Governing the Ungovernable



Laws, norms, policies, and institutions have failed to keep up with advances in artificial intelligence. Popularly, we still think of governance of these systems using quotes and metaphors from science fiction authors. The public awareness of the sophistication and capabilities of current systems are also skewed, often in extremes: predicting robot warfare and mind control or suffering complete naivete.

The reality is that intelligent systems are embedded in more and more everyday products and services. The so-called “internet of things” represents a kind of ubiquitous computing that anticipates our needs and provides us information or adjusts the room temperature based on usage patterns. Smarter algorithms power seemingly neutral services like Google’s search engine or Facebook’s news feed.

This panel brings together domain experts researching the impact of intelligent systems in a variety of arenas including household products, civics, and cyberwarfare. The panel will explore gaps in our existing framework of regulation around these technologies, identify challenges common to the deployment of different intelligent systems in a broad range of contexts, and suggest a common set of research goals to advance the cause of effective governance, mapping out the role different constituencies can play in this effort.

Small Money in Politics



Traditionally, big money in politics bought you a big voice and big power, but small donors are becoming increasingly impossible to ignore as a force. How can movements and campaigns dependent on small donors be accountable to them while remaining cohesive and effective?


Click, Meme, Hack, Change


We define Civic Media as the intersection of two spheres: civic engagement and participatory media. The read/write culture of participatory media suggests that issues of public interest and concern are now open to broader participation than in an earlier broadcast culture. We are seeing new forms of civic engagement emerge that go beyond voting and participating in political meetings, and involve techniques as well understood as online organizing and media creation, and as novel as protest through cyberattack.

Native to the participatory culture of the internet is the idea of the meme: ideas created by individuals that spread rapidly through acts of amplification and remix. Two years ago, discussions of memes mostly concerned lolcats and the occasional viral video. But memes now classify as widely-accepted political speech, receiving breaking news-like priority on television coverage of the 2012 US presidential election. Memes may have played a role in Obama’s victory, and certainly played a role in the Occupy movement’s media-based campaign against inequality.

Memes aren’t just clever phrases and funny words though, they are invitations to participate in behaviors modeled by others or to interpret through one’s own remix practices. The ramifications of this are starting to come clear in activisms like distributed denial-of-service (DDOS). Activist DDOS actions invite participants to engage with others across a distributed platform that joins their discrete actions into one coherent event, with strong implications for how these individuals identify as activists and community members later. The Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC) is a tool for running a DDOS attack, designed and used by Anonymous in a variety of online actions. But LOIC is not simply a civic action tool; it has evolved to represent explicit strategies of media manipulation and identity construction for a community of activists under the guise of Anonymous.

But Civic Media is not all new tools; it’s also the traditional made new. has augmented the online petition with professional media outreach and top-tier strategists to make it a powerful force for building international campaigns. Successes include justice for Trayvon Martin and the selection of a female moderator for a US presidential debate. represents the growing legitimation of low barriers to entry online activism, disregarded as clicktivism or slacktivism, that provides access to powerful tools to those who may struggle to find their voice in most civic spaces.

These civic media practices all embody the participatory as accessible and inclusive practices, however their activations of distributed communities don’t fit neatly into accepted theories of change such as traditional organizing and lobbying. A theory of change for media activism hinges instead on winning the attention economy and pushing for cultural transformation. So what does this kind of framework for change mean in terms of civic media’s ability to scale or sustain? On which types of issues might it be most effective or least effective? And how are we able to study these practices quantitatively and qualitatively?

Associated Presentation

Binders Full of Election Memes: Expanding Political Discourse

Bots for Civic Engagement

Panel Description

From SmarterChild to the Low Orbit Ion Cannon to Horse_ebooks, humans have relationships of varying quality with bots. Mostly it’s commercial spam. But sometimes it’s less benign: for instance, the 2012 Mexican elections saw thousands of Twitter bots published by one candidate’s side denouncing the opposition with a flood of messages. There are countless examples of bots used for nefarious purposes, in America, Iran and elsewhere. What would a future look like where instead we see a proliferation of bots for positive civic engagement? Could we automate the distribution of civic information and education? Manipulate information flows to improve our welfare? Engineer reverse-Distributed-Denial-of-Service attacks? Should we? This panel takes a critical look at the discourse around, and architecture of, information overload to facilitate an important and timely debate around the engineering, usefulness, and ethics of bots for civic engagement.