Get ready for the VARld Cup!

Helge Helguson Neumann

Technologies and innovations spur out from a need or a problem. In football, one such problem has been the game-deciding human errors of the referees. New and available technology could resolve this problem and make the game more just. So why is it so difficult to embrace for the fans, coaches, and players?

What is football about? Ask any fan and they’ll tell you about the glorious victories, the bitter defeats, the passion of the supporters. What they are really saying is that football is all about emotions. The players are referred to as artists, even Gods, creating what is known as “the beautiful game”. We think of the magnificent goals, the ingenious pass, and the outstanding tackle. But just as often, it is a game of mistakes. The goalkeeper who fumbled the ball, the defender who scored an own goal, or the striker who missed the open goal. Even the referee, the representative of justice and fairness on the field, occasionally make mistakes, calling a wrong penalty that decides the outcome of the match and causing an uproar by disappointed supporters. There is nothing more painful and upsetting for the fans than having the “ref” decide the outcome of the game. Now, recent technological advances have made it possible to reduce these human errors, but at what cost for the art of the sport?

Like the rest of society, the age of digitalization has hit football. Within the last couple of years, fans have been introduced to goal-line technology (to settle whether the ball was really over the line), big data statistics (to see whether the players are actually playing well) and video-assisted refereeing, or VAR, as it is abbreviated. VAR gives the referee, or an assistant, the opportunity to look at replays to make critical decisions during a game and is already being introduced in several leagues and tournaments around the world. The intention behind it is naturally to make the game fairer, and the policy-makers has the statistics to back it up. In all three major leagues which has introduced VAR, the MLS (USA), Bundesliga (Germany), and Serie A (Italy), the result has been more correct decisions and less fouls as players know they are being watched. With these promising results, the international football confederation decided in March this year to introduce VAR in the upcoming 2018 World Cup in Russia. One month later the biggest VAR-scandal so far happened.

The scandal takes place at Opel Arena, where the home team Mainz welcomes opponents Freiburg. Both teams are struggling to avoid relegations and with a victory Mainz can move ahead of Freiburg on the table and out of the relegation zone. After 45 minutes of play, a shot hits Freiburg defender Marc Oliver Kempf in the arm. The Mainz players are screaming for a penalty, their fans even more. Referee Guido Winkmann waves play on and soon after blows the whistle for half time. Then it happens. VAR has seen a foul. Six minutes into the half-time break, while fans are filling up on drinks and snacks, Winkmann bring the players back onto the pitch to award Mainz the penalty. Mainz score and eventually win the game. The Mainz players are relieved, their fans happy, the Freiburg fans are furious, but the footballing society is most of all confused. What the VAR happened?!

Football and technology doesn’t always go hand in hand, and there are two recurring problems with VAR which both touches upon the emotions of the fans. The first is the time it takes time to review all the decisions. As Juventus-coach Massimiliano Allegri put it: “It’s turning into baseball. You see some action every quarter of an hour”. And there is nothing more frightening for Europeans than having their “beautiful game” turning into an American sport. In Australia’s A league it took four minutes for the referee to award a penalty. Fans are getting bored and they don’t want to wait an extra six minutes into the half-time to see whether the referee will call a penalty. The spontaneity goes away when players and fans must wait a couple of minutes to see if they can celebrate a goal.

The other problem goes deeper. It touches upon the very nature of the sport, why fans are referring to it as “the beautiful game” and to the players as artists or magicians. After a controversial cup-game in England, former captain for Norwegian men’s football team, Brede Hangeland, tweeted that “VAR will destroy football as we know it”. Similarly, one of the most recognized goalkeepers of all time, Gianluigi Buffon worries it makes the game inhuman. The beauty lies in the potential mistakes. By adding chance into the game, anyone can win it. Football is supposed to be spontaneous, dramatic and emotional. It is not supposed to be flawless, and technology challenges this.

As with the rest of society, football will not be unaffected by technology. The game that the pioneers invented in the late 19th century looks miles away from what is being played today. In the end it all comes down to the integration of technology within the game. This summer, VAR will take on its biggest challenge during the World Cup. For one month, the event will gather over 3 billion viewers worldwide. A flawless championship might lead the footballing world to embrace VAR, but a scandal like that of the Bundesliga might set back the integration of VAR. And it doesn’t matter whether the actual decisions are correct or not because the game is about emotions, not rationality.

Universal Basic Income: Into the age of abundance?

Katie Coughlin

Google executive and AI futurist Ray Kurzweil predicted at the 2018 TED conference that ”In the early 2030s, we’ll have universal basic income in the developed world, and worldwide by the end of the 2030s. You’ll be able to live very well on that.”

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is defined as a regular and unconditional payment to every citizen of a country, regardless of other income. With supporters such as Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,
UBI is gaining interest for its potential to counter the negative economic effects of job displacement and income disparity from workplace automation.

Current studies predict that anywhere from 20-40% of jobs will be lost to automation. Economist John Maynard Keynes termed this displacement technological unemployment already in 1930. Further troubling is the
unclear outlook for job creation. What do we do when, by an unreachable margin, there are not enough jobs to go around? What would this do to today´s already growing income disparity?

Kurzweil believes that UBI would offer a safety net and flexibility that could optimize the labour force, give better working conditions, reduce inequalities and end extreme financial poverty. He envisions an “age of abundance” where workers could opt to reduce their working hours and devote more time to other interests without sacrificing their basic income.

The concept of UBI is not new and the idea can be traced back to the early 16th century in Thomas More´s Utopia (1516) and Johannes Ludovicus Vives´ On assistance to the poor (1526). In his 1930 essay Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, Keynes envisioned 100 years into the future that we would reach an age of leisure, a “destination of economic bliss”, in which we would have most of our material needs met and could
enjoy 3-hour workdays and more leisure time. In the 2008 book, Revisiting Keynes, however, economists claim that Keynes failed to account for problems of income distribution and inequality. Perhaps UBI could be the
instrument to smooth out income disparity and open the door for Keynes´ predictions to be realized?

As of yet, there are no successful implementations of UBI, only speculation
and fragmented trials around the world, such as in Finland, the Netherlands, Kenya and Scotland, with various solutions being tested among various population groups. Finland´s trial was recently cut short after just one year with no published results. One economist I spoke with pointed out that only controlled random trials will give an accurate indication of effectiveness. Finnish participants, on the other hand, were drawn from a select pool of unemployed persons.

Variations of UBI could be geographic as in a rural basic income in which only rural area residents would receive a payment. Other suggestions include negative income tax schemes and basic capital grants.

A 2017 European Social Survey (ESS) found wide support for UBI across Europe, particularly with youth. With so much interest, one may wonder who opposes the idea. Some worry that UBI would lessen the motivation to work. Surprisingly, the country with the lowest support for Universal Basic
Income in the ESS study was… can you guess? Norway! This may be due to the already high level of public support available.

Kurzweil contends that the primary concern under UBI would be to ensure life meaning and purpose. Can the freedom of leisure also be destructive to society? Classic dystopian novels such as Brave New World, Anthem and Fahrenheit 451 give imagined glimpses of post-technology states where authoritarian governments have taken control of populations, because individual freedom in a technology age caused too much disruption.

UBI and an age of abundance can sound too good to be true. What would you do if you had a guaranteed income for life? The question evokes interest but also thoughts of lottery winners who go bankrupt. Could we trust people to put guaranteed income to good use? Predicting the future is anyone’s guess, but for today’s youth who are overwhelmed with messages of despair about their future, UBI gives hope.

What we do when we do things with words

Hannah Monsrud Sandvik

 

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice,”whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.”

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There

 

A foundational insight STS departs from is that concepts are not innocent. The words, theories and categories we use to describe and organize objects, events and people are, in addition to being tools for communication and science, also affecting the world. Think, for example, of gender and borders. Think also of economics, or laws. These are all cases of societal infrastructures that started to exist as the result of how some people started organizing sexuality and identity, territory and trade, composing new concepts and discourses to go along with them. The point is that concepts structure how we perceive and understand reality. Words are, in a word, performative.

This is important for STS because it shows that while science and technologies explain reality by investigating phenomena and systematizing our knowledge of the world, it also in a certain sense constructs the world by doing so. STSers have used this argument to show that science is not a linear process whereby knowledge is accumulated by confronting the world through a systematic method. Scientists also bring something to the table, and this something is theories, presuppositions, interests and ontologically loaded language.

If language is filled with underlying assumptions about the world, then language itself should be closely examined. How do the words we use come into being?

For a word to be meaningful in conversation, it needs to be used by a significant amount of people over a longer period of time. It also needs to be taken to mean the same thing by the group of people using it. An example is Gretchen in the movie Mean Girls, who tries, futilely, to introduce the term “fetch” to describe things or states of affairs that are “very cool”. As long as she is the only one using it, it’s never going to have any conversational authority and people will probably respond with confusion and ask her what she means.

The point is that words gain meaning through the way in which they are used. While this may sound blatantly obvious, it sent shock waves through the philosophical scene when Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote about it in the 1950s. For Wittgenstein, there is no separate logic to the world independently of observation, rather, the world we see is defined and given a meaning to through the words we use. A concept doesn’t designate something that is already given – it tries to articulate and systematize certain aspects of the world.

Words, then, have the power to shape how a certain issue is understood, and even to make something into an issue in the first place. One place where this comes to fore is in politics. The very purpose of political speech is to shape how people see the world and steer development towards a desired direction. To achieve this, politicians often create concepts to coin and describe new policy approaches. Examples that should be familiar are “responsible innovation”, “green growth”, and “sustainable development”. Such politically vogue words are often referred to as buzzwords. They are used by science policy makers, by scientists in their research proposals, by journalists and by academics. They convey a set of values: the importance of relations between science and the public, responsibility for the environment and avoiding risks, for example. How do these words function, and how to they shape the issues they address?

We can approach this question by considering an example: Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) is a concept that has taken a hold in science policy and governance over the past years. Generally put, the term describes research and innovation that is ethically acceptable and socially desirable. RRI is a politicization of the effort to make science more ethical and responsible. Among other things, this means that in grant applications, researchers will have to include a section that explains how their research engage with the wider public sphere and discuss potential impacts on society and the environment. But what kind of concept is RRI? It is just filled with empty buzz, or can it be a useful tool for reforming modern science policy?

Buzzwords are often dismissed on account of being empty and misleading, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t be powerful. In her article “The politics of buzzwords at the interface of technoscience, market and society”, Bensaude Vincent demonstrates how buzzwords shape the technoscientific landscape. The power of these words lies in the fact that they urge towards a desirable future, creating expectations that mobilize the future into the present. RRI is an example of this: by establishing a moral basis for science, innovation can be controlled in order to secure the right kind of impact.

What exactly is meant by the term is hard to pin down, however. There are a variety of definitions of RRI, each putting emphasis on different aspects of the general idea. This is a characteristic of buzzwords: they are fuzzy enough to contain a variety of meanings and are often difficult to use as roadmaps. While they successfully point to a matter of concern, they often fail to suggest how we should deal with it.

The fuzziness of buzzwords can make it easy to conceal conflicts between opposing values. Take, for example, of “sustainable development”. Here, the idea of sustainability is put together with the idea of economic growth. The notions of change and permanence put together seems to imply a contradiction, but, as Bensaude Vincent point out, the performativity of the concept rests on this inconsistency. The promise of the concept is that the conflict between two opposing values can be overcome, but how, exactly?

All of this goes to show that the concepts we use are inherently political and ideological and that we should approach and use them with care and analytical consideration. For STSers, this means that we should pay attention to their context of emergence and investigate the epistemic and societal values that go into creating them. Understanding how a concept comes into being and what forces determines how it’s understood, we can critically engage with its content, and perhaps be a force on our own in the creation of better wor(l)ds.

Travelling the Internet Map

Joar Kvamsås

 

Mapping the Internet is an unforgiving task. While many attempts exist to map out the complex interconnections of information that makes out the Internet, most of these result in a mishmash of overlapping links in various colours. They give an idea of complexity, but offer little in the way of actually navigating that complexity – essentially, they aren’t very good as maps.

My favorite visualisation of the Internet is Russian data scientist Ruslan Enikeev’s The Internet Map (www.internet-map.net) from 2012. In this interactive network graph, a set of 350 000 websites are represented as dots, where the sites popularity is given by a dot’s size, and the nation where it is most used is represented by its colour. You can either search for a given website or browse the entire map by scrolling and zooming across its various continents. Just like with a geographical map you can get lost tracing its paths, borders and intersections, going country-by-country or website-by-website.

The first thing you notice when looking at the Internet Map are the major coloured continents. In the centre you find the Anglosphere, a vast continent that takes up a good third of the map itself. It is closely flanked by a rainbow-mix of European websites to the East, while a green India partially overlaps it in the West. Three major continents are isolated from it, existing in spheres of their own: China in yellow in the South-West; purple Japan in the South-East; and the Runet, the Russian language internet, in the North, appropriately coloured red. Smack down in the centre of the map you will see google.com, next to other giants such as Yahoo, Facebook and YouTube.

The centre of most national clusters can be found by looking up the nation-specific google site; for example, the UK, Australian and Nigerian clusters can be located inside the Anglosphere by looking up google.co.uk, google.com.au, or google.com.ng respectively. This is not true for all, however. The Chinese cluster is dominated by the search engines Baidu and qq.com; in the Runet, google is superseded by both the search engine Yandex and the social media site vkontakte; and in Japan, yahoo.com.jp still rules supreme.

Looking at the distributions of the internet clusters can often be an enlightening experience. If you look at the Runet cluster, for example, you will find Belarusian sites clustered in the centre of the Russophone continent, between vkontakte and Yandex.

Ukraine is also central in the Runet, though a bit closer to the western site google.ru, while Azerbaijan can be found at the margin of the continent, surrounded by major Russian money transfer sites. Interestingly, certain web services have been adopted by national clusters – livejournal. com can be found on the outskirts of the Runet, with Russians as the most important user base. Blogspot.com is surrounded by a massive cluster of Iranian blogging sites; blogging became an important news source in the country after a state crack-down on official media outlets in the early 2000’s.

Meanwhile, the Scandinavian countries all cluster around Wikipedia, together with Poland, Germany and the Netherlands, the popularity of the platform probably due its combination of English and native language content in these largely bilingual countries. Youtube.com is closely flanked by a series of Greek news sites, a testament to Greek online news media’s affinity for the platform.

In the South of the map, you can find a large Anglophone peninsula about the size of the Runet shooting off from the rest of the Anglosphere. This is the pornography continent, surrounded and overlapping with European, South-American and Asian sites of all colours. It is also the only part of the Anglosphere that borders directly with Japan, the border itself populated by a series of Japanese and American porn sites. Meanwhile, the pornography peninsula is separated from the mainstream Anglosphere by a series of video streaming sites of questionable legal status. Border areas can be interesting objects of investigation in their own right – the Runet, for example, is separated from the Anglosphere by a series of English language dictionaries and translation sites. Oftentimes border areas are populated by web hosting services that span several national markets.

In the North-western corner of the map, two major websites are floating freely in the void, in splendid isolation from the rest of the Internet. The larger of the two is wordpress. com, a major provider of website design and management services. The other is Go.com, Disney’s official web portal, where children can go to play games and find other Disneyrelated entertainment. What the two sites have in common is that they are both usually accessed directly and in isolation, as opposed to in a surfing session across several sites.

The true value of Ruslan’s Internet Map is that it allows us to explore and discover. Whether we want to look at the particular position and connection of a certain site, or if we are looking to see how different countries and languages interact in cyberspace, a well-designed map such as this can be an invaluable resource to internet ethnographers and big data scientists alike when doing exploratory research. Like when perusing a geographical world map, it lets us discover connections and details that changes our view of the world in an instant. And if nothing else, it certainly is a good way to waste an afternoon.