Bridging the Chaos: UTO’s First Technology in the Public Interest Event Brings Author David Weinberger to ASU
Where does journalism fit into technology and our future? How do you cover “overload,” the constant flow of information that goes to and fro on the internet? How can journalism help us face the echo chambers that form in response to chaos? These were the big questions at UTO’s first Technology in the Public Interest: An Author Series event, hosted at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
The series is a collaboration between UTO, colleges and schools across ASU, and thought leaders across industries. It reveals the interdisciplinary nature of tech -- and how its impact is everywhere. For this first installment, best-selling author David Weinberger, writer of the new book Everyday Chaos, spoke to students, faculty, staff, and the public. Presenting in the First Amendment Forum at the Cronkite School, Weinberger's topic was “Chaos Journalism: AI, Democracy, and Our Future.” A key takeaway? We need figures to bridge the chaos.
But what does Weinberger mean by “chaos?” Well, in the age of the internet, a lot of it has to do with “overload.” We worry about too much information, complex information with butterfly effects and non-linear events. We generally value generalizations over the particulars; the latter are ever-changing variables.
But machine learning is a good model of chaos. New methods of machine learning connect the particulars and operate at a complex level, eliminating generalizations. However, these systems can become inexplicable; these systems are called “black boxes.” There is one element of machine learning logic that can be explained, however. If we feed it information that is biased, an artificial intelligence will inherit those biases itself.
Journalistic coverage of this kind of chaos is an ever-growing need. Weinberger stressed that overload and chaos are not fads. News media has the authority to deliver information to consumers, but ultimately, owning that information is a social act. “Owning,” in this case, means making sense of it and letting it change us, our perceptions, and our beliefs. Weinberger said journalism helps build echo chambers. Echo chambers further confirm existing beliefs and make them more extreme.
Weinberger added that valuable and real conversations come from people who disagree. However, we generally have a conversation with people we agree with 99 percent of the time. Rarely does a conversation change people’s minds. But journalism can act as a bridge between the chaos contained within echo chambers, and the chaos those echo chambers externalize. “We need smarter echo chambers...we need more porous echo chambers,” as Weinberger put it.
So what changes need to come to the current journalistic method? Weinberger suggests enabling knowledge networks, hosting them for others to join and feed into them, and calling readers and content creators to engage actively and passively. A more structured approach to information sharing seems to be a way to “bridge the chaos” that has sprung from so many technology options and information sharing methods.
In a conversation with Dan Gillmor, Cronkite School Professor of Practice, Weinberger noted the factor of human intervention in machine learning’s role in bridging the chaos. “That in itself is a huge, really interesting and potentially dangerous area, who gets to decide what these things are optimized for.”
For more insight, and to hear these concepts explained with much more depth, view and/or listen to Weinberger’s conversation with Gillmore below. You can also access the archived livestream of Weinberger’s talk.