Data and AI

Who do you trust? How data is helping us decide

Rachel Botsman – The Guardian

A remarkable proportion of the infrastructure of a modern state is there to compensate for the absence of trust. We need to establish identity, establish creditworthiness, have a legal system to deal with broken promises, employ police officers, security guards and locksmiths, all because we don’t know whether we can trust one another. Most of us, as it happens, are pretty trustworthy. But a few of us aren’t, and it’s really hard to work out which category each of us fall into (to say nothing of the fact that it’s partly situational, so people don’t stay neatly in one or the other).

There are some pretty obvious opportunities for big data to be brought to bear on all that, and this article focuses on a startup trying to do exactly that. That could be a tremendous way of removing friction from the way in which strangers interact, or it could be the occasion for a form of intrusive and unregulated social control (it’s not enough actually to be trustworthy, it’s essential to be able to demonstrate trustworthiness to an algorithm, with all the potential biases that brings with it) – or it could, of course, be both.

Universal basic income

Social prosperity for the future: A proposal for Universal Basic Services

Henrietta Moore, Andrew Percy, Jonathan Portes, Howard Reed – UCL Institute for Global Prosperity

This is an interesting variant of the idea of a universal basic income – to provide universal basic services instead. The argument is that taking a services-based approach makes it much easier to manage the fiscal impact, with the value of the services being only a fifth of the cost of even a pretty modest universal basic income.

The idea forces us to think a bit differently about the role of government. In the UK, healthcare and schools are provided as universal public services, and to most people that seem almost self-evidently right. But in the USA, that isn’t true at all – state-provided schooling is universal, state-provided healthcare emphatically isn’t. It’s not obvious, to put it mildly, that there is a set of services which intrinsically should be state provided and free at the point of use and another set which shouldn’t (there is also a question about whether all of the services proposed are in any normal sense ‘universal’).

But it’s important that questions such as these are asked. It’s easy to slide into the assumption that the way things are is the only way they can be. If patterns of work are changing, patterns of support to complement work will need to change too, and options less radical than full universal basic incomes need to be considered in that context.