Virtual Worlds, Day 3.

On day three of the EU’s citizen’s assembly on Virtual Worlds, after a short meeting in groups, we reassembled in the plenary hall. We were introduced to a speaker panel, which they referred to as a knowledge committee which included three Belgian improv artists. The whole session is available at for review on the Commission’s streaming platform.

The commission speaker emphasised again the EU’s principles, guiding their regulatory strategies. The rights and principles are:

  1. Putting people and their rights at the centre of the digital transformation
  2. Supporting solidarity and inclusion
  3. Ensuring freedom of choice online
  4. Fostering participation in the digital public space
  5. Increasing safety, security and empowerment of individuals
  6. Promoting the sustainability of the digital future

But no explicit reference to the rights of information and privacy and thus not addressing encryption vs surveillance or am I is being too suspicious. Some are worried that the legislature will use the coming AI Regulation to demand encryption breaking measures on messaging products.

The regulatory aquis is being built on the GDPR and the recently passed Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act. The Commission outlines its programme on its web site, and I have sought summarise the legislative  programme in another note.

Amongst the experts was Prof. Catherine Hesse, and Dr Mariette van Huijstee, the other speakers can be discovered on the stream. They both spoke of the changes that virtual worlds make on their users, including on the way the brain works, of the environmental impact and on whether it will create new levels of inclusivity. On the last topic, Sara Lisa Vogel, a virtual world performance artist, presented from their digital home, stated they find the disguise and anonymity a benefit and it enhances their life as otherwise they find themselves subject to racism in particular.

CC 2008 John Lester BY – via wikiversity

I found the platform’s quality of content, on the whole poor although my syndicate group moderator was awesome; there were no economists, or the one that might have been, focused on other things.

I feel that the citizens are being guided to chose safety before privacy as can be seen by the surveillance enabling provisions of the AI Bill. The real life dystopian example, is China’s Sesame Credit scheme, China’s sesame credit system [or on Medium], where access to services is based on your social media record and public statements.

Safety is also about protection against fake news and foreign state actors. CoFoE had a lot to say about this and it makes me wonder if we must transfer responsibility onto the carriers, although the Digital Services Act reset the notify and takedown rules in Europe and placed a duty on web sites to remove content they know to be illegal.

Absent from conversations over the weekend is the question of investment which made me ask what Horizon Europe and NESSI are doing?

During the plenary Q&A, there was a question on how the topic was chosen; given that I am concerned about the scoping of this as Virtual Worlds and not the future of the internet. I think this question is important. True virtual worlds may have been done, and are limited by what can be described using a real world metaphor, although Sara Lisa Vogel, an artist made a powerful plea that living as an avatar in a virtual world can be liberating and help escape oppressions from the real world.

Let’s see if it gets better over sessions two and three to be held in March and April. …

Virtual Worlds, Day 2

Virtual Worlds, Day 2

This is based on my notes taken on Day 2 of the EU’s citizen’s assembly on Virtual Worlds. These have been polished, but are not easy to draw conclusions or a story from, partly because I have tried not to leave anything out, and the participants were not looking to bring their stories and thoughts together. These notes do not tell a story and this article is quite long for me. I hope it has something interesting for you; it talks of the technology, a little bit of economics, social engagement and control and even a little about the changing nature of personality.

This is an excerpt, the full blog is beyond the "Read More" button. ...

Virtual Worlds, an EU citizens assembly

I have been granted Observer status to the EU’s second 2nd Generation citizens’ assembly, this is on Virtual Worlds. I felt my expertise might be useful. The first day (half day), was a plenary session, the final exercise in the afternoon was a brainstorming session in which all the invited citizens joined in. They were asked to identify the three best things and the three worst things, they have observed since 1992, the year the world wide web was invented.

from NWN Beneath the Cobbles, made by me

The brainstorming session asked people to identify good and bad things from the Internet by time, on the collective results suggested things were getting worse. Whether this is because it is getting worse or caused by the fact that the younger people can’t identify older benefits or disbenefits.

I made the following observations;

  1. I remember my first purchase using Internet technology. In 1992, I ordered some software from an American software vendor, using e-mail or maybe by phone. There was no PayPal, and download speeds prohibited I download. The software was delivered by mail. I forget how we paid for it.This was about two years after I had asked sales staff at Sun Microsystem to demonstrate a remote login from London to New York.
  2. I remember in the late 80’s attaching a VT100 via a modem in my home to Pyramid Technology’s benchmarking systems, starting a personal 40 year internal debate as to whether working from home is good or bad.
  3. I remember installing and playing Neverwinter Nights in about 2006, probably my first experience of a virtual world, although I rarely played cooperatively. The WAN connectivity was not good enough although once we got the ISDN line in, my children enjoyed playing a bunch of co-operative games over the years.
  4. I remember my conversations about transferring to Google as a search engine. It had in-list driven “page rank” scoring; I abandoned Alta Vista’s in memory localised search. Google was probably my first cloud application.
  1. I recall the time spent installing anti malware products and learning about strange networking configurations just to get the computers in my home to work together mainly playing games. Did learning the skills for the more esoteric parts of Windows self-administration help me? Certainly the transition to Windows 7 and then beyond was not a good experience.
  2. Today I spend too much time curating my social media feeds to ensure that those that wish to control me don’t get what they need from what I say. There is a chilling effect created buy those for whom home surveillance is a way of life.
  3. When repairing my phone recently, this had to be done by the original equipment vendor, and their prices are not fair. We need the coming “right to repair”.

Other issues raised include the growing amount of fake news and click bait and the psychological manipulation exercised to create site stickiness.

At least one person, spoke of remote conferencing as an advantage and disadvantage. In many cases without this technology communication and collaboration would not occur, but on the other hand, true communication needs physical presence. Huge amounts of communication between people is non verbal.

It was also identified networks based on technology create exclusions as well as increasing the amounts of communication and the creation of new networks. These exclusions maybe social, or based on protocols such as the transition from myspace to Facebook. This observation reminded me that my secondary school old boys’ network would not have been created without social media providers and that building that network used three social media platforms, Friends Reunited, Yahoo, and finally Facebook. …

Labour and Devolution

Labour and Devolution

Scottish Labour met last weekend, its motion on the Constitutional question welcomes the Brown Commission report entitled, “A New Britain: Renewing our Democracy and Rebuilding our Economy. Report of the Commission on the UK’s Future”, on the UK constitution and wealth, which I reviewed last month. I wanted to write a preview of that debate but as I did my research, my views changed, it took time to come to a conclusion and what I thought I was going to say changed. This has come from rereading the Brown Commission together with the Scottish Parliament’s page on devolved and reserved powers, and the Wikipedia pages on the Calman and Smith commissions.

In my view the motion is confused, fails to define what more powers Scotland should have and its final call to arms, could equally be made in any of the other nations of the UK. Clearly there are some in Labour who believe that the Scotland could come to be satisfied with the status quo; friends of mine suggest this cannot win in Scotland. Those in Labour who disagree clearly think a quiet unionist approach is sufficient and that the anti-tory tide will turn votes towards Labour, even in Scotland.

From my recent reading, I have concluded that if one wants a single labour market, and single monetary & fiscal policies, there’s little more devolve. The Brown Commission came up with the job centres, skills and workers’ rights, the minimum wage and a suggestion that Scotland should adopt directly elected mayors. It’s clear to me that the reason the Commission found difficulty in finding more powers to devolve as its authors are committed to that single labour market and monetary & fiscal policy. While they look at tax raising powers for the Scottish Parliament, they note that these, albeit requiring Treasury permission, have never been requested. If one is committed to these common policies, either on the grounds of a superior welfare economics solution or through political commitment, then there are few powers left to give Scotland with the final say.

If one studies the current settlement and recognises the current lack of further options, then Brown’s proposals for improving the joint consultation and monitoring processes may deliver some benefit, but only if Westminster’s self-entitled and de-jure pre-eminence is undermined. On co-operation, Brown proposes, “A new Council of the Nations and Regions, replacing the present dysfunctional Joint Ministerial Committees, based in statute and with an independent supporting secretariat, to drive joint working.”

So these co-operation/consultation mechanisms exist, but we can see by observing Cameron’s announcement of English Votes for English Laws, May & Johnson’s Sewell Convention busting, failure to effectively consult with Scotland on Brexit and Sunak’s vetoing of the Scottish Parliament’s gender recognition reform that like all UK law, there is no long term certainty as Parliament may not bind itself or its successors. Any proposals on devolution or subsidiarity have to answer the question as to how one entrenches such guarantees within the UK, as parliament as constituted cannot be bound, and any promise given can be revoked.

Fortunately, Brown, makes proposals about removing this overreaching power. His commission proposes that the UK adopt a basic law, in which individual and community rights are established, with constraints on the Government and Commons and that the second chamber be revised to act as guardians of that law, with a right of veto of laws that adversely changed this basic law. It’s clever and needed, the question is whether Labour’s leadership north and south of the border will seek allies and pursue it. Composite 7 at SLP conference doesn’t seem to recognise the opportunity, and I wonder if this is laziness or a lack of commitment. Given what policies the Labour leadership is throwing overboard, I am surprised that Scottish unionism seems to be a red line for them.

In the full blog article, overleaf, there is an analysis of the Brown Commission recommendations for Scotland, and a further analysis of why there’s no more to devolve, and thus why co-operation between Westminster and the nations of the UK is necessary. Use the “Read More” button to view the complete article. …

Lawyers, Guns and Money

Lawyers, Guns and Money

So Ukraine gets Tanks. Lots of Tanks, well not so many but let’s see what Poland does. I wrote this over a couple of week and wondered if it was worth saying and or if my readership wanted something like this, but the Guardian ran a similar story so I decided to go-ahead.

Two weeks ago the UK Government, agreed to send a dozen 20 year old tanks to Ukraine. Ukraine had been asking the German government for permission to take the German Leopard from Poland and it seems the UK offered some of theirs. The Challenger 2 has a different gun to the rest of NATO, the British Gun is not designed for anti-tank use, and will require specially trained personnel. It’s possible that Ukraine would prefer the Challenger because of its gun, as it is designed for infantry support but there are reasons that we plan to replace them; the age of the vehicles and the technology being two reasons.

And the jets? The UK has two warplanes in its inventory. The US F35 Lightening and the Euro-fighter, Typhoon. The former might be best obtained from the US as the ones the Brits have bought have been customised for specific purposes i.e. STOL although this may make them suitable to perform the role for which Ukraine is asking for F16s. Both are multi-role warplanes, but the British are still acquiring the planes from the US as we do not have enough, although the need is alleviated by the Prince of Wales’ reliability problems.

This leaves the Typhoon. The oldest of the Typhoons in service with the RAF were optimised for air-defence and have a weaker air-to-ground capability. The Typhoon is a notoriously hard plan to fly and will again, require long training periods but it is in use with the German, Italian and Spanish air forces. It’s highly likely that to let the Typhoons go to Ukraine, will require the permission of Germany Italy and Spain, our development partners. Most of its users are considering replacements. Do Ukraine really want 15 year old Typhoons, although 15 years is not so old for a warplane and they want planes for air-to-air combat against planes and drones? (The Guardian’s sources disagree and think that ground attack is the priority.) Maybe, but they are asking for F16s. Can an air force the size of Ukraine’s cope  with the logistics and personnel issues in flying two such warplanes, although its personnel cadre is roughly the same as the RAF and it flies two such planes.

This last fact shows the damage done to the UK’s defence capability by 12 years of Tory rule; the 2021 White Paper, with its ambition to return east of Suez effectively reduced our capability of defending our European allies. The reduction in the Army & RAF personnel and the reliance on US supply chains weakens the UK’s real defence capability and Brexit has weakened our capability of co-operating with other European powers in the extra-NATO European military co-operation regimes that the EU is slowly building.

While Sunak has asked the MOD to look at options for shipping warplanes to Ukraine they have also said only if it can be done safely for British lives and the Guardian reports that the MOD is not happy as the Typhoons are exceedingly busy. Will we give Ukraine the tanks and jets it’s asking for? Probably, but the gifting is more symbolic than effective, which is why Zelenski is asking us for them.

All this militaristic bravado diverts from, and hides, the questions of Russian money in British politics, sanctions against war criminals, and support for the Russian peace movement and draft dodgers. Westminster is ignoring things we can do to help; we can and should do more than just ship the Ukraine some old shite we don’t need any more.

The featured image is CC0 from …

Ruling through fear

Have they cowed the Judges? The Economist has just issued its Democracy Index and I have had another go at scoring the UK. It asks questions about redress and petition which took me to Judicial Review which clearly by observation is failing and more dramatically but less visibly away from the corridors of power. In this review, I stated that Judges are appointed by, promoted by and paid by Governments. These views or at least those that question the committent of the courts to the rule of law, it seems are shared by Jo Maughn who makes his point in a tweet thread, which I have gathered into one place using threadreaderapp and copied here using a rather neat wordpress tool. Please use the 'read more' button to see his powerful and frightening words ... ...

Online Safety Bill progresses into the Lords

This article is repost of a the Open Rights Group newsletter. Please look at this, it's really quite short but I am quite shocked at just how far the government plans to go, prior restraint, ministerial decrees on acceptable content, encryption breaking surveillance, and more. Please use the read more button to see what the Govt is up to and how you might help in stopping the worst of its proposals.