Author Archives: Michael Froomkin

The Future is Now

I’m at a meaty NSF/DHS conference on the regulatory challenges of ‘autonomous’ machines. (The scare quotes reflect the consensus that this is a contested term.)

The seriousness of the event has not stopped participants from noting that it’s Roy Batty’s birthday today (Blade Runner, in case you don’t get the reference).

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Off to DC (Policy for Automation Workshop)

I’m going to DC for a very short visit, to participate in the “Policy for Automation Workshop,” co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Homeland Security tomorrow and Friday. Should be really interesting. And certainly very timely.

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Review Skeptic Can Spot Fake Online Reviews (of Hotels)

Review Skeptic claims it can distinguish fake hotel reviews from real ones with 90% accuracy. Must be true, it’s based on research.

Spotted via Lifehacker.

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More Empirical Evidence of Habermasian Processes in Real Life

One of the common dismissals of Habermas’s theory of communicative action is that the requirement of an ‘ideal speech position’ is unrealistic. In Habermas@discourse.net: Toward a Critical Theory of Cyberspace I argued first that these critics misunderstood what Habermas required, that the so-called ‘ideal’ was not idealized and thus unattainable, but rather, ‘best achievable in real life’, optimal subject to the constraints of matter and time, and thus — in principle — attainable. Second, I argued that the internet standards process managed by the IETF achieved a Habermasian discourse, at least at times. Recognizing the special conditions, in particular the relative linguistic and professional homogeneity of the participants, I did not argue that the result was necessarily generalizable. Rather, I claimed that an existence proof of even one Habermasian discourse should at least silence critics who claimed the theory was unrealizable.

Comes now Karthikeyan Umapathy, Sandeep Purao and John W. Bagby, who have just published Investigating IT Standardization Process through the lens of Theory of Communicative Action. In it they state that,

Due to the openness, consensus orientation, and volunteer participation, many researchers have argued that standardization processes are quite similar to Habermasian view of rational discourse (i.e., open – ended discussion geared towards reaching consensus) described in the theory of communicative action1. However, none have conducted empirical investigation on an actual standardization process to provide evidence of social actions described by Habermas occurring within the process. Thus, the objective of this paper is to investigate IT standardization process from the theory of communicative action perspective and find evidence of social actions within an actual standardization process.

I told stories about the IETF, but didn’t formalize them. The authors of this paper tell the story of the SOAP standardization process and count incidents of Communicative Action (31%), Strategic Action (22%), Instrumental Action (18%), “Dramaturgical Action” (15%), and Normatively Regulated Action (14%):

Our findings reveal that participants in standardization processes engage in communicative action most frequently with aim of reaching mutual understanding and consensus, engage in strategic action when influencing others towards their intended goals, engage in instrumental action when taking responsibility for solving technical issues, engage in dramaturgical action when expressing their opinions, and engage in normatively regulated action when performing roles they assumed. Our analysis indicates that 60% of activities performed are consensus oriented whereas the rest are success oriented. This paper provides empirical evidence for Habermasian view of social actions occurring in the standardization process setting.

Again, this is not necessarily generalizable:

In this study, we perform analysis only o n one standard (i.e., SOAP) and on one SDO (i.e., W3C). Thus, findings from this study cannot be generalized for all anticipatory standards or SDOs.

Even so, useful data.


  1. Here, in addition to mine, they cite some papers I wasn’t aware of but will need to read, notably Schoechle, T.: Toward a Theory of Standards. In: IEEE Conference on Standardisation and Innovation in Information Technology (SIIT). IEEE, Los Alamitos, CA, USA (1999), and Lyytinen, K., Hirschheim, R.: Information systems as rational discourse: an application of Habermas’s theory of communicative action. 4, 19-30 (1988). They do not cite to Andrew L. Russell, The W3C and its Patent Policy Controversy:A Case Study of Authority and Legitimacy in Internet Governance (2003), which is also relevant. 

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I Loved It

French promo: Winter Is Not Coming: Season 6 Teaser.

Great work by Greenpeace.

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Donald Trump Game Theorist

Kevin Drum’s latest rumination on Donald Trump reveals “an odd quirk in Trump’s personality”:

He seems to have an ironclad rule against ever attacking someone first. Even Vladimir Putin. Putin says nice things about Trump, so Trump has to say nice things back. Opposing candidates who don’t attack him are “great guys.” But if you attack first, then he has to fire off a nuclear retaliation. There’s an odd kind of chivalry at work here, and I suppose it also provides people with a motivation to leave him alone.

Actually, this is one of the few things that isn’t odd about Trump. Social scientist and game theorists will recognize this ‘quirk’ immediately as the ‘tit for tat’ strategy that Robert Axelrod famously showed was the winning strategy for multiple iterations of the Prisoner’s Dilemma in his book The Evolution of Cooperation.

It seems sensible to think of most political mud-slinging as being suitable to modeling as a Prisoner’s Dilemma game: both sides sling dirt, both sides lose. (There are rare exceptions, such as when Nixon got Johnston to attack him, thus cementing Nixon’s role as the front runner for the 1968 GOP nomination, but those are rare.)

So at least when it comes to invective, Trump appears to be a natural game theorist.

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Miami Pop Music 2015

The Miami New Times 15 Best Miami Songs of 2015 were all new to me. Alas, I can only recommend #6, LunchMoney Lewis, “Bills”.

Part of my disconnect with the rest of the New Times list could be down to my failings: I don’t have much patience for techno, and my tastes in rap are somewhat classic. People more into contemporary rap may find several things to like on the New Times list. I wanted to like #10. Poorgrrrl, “Super Rude (co-prod. by ILLA, feat. Jenee),” just for the energy, and especially thought I ought to like #13. Virgo, “ISS” which is sort of similar to things I actually do like … but I didn’t.

One smothered cheer for #15 on the list, Basside, “QLCL (Birthday Sex and Cheap Champagne)”. It’s crude, rude, and shot like a high school project, but the New Times review of it as “the most Miami thing we’ve ever seen” is less far off the mark than one might wish.

At this rate I may have to revise my estimation of Pitbull.

(More LunchMoney Lewis: Mama & WhipIt; WhipIt is the most hit-like but also the blandest.)

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