governing video must be updated to meet the 21st century marketplace.

Famous Psychological Experiment Has Serious Flaws

As you might recall, the Stanford Prison Experiment pitted several student against each other as randomly chosen prison guards or prisoners. The end result was quite gruesome. Guards enforced authoritarian measures and even inflicted psychological torture on the prisoners. The experiment is a classic note in psychology texts and has often been used to explain the Nazis, Abu Ghraib, and other forms of inhumane practices.

Apparently, there are serious flaws with the study. This post at the British Psychological Society details some of the issues:

The SPE was criticised back in the 70s, but that criticism has noticeably escalated and widened in recent years. New details to emerge show that Zimbardo played a key role in encouraging his “guards” to behave in tyrannical fashion. Critics have pointed out that only one third of guards behaved sadistically (this argues against the overwhelming power of the situation). Question marks have also been raised about the self-selection of particular personality types into the study. Moreover, in 2002, the social psychologists Steve Reicher and Alex Haslam conducted the BBC Prison Study to test the conventional interpretation of the SPE. The researchers deliberately avoided directing their participants as Zimbardo had his, and this time it was the prisoners who initially formed a strong group identity and overthrew the guards.

Given that the SPE has been used to explain modern-day atrocities, such as at Abu Ghraib, and given that nearly two million students are enrolled in introductory psychology courses in the US, Richard Griggs, professor emeritus at the University of Florida, says “it is especially important that coverage of it in our texts be accurate.”

Social Networks and the Proliferating Performances of Identity

Tom Chatfield’s essay on technology and language groks Walter Ong and under-appreciated Medium theory. He begins at the genesis of the written word and makes a huge arc to today’s moral themes. First the problem of information scarcity:

The vast bulk of that story is silence. Indeed, darkness and silence are the defining norms of human history. The earliest known writing probably emerged in southern Mesopotamia around 5,000 years ago but, for most of recorded history, reading and writing remained among the most elite human activities: the province of monarchs, priests and nobles who reserved for themselves the privilege of lasting words.

Yet the world is now one of information abundance and mediums of exchange:

This sheer quantity is in itself something new. All future histories of modern language will be written from a position of explicit and overwhelming information — a story not of darkness and silence but of data, and of the verbal outpourings of billions of lives. Where once words were written by the literate few on behalf of the many, now every phone and computer user is an author of some kind.

Leading to, among other things, new expressions of identity on the Internet:

All interactions, be they spoken or written, are to some degree performative: a negotiation of roles and references. Onscreen words are a special species of self-presentation — a form of storytelling in which the very idea of ‘us’ is a fiction crafted letter by letter. Such are our linguistic gifts that a few sentences can conjure the story of a life: a status update, an email, a few text messages. Almost without our noticing, we weave worlds from these snapshots, until an illusion of unbroken narrative emerges from a handful of paragraphs.

Chatfield is right. The biggest gulf between digital natives and digital immigrants lies in the negotiation of an authentic social performance. Just some food for thought, what again is wrong with the Auschwitz selfie? You should go read Chatfield’s essay.

Research Undermines Prevailing Theory that Technology is Isolating

An ever-present theme in the commentary of modern technology is its isolating effect. Yet the truth is far more complex. This Boston Review article on technology points to a paper supported by the Annenberg School of Communication that seems to suggest we are becoming more social. By conducting a content analysis of films from four public spaces over a thirty-year period, the behavior and characteristics of 143,593 people were coded. A couple of key findings:

  • Importantly, people are spending less time alone and increasingly more time in groups.
  • Women are now far more prevalent in public spaces, while men and women tend to spend more time together in public.
  • Despite the ubiquity of mobile phones, their rate of use in public is relatively small.
  • Mobile phones users appear less often in spaces where there are more groups, and most often in spaces where people might otherwise be walking alone.
  • Mobile phone use is associated with reduced public isolation, although it is associated with an increased likelihood to linger and with time spent lingering in public.
  • The increased tendency to spend time in groups while in public contrasts with evidence from other research that suggests a decline in American public life, and that mobile phones have increased social isolation in public spaces.
  • The increase in group behavior, women, and lingering in public may have positive implications for engagement within the public sphere.

Demand Destruction Signals Long Term Shift in Energy Markets

Recent estimates suggest the US might meet the Kyoto Protocol because of natural gas substitution. Slate is reporting on a related trend, energy demand destruction:

So strategic demand reduction and management are part of the industry’s operating system; demand destruction is not. Demand destruction occurs when you eliminate or substantially reduce the need for the resource on a near-permanent basis. Somebody trading in a Chevrolet Malibu for a Nissan Leaf won’t be buying any gasoline for the next 10 years. Replacing a 30-year-old air conditioner with a more efficient new one will significantly reduce the power associated with cooling. Innovations in technology and business models can hasten the process of demand destruction—think of how the advent of iTunes cut into the sales of CDs. And there are signs that this is beginning to happen with electricity. & the Scalability Problem

Scalability problems plague the creation of large web sites. This is especially poignant, given the web site fiasco:

Large systems, too complex for individual comprehension, must be subdivided into smaller tasks coordinated between groups. In fact, a large portion of software engineering is devoted to the documentation, notification, and management review needed to coordinate large projects.