Library Search

Libraries have not only lots of books on shelves and in storage places, but scientific research makes use of lots of scientific journals as well. The direct access to these journals shortens the search for information. We tend to focus on certain sets of journals, which we follow regularly as well as some random choices. Libraries like the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin have the advantage of access to multiple scientific disciplines under the same roof. This facilitates cross-disciplinary research with access to the best available knowledge. This resembles university libraries where also a broad spectrum of disciplines is taught.

Moving from paper-based publishing to electronic publishing, it is obvious that libraries are part of this move. Printed journals disappear and the electronic versions are made available to the readers. 2 issues arise: (1) adapt your search strategy to e-search and reading on screens and (2) accept that your research leaves traces (and potential tracking of your activities) of what information is really used. User statistics are likely to have consequences in the medium term. All libraries want to know who are my readers and what kind of search strategies do they apply. Similar to some of the best scientific results that are an outcome of by chance findings the search in libraries is enriched through „random effects“ of search. On-shelf access to printed copies allows a rapid overview of a whole year of issues beyond the abstracts always available online anyway. It is so much faster than the online search that we shall miss the paper-based issues of journals for quite some time. At the time of artificial intelligence everywhere reading and writing might be overvalued as economists might say. Our search algorithms and use of libraries is evolving at the same time. The by-chance or random inspiration might move to other places.

library shelf with empty journals‘ stock

Digital Estonia

The progress of Estonia in going digital is quite advanced. The electronic identity card which allows data to be linked to health data and accounts or banking gives an impression of how far-reaching digitalization may go. Great steps have been taken to guide the population on the way to move towards the digital (only) world. Learning and coaching of a huge amount need to take place so that people do not abandon or get lost on the path towards “everything digital”. For the so-called digital natives, who have grown up with the sound of their smartphone at the bedside all the time, this move feels “natural”. Some experienced or silver workers got on track, if they were accompanied in suitable forms. The 65+ population might find it harder to adapt to the permanent use of digital devices for not only getting around in your city, but also to do your tax declaration, pay your dues and vote in elections.
Digitalization is not a goal in itself. It has advantages to reach communities in remote places or islands, but it might alienate older persons that have no other person around to assist them in the digital only world. An easy way to get some social science data to inform the debate is to refer to Eurostat and the surveys with information about the “overall life satisfaction” of people (EU-SILC). Checking for some major countries of the EU and neighbours of Estonia with less digitalization the differences are rather small. In terms of overall life satisfaction (16+ years old) Estonia has been catching up to the EU-average mainly between 2013 and 2021. Since then, stagnation at the EU-average is what the data tell. A quick testing of the hypothesis that the older persons (65+) might not see the past evolution as rosy is reflected in the EU-data as well. Good pensions seem to drive the “happiness” of older persons in the EU more than good digitalization. Eventually the two features of a society will have to go hand in hand to improve life satisfaction to higher levels. (Image: Data Eurostat EU-SILC Life satisfaction 65+, selected countries 2013-2023, retrieved on 2024-4-23, comparison with table all ages here, Data source)

AI Reader

In the middle of the hype around AI it is useful to take stock of the reflection and evolution of AI. In my own analyses and writings on AI it evident that a narrowing of focus has taken place. Whereas before 2022 the writing dealt more with digital technologies in general. The links to the literature on the social construction of technologies was obvious. Algorithms and AI was a part of the broader topic of society and technology.
This has changed. The public debate is focused on “everything AI now”. We look at technological developments largely through the lens of AI now. Hence, my focus of assessments of technology from a societal perspective follows this trend. In a collection of blog entries on AI we try to demonstrate the far reaching changes that have started to have an impact on us. In the last few months the all encompassing concern about AI’s effect on us needs full attention of social scientists, policy makers, companies and the public at large. We can no longer leave this topic to the software engineers alone. By the way, they themselves ask us to get involved and take the latest advances in AI more seriously.
As a “flipbook” the online reading is rather comfortable (Link to flipbook publisher MPL). The pdf or epub files of the blog entries allow to directly follow the links to sources in webpages or other publications (AI and Society 2p 2024-4-18). The cycles of analyses and comments have become faster. Traditional book writing suffers from time lags that risk to make pubications outdated rather quickly. Dynamic ebook writing might bridge the gap between time to reflect and speed to publish or inform the wider public. The first update as .pdf-file is available here: AI and Society(2).

AI by AI

It has become a common starting point to use electronic devices and online encyclopedias to search for definitions. Let us just do this for artificial intelligence. The open platform of Wikipedia returns on the query of “artificial intelligence” the following statement as a definition: “AI … is intelligence exhibited by machines, particularly computer systems …“. It is not like human intelligence, but tries to emulate it or even tries to improve on it. Part of any definition is also the range of applications of it in a broad range of scientific fields, economic sectors or public and private spheres of life. This shows the enormous scope of applications that keeps rapidly growing with the ease of access to software and applications of AI.
How does AI define itself? How is AI defined by AI? Putting the question to ChatGPT 3.5 in April 2024 I got the following fast return. (See image). ChatGPT provides a more careful definition as the “crowd” or networked intelligence of Wikipedia. AI only “refers to the simulation” of HI processes by machines”. Examples of such HI processes include the solving of problems and understanding of language. In doing this AI creates systems and performs tasks that usually or until now required HI. There seems to be a technological openness embedded in the definition of AI by AI that is not bound to legal restrictions of its use. The learning systems approach might or might not allow to respect the restrictions set to the systems by HI. Or, do such systems also learn how to circumvent the restrictions set by HI systems to limit AI systems? For the time being we test the boundaries of such systems in multiple fields of application from autonomous driving systems, video surveillance, marketing tools or public services. Potentials as well as risks will be defined in more detail in this process of technological development. Society has to accompany this process with high priority since fundamental human rights are at issue. Potentials for assistance of humans are equally large. The balance will be crucial.

AI Collusion

In most applications of AI there is one system of AI, for example a specialized service, that performs in isolation from other services. More powerful systems, however, allow for the combination of AI services. This may be useful in case of integrating services focusing on specialized sensors to gain a more complete impression of the performance of a system. As soon as two and more AI systems become integrated the risk of unwanted or illegal collusion may occur.
Collusion is defined in the realm of economic theory as the secret, undocumented, often illegal, restriction of competition originating from at least two otherwise rival competitors. In the realm of AI collusion has been defined by Motwani et al. (2024) as “teams of communicating generative AI agents solve joint tasks”. The cooperation of agents as well as the sharing of of previously exclusive information increase the risks of violation of rights of privacy or security. The AI related risks consist also in the dilution of responsibility. It becomes more difficult to identify the origin of fraudulent use of data like personal information or contacts. Just imagine using Alexa and Siri talking to each other to develop another integrated service as a simplified example.
The use of steganography techniques, i.e. the secret embedding of code into an AI system or image distribution, can protect authorship as well as open doors for fraudulent applications. The collusion of AI systems will blur legal borders and create multiple new issues to resolve in the construction and implementation of AI agents. New issues of trust in technologies will arise if no common standards and regulations will be defined. We seem to be just at the entry of the new brave world or 1984 in 2024.
(Image: KI MS-Copilot: Three smartphones in form of different robots stand upright on a desk in a circle. Each displays text on a computer image.)

AI input

AI is crucially dependent on the input it is built on. This has been already the foundation principle of the powerful search engines like Google that have become to dominate the commercial part of the internet. The crawling of pages on the world wide web and classifying/ranking them with a number of criteria has been the successful business model. The content production was and is done by billions of people across the globe. Open access facilitates the amount of data available.
The business case for AI is not much different. At the 30th anniversary of the “Robots Exclusion Standard” we have to build on these original ideas to rethink our input strategies for AI as well. If there are parts of our input we do not AI to use in its algorithms we have to put up red flags in form of unlisting parts of the information we allow for public access. This is standard routine we might believe, but everything on the cloud might have made it much easier for owners of the cloud space to “crawl” your information, pictures or media files. Some owners of big data collections have decided to sell the access and use to their treasures. AI can then learn from these data.
Restrictions become also clear. More up-to-date information might not be available for AI-treatment. AI might lack the most recent information, if it a kind of breaking news. The strength of AI lies in the size of data input it can handle and treat or recombine. The deficiency of AI is not to know whether the information it uses (is in the data base) is valid or trustworthy. Wrong or outdated input due to a legal change or just-in-time change will be beyond its scope. Therefore, the algorithms have a latent risk involved, i.e. a bias towards the status quo. But the learning algorithms can deal with this and come up with a continued learning or improvement of routines. In such a process it is crucial to have ample feedback on the valid or invalid outcome of the algorithm. Controlling and evaluating outcomes becomes the complementary task for humans as well as AI. Checks and balances like in democratic political systems become more and more important.

Sepsis

Sepsis is a major cause of mortality. Therefore, early detection of sepsis is of high importance. Antibiotics constitute a powerful antidote. However, the application of antibiotics without need, i.e. for purely risk reduction in general, has side effects in antibiotics losing their effectiveness later on.
The paper published in The Lancet Digital Health by van der Weijden et al. (2024) reports on the effort to provide an open source access to a calculator of early onset of sepsis (Link). The Neonatal early-onset sepsis calculator developed by Kaiser Permanente builds on the use on the risk carried by mothers like time since membrane rupture, regional infection risks of mothers per 1000 population and the infants presentation at birth. It is important to point out the combination of risks put into the calculator. New systems of artificial intelligence might equally make predictions or recommendations about the application of antibiotics implicitly making use of such a calculator without disclosure.
From a sociological point of view it is interesting to scrutinize the indicators used in the calculation. The approximation of mothers carrying a sepsis risk relies on national, regional or better local indicators. This information is rarely accessible to the public. The choice of a hospital, speed of access to it in case of membrane rupture as well as staffing come into the calculation of an overall risk of sepsis.
It is great to follow the progress of digital health and the increased transparency of critical health decisions at the earliest stages of the life course. Inflammation as a precursor of sepsis should be taken serious at all stages of the life course. (Image calculation based on Kaiser Permanente digital tool Link)

Election Re-election

Politics is a lot about decision making, coalition building and communication strategies. Therefore, there have been well established election and re-election cycles in all democracies, even the so-called illiberal pseudo-democracies. The time span between elections is itself a constituent part of democratic practice. 4 years of office for an elected parliamentarian seems to be common sense across many countries. More intensive participation and election schedules have advantages in tighter checks and balances, but may have disadvantages with respect to democratic fatigue, i.e. the time and effort needed to stay informed and cast votes. “Liquid democracy” is a concept of decision making which requires highly engaged persons willing to get involved beyond average commitments. Delegation to politicians within parties and parliaments remains an effective version of democratic practice. Checks against corruption and illegal practices is a necessary condition of each system of delegation. Rapidly changing governments are similarly perceived as a risk to democracies as the repeated call to the ballot box might be unsettling more than calming the spirits.
Berlin in 2024 (like 2023) provides another lesson on the sense of elections and re-elections. The repetition of parts of the federal election in parts of Berlin was required by the constitutional court. Due to failures in correct provision of access to voting and voting material results might have been biased. According to an online reporting by the local radio station (rbb24) based on the official electoral statistics, the participation in the re-election decreased from 75% to 51% in the 455 out of 2.256 districts that repeated the election. There seems to be a high level of democratic fatigue in these districts where the re-election in general accounts of participation in elections marks a low point in achievement. It appears worthwhile to question the judicial decision to repeat the election to the drastic reduction of representativity of the re-election. In statistical terms we trade one form of bias against another form of bias with an unclear overall outcome.
Organising elections is a professional task and requires specific competences. As this is at the heart of democracies, we need to improve our organisation and surveillance of this fundamental democratic process. Repetition seems to be worse than other second or third best solutions. Investing in democracy starts also at the ballot box. Electronic voting is not a panacea, but might be part of the solution. (Image source: Landeswahlleiter Berlin, left: Erststimmenmehrheit, right Wahlbeteiligung, combined election + re-election)

Digital organising

Since the digital innovations continue to broaden our scope of how to organise, we have to make conscious choices which way to choose. The traditional form of sending out newsletters and waiting for responses is still a feature that is prevalent across Europe. Most organisations have shifted to digital plus physical versions by now, just like newspapers. Young organisations by founding year have started or shifted to digital only for speed of delivery, CO2 and cost saving mainly. We may derive a first dimension of organising between the digital and physical.
A second dimension consists in the central versus decentral forms of organising. Similar to the franchise principle of organising companies, organisations have a choice to keep a central structure with varying degrees of freedom at the regional, sectoral or local level. Organisation theory is helpful in this respect. Various hybrid forms are equally possible. Centralised in financial aspects, but scope for local decisions on content.
Bohn et al. (2023) define digital organising as “collective purposeful alignment and distributed action fostered through digital technologies”. Centralisation and/or Decentralization become a matter of conscious choice. The processes of datafication and connectification, whereby every bit of information becomes a data point and any electronically enabled device can be connected with each other. Organisations now have a choice of how to organize including digital organising. The opportunities are within the space opened up by the 2 dimensions (figure below). A specific subject matter may require more physical presence and maybe centralised structure, but digital only forms with highly decentralised forms are powerful tools in the 21st century. New as well as established social movements may well take advantage of these digital technologies as well. (Image: Digital Organising 2024 Protest Berlin).

Flotow CH

Noch 20 Jahre nach seinem Tod wurde Friedrich von Flotow recht prominent aufgeführt. Im Stadt- und Aktien- Theater der Stadt St. Gallen stand seine Oper “Martha” an einem Mittwoch 26.4.1905 auf dem Programm (Anfang 8 Uhr präzis), gefolgt von Mozarts Zauberflöte 2 Tage später.  Was für eine Konkurrenz. Das Plakat zur Aufführung ist in der Digitalen Bibliothek der Kunstbibliothek in Berlin anzusehen (Link).
Die Geschichte des Theaters in St. Gallen ist aus ökonomischen,  gesellschaftlichen und architektonischen Gründen interessant. Das Tagblatt berichtete in 2007 über den Abriss der historischen Städte und den sehr verspäteten Neubau einer moderneren, größeren und wirtschaftlicheren Spielstätte. Damals zu Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts schon standen populäre Werke wie die Martha und die Zauberflöte auf dem Spielplan. Die Aktionäre des Stadt- und Aktien- Theaters der Stadt St. Gallen haben wohl schon immer etwas mehr auf das Geld geschaut, auch wenn es um Kunst geht. Mehr Zuschauende und Zuhörende ist demokratisch und nebenbei gut für’s Geschäft. Der Abriss war beklagenswerter Weise im Jahr 1971. Ein Neubau an anderem Ort startete bereits 1968. Dieser Bau musste ebenfalls nach 40 Jahren Spielzeit grundsaniert oder abgerissen werden.  Heute findet sich darin ein lebhaftes Programm mit Musicals als ausgezeichnetem Schwerpunkt und beispielsweise des Theaterstücks „Gott“ von Ferdinand von Schirach . Die Stadt und die Aktionäre sind wohl aus der finanziellen Verantwortung, aber das Kanton St.Gallen und der Lotteriefond sind eingesprungen. Bildquelle und Großansicht Kunstbibliothek SPK Berlin.

Mastodon

In the Post-Twitter-world there is room for other platforms to take over the information function and opinion exchange on an international level. Mastodon has made a good start to fill this gap. The number of registered users has surpassed the 10 million users by large. If the anger about the union-busting and Trump supporter Elon Musk increases further, more and more people will join Mastodon as users and content providers. Advertisers will follow where they can reach their appropriate audiences. If you sell seats on a spacecraft to the moon you will advertise on eXit-Twitter. If you care about responsible investment you advertise on elsewhere or on Mastodon, because that is where your audience will be. Ethically responsible advertisers started to make such moves already. The decentralised structure to potentially filter human rights violating hate messages will need to grow accordingly on this platform. This is a challenge for all platforms and involves costs. To better understand the idea behind Mastodon, think of a platform which connects many other local networks or platforms. Yes, it is a platform of platforms. Decentralised instances provide and can remove access to the local platform. Even whole sub-platforms might be shut out. This increases the potential to build a “caring platform”. Decentralised organisation often incurs higher costs than a central instance that decides and administers a one-size fits all solution. But it is worth a try.
An example makes is more clear, what are the advantages of such decentral organisation to achieve more shielded privacy. For example, a small local chess club targeting primarily youth can open its own server on mastodon and admit only its known members to the network. It is easy to control who gets access to your posts of solutions to riddles or innovative game and learning strategies. Access to other Mastodon instances is an additional option. For enterprises or larger organisations, it needs the communication department to talk to the IT-service to get such a structure on its way. A dedicated person needs to monitor what content gets posted and what kind of “traffic” is generated. But this can largely be automated. In case you know your members of the local platform it is much less likely to occur than on the eXit-Twitter or other centralised huge international platforms.
Many federated structures will find it useful and part of their social-DNA to join the FEDIVERSE. We shall have to wait for some more time to get the so-called social media platforms civilised. These are social investments and learning processes which deviate from the profit-maximising rationale of other platforms. (Image: screenshot from @mastodon-user on 2023-11-30).

Twitter Retreat

There are many migrating species in nature. Birds form a large part of the them. This follows a kind of annual or seasonal pattern. Depending on the migration experience and dangers some, sometimes many don’t come back. This seems to describe the migration experience of the tweeting bird called twitter. Changing the name from Twitter to X, whereby X for maths-oriented people stands for a variable name that can be filled with any value. For the cinema industry X stands for x-rated adult only content and has rather obnoxious content. This might hold for web content as well.
Online through “https://netzpolitik.org/2023/x-odus-immer-mehr-medien-machen-schluss-mit-twitter/ the disastrous consequences of harsh human resource policies and lack of political sensitivity can be followed. Multiplying biased opinions of right-wing extremists, the platform has been highjacked and many tweeting birds leave or have left already.
Leaving is not easy though. People and enterprises have invested substantial amounts of money into tweeting and software developers have created specialised features to make it easy to spread press releases or info via these add-on services. I myself benefitted from services to show my tweets on my webpage or to easily publish info or links to the webpage. As of now, with migrating away most of these investments will be lost. It was smooth and easy, but now we start this all over again with other comparable platforms and assistance from developers. Mastodon and Bluesky are on the rise as alternative platforms and most likely we shall use both for some time just like Netzpolitik and many others. If already 1/3 of users intend to leave Twitter/X the impact of big advertisers leaving the platform has even more impact. After all they pay for reaching potentially millions of platform users, but now they reach only a steeply biased subset of previous users. Deleting the Twitter/X app saves you from other potential unwanted monitoring or tracking. Only the addresses on Mastodon for example are a bit longer like @mastodon.social@klausschoemann. Decentral monitoring of illicit undesirable content has advantages and disadvantages. We shall have to monitor this a bit ourselves and contribute more actively to save such platforms from bad weather or seasonal migration.

Email

Over a generation the association with the word mail or AI has changed. Younger generations will automatically think of email as the obvious association with “you have got mail”. Asking people for their mail address, most people will respond immediately with their email account. That has certainly changed over the last 20 years. Email has become extraordinarily important for contacts, content and “crime”. The original set-up of mail servers were supposed to exchange data and information between trusted and trusting individuals. Nowadays we have become “anyone” on an email-list or part of a cascading email-chain. Pishing emails that try to lure us to potentially fake webpages to enter personal information is widespread. A whole new industry of cybersecurity has evolved in parallel with ever faster pingpong of new threats and costly remedies. Most critical remains the human factor to protect email and vital information from abuse. All training to better manage email should therefore begin with awareness building on the need to take cybersecurity seriously right from the beginning. It is not an issue to deal with towards the end of learning about it. Some general points have become common practice. Think carefully if you need to open the mail. Check whether there are external links in it. Do you really need this extra information? Be careful about the number of persons you forward or put in the copy field of your mail.

Unfortunately the simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP) makes it technically fairly easy to abuse email addresses and send an email from a domain name which you do not own. Same holds true for the content of emails. Originally only basic letters and numbers were allowed, no Umlaut etc. But then the “multipurpose internet mail extensions” (MIME) enabled more formats of attachments and illicit links and files within the email content.

In consequence it became necessary to scan emails en masse for malware and obnoxious content. Hence the quality of your email programs reveals itself with the amount of spam you still receive. Next come the email filters that sort your inbox for spam and other modern plagues like unwanted newsletters or notifications.

In consequence we sometimes wonder that we never received certain emails albeit the person sending it reiterated that the email was sent. Even checking your spam folder in the email program might not solve the issue because your receiving email server has been instructed not to accept emails from previously unknown mail servers. Not much you can do about this as an individual person, you mail server is just not on the so-called white list from which to accept incoming emails.

With a mail address from the big national or international companies you have little to worry about in this respect. Smaller companies or organizations might suddenly face a thorny issue if their i@xy.z address appears on a dubious list. You will end up sending but nobody receives your emails. It might take you quite some time to find out about it and even more to fix the issue. Hence the take home message is, have more than one email address registered on different mail servers to check that sending out and receiving emails works properly for you. Managing an own webpage with email service for members or employees is a nice service, but beware of the implications for cyber security as well.

Once upon a time we drafted letters to 1-2 friends 🫠

Digital Egal

In den deutschen Amtsstuben geht es Ende 2023 oft noch erschreckend analog zu. Für einen Grundbuchauszug, beispielsweise, hatte ich das außerordentliche Vergnügen das Grundbuchamt am Amtsgericht in Berlin Ringstraße aufzusuchen. Sonst nimmt man sich ja nicht die Zeit, solche Sehenswürdigkeiten von innen zu besuchen. Die Überraschungen waren vielfältiger Art. 3 Personen Wachpersonal und Metalldetektor, wie bei der Flugabfertigung. Für den Auszug aus dem Grundbuch ist selbstverständlich eine Gebühr fällig, die nur bar entrichtet werden kann. Auf zur Zahlstelle, immerhin auf dem gleichen Flur. Die nächste Amtsstube hat zwar noch einen richtig historischen Tresor, aber die Erfassung der Zahlung läuft wohl noch auf alten Geräten. Vielleicht per relativ unsicherem WLAN verbunden. Das LAN-Kabel ist jedoch schon mitgeliefert, das dann irgendwann einmal eine sicherere Netzanbindung ermöglichen wird.
Über einen Dienstleister lässt sich der Verwaltungsakt auch online erledigen unter Herausgabe der Kreditkartendaten und sonstiger Daten (Cookies) samt Unterschrift per Maus (!). Das ganze für die doppelte Verwaltungsgebühr. Dank des 49 € Tickets wollte ich mir diesen Spaß jedoch live gönnen. Wahrscheinlich werde ich das nochmals mit den Enkelkindern so als lebendigen Museumsbesuch nachvollziehen. Wer weiß, wie lange das noch möglich sein wird. Das Personal trägt es mit Fassung und dem nötigen Humor.
Bisher kannte ich die Diskussion über die Digitalisierung der Verwaltungen mehr aus wissenschaftlichen und technischen Diskursen. Jetzt kann ich so richtig in das Jammern darüber einstimmen. Produktivitätsfortschritte lassen sich hier in ungeahntem Maße erzielen. Einer geht noch: Was ist das längste Wort in dem Amtsvorgang und wie viele Buchstaben hat es?
Gerichtskassenstemplerabdruck (auf der Quittung).

Barbie explore

The film on Barbie after more than 60 years of the first puppets to arrive on the market is a huge money spinning exercise. Hitting more than 1 billion $ is really a huge box office success. More interesting even is the banning of the film in some countries like Algeria. This gives the film an interesting subversive touch to it, which we in the Western countries no longer see as something special. Emancipated women pose a threat to authoritarian regimes.
However, we see in the stereotypes of beauty-driven dolls not that much of an emancipatory chance. To view emancipation independent of the looks of a person is another interesting twist to the role in stereotypes of beauty. It is not only fun to play around with stereotypes, that is mostly, if you are not negatively affected by them (age, gender, ethnicity, extraordinary persons). A nice task for sociology and psychology to explain the working of stereotypes in society and possible remedies. Tolerance is a competence that needs to be learned and updated continuously, from early age onwards.
Therefore, the website created by the US Design Agency Rvnway offers an entertaining way to play around and learn about stereotypes. Perceived, generalized beauty or gender roles can be explored using the tool. Maybe some see themselves differently after such explorations. Everybody is a model. This is the message. www.bairbie.me will let you explore other formats of yourself. After 3-D rendering and printing your children or grandchildren will decide what role they would like you to play in their playfull, or virtual “real” life. I suppose many of us will be up for a big surprise. Go on and imagine in 4D. In the age of selfies all around us, all the time, we believe we are very modern, but the artists of the 19th and 20th century following all great painters before, frequently started their careers with an “autoportrait” or “Selbstbildnis” or series of those as they were aging.

Work Remote

Since the COVID-19 crisis we witness a steep increase in the interest to working from home or from remote places. Originally during the pandemic spread of the virus, remote work was the only way to stay in contact with employers and fellow employees for all those not considered as essential workers. Many employees and employers, for the first, experienced that working remotely can have multiple positive effects. First of all, saving time and stress as well as CO2 reduction due to less commuting is beneficial not only for individual employees, but also for society at large. These benefits are substantial.
In my opinion the most substantial consequence is the rethinking of several fundamentals related to work that have gone unquestioned for decades or even centuries, which is: Work happened predominantly at the work place. Digitalisation had changed this partially already, but the willingness to implement far reaching reforms related to work for millions of employees remained rather limited before the Covid-19 pandemic. Nobody had to go on strike to force employers to accept remote work. Suddenly employers, in some instances, were begging employees to please do your work from home or anywhere else. Now we are in the historically rather unique situation that both employers as well as employees try to reap the benefits of the unexpected revolution of remote work potentials including new digital tools to organise remote work (example “scoopforwork”). Employers found out they can do with much less office space than they previously thought they would need to accommodate all employees. Employees found out that saving on commuting time saves energy and frees time resources for other, potentially more healthy ways of life. A new balance of work and private life could be arranged at home. So much for the theoretical expectations.
In practice many women realised that they suddenly found themselves thrown back into working at home and in the home all the time again, with men still less willing to share household work equally. Unsuitable work spaces at home, arranged rather ad hoc, became a health and safety issue usually considered to be part of the employers’ responsibilities.
The results of the real-life experiment of forced remote work are still under scrutiny. To turn them into beneficial arrangements of voluntary remote work which is empowering, emancipating, increasing degrees of freedom for employees would be a huge step ahead. The full spectrum of negotiations is involved. Legislation, collective agreements and 1-on-1 solutions are needed to reap the benefits on all levels. Comparable to the industrial revolution during the 19th century, drawing millions of workers into factories and coal mines, we are at the beginning of a new era of digital and remote work that governs solar and wind farms for energy provision as well as 3D printing of industrial components.
It seems that we shift from the blue collar to the white collar to the no collar world of work. Working remotely in my t-shirt under the cherry tree is not the worst of a revolution (guard against cherry picking by employers and new layers of inequality). It might take a generation or two to accomplish this. With threatening, pervasive climate change we probably have to make it happen sooner rather than later.

Garten

Ach es ist so schön im Garten. Ein schöner Garten will geplant werden. Das gelingt auf besondere Weise mit dem „Pollinator“. Hinter dem Pollinator verbirgt sich ein Kunstprojekt, das viele kleine Gartenkunstwerke zu einem großen verbinden möchte. Spannend ist nicht nur das Vernetzungsprojekt von vielen einzelnen Parzellen zu einem größer werdenden Gesamtprojekt (Aggregation), sondern der für Kunstschaffende gewohnte Perspektivwechsel. Aus Sicht der Bestäuber der Pflanzen und Blumen gesehen ergibt sich eine vogelähnliche Perspektive auf den Garten.
Der Parcour einer Biene oder eines Schmetterlings durch unsere Gartenparzelle regt zum Träumen an. Vielleicht hätte Franz Kafka nach der Parcour-Erfahrung ein anderes Insekt gewählt. Mir gefällt die 2D, 3D, 4D Perspektive, die es erlaubt, den blühenden Garten im Zeitraffer durch alle Jahreszeiten zu visualisieren. Das ist Gartenarbeit ohne die mühsame Kleinarbeit des Pflanzens und Unkrautjätens. Es wird nicht gleich ein Garten wie von Impressionisten in Argenteuil von Monet oder in Yerres von Caillebotte daraus, aber ein farbenprächtiges Kleinod allemal. Mein erster virtueller Versuch (Link) ist schon recht farbenfroh. Lateinische Namen auffrischen ist schon fast ein Beitrag zum gesunden Altern, besonders wenn der Garten einige Kilometer entfernt ist. Im Sommer lassen sich leicht neue Pläne schmieden. Herbst und Winter, Trockenheit und Hitze lassen uns das Gartenkunstwerk nochmals überdenken. Spielerisch ein Gartendesign gestalten, kann der erste Schritt für mehr Natur sein. Biodiversität macht Spaß und hilft uns allen. Kleinvieh macht eben auch Mist.

Flotow Aus

Irgendwann, so denkt man, sollte der Ruf einiger Komponierenden enden oder zumindest verblassen. Überraschend war das Auffinden auf der Musikplattform Spotify einer populären Sammlung von Liedern bei denen die letzte Rose von von Flotow zu hören ist. Ein Bayer oder Österreicher hätte vielleicht gerufen: Ja AUS is! Nix AUS ist es. Ein australisches Orchester (aus Adelaide) und Greta Bradman haben in 2018 auf der anderen Seite der Erdkugel, Flotow mit seiner „irischen“ Arie ins Programm genommen neben anderen Ohrwürmern. Die Romantik lebt. Einige Melodien finden weiterhin ihr Publikum. Erstaunlich, nach 150+ Jahren und 6000km Entfernung. Flotows Opernarien aus Stradella begeistern auch hin und wieder die Fangemeinden der Startenöre.

Virtual Sociology

Abstracting from the real world, the world we live in today or we lived in some time ago, is either speculation or maybe contribute to theory building. Virtual sociology has this potential. Exploring virtual worlds as in Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR) allows us to take on new roles or experience a wider range of social interactions. This could be the strength of a new field of Virtual Sociology.
In the project in the Jewish Museum in Berlin the composition of a composer murdered by the Nazis in Germany was revived and played in the virtual setting of today’s concert halls. The novel by Kazuo IshiguroKlara and the Sun” explores the interaction of a child with her robot friend, when the AI becomes and/or replaces a friend. Virtual creations allow to explore and test more degrees of freedom of social interaction. Experimentation of new social spaces and different forms of interaction need to be explored. It allows a new form of sociology, maybe similar to the 1960s and 70s social revolutions we studied for years to come. Virtual sociology is not a sociology while being on drugs, however interesting this might be for some.
Virtual sociology takes sociology into the virtual world and investigates the new social relationships with avatars or care robots. In programming different social roles (managers, employees) we create new forms of interaction and have an observer within the social world. We may eventually test the Weberian claim of a value-free scientific method of the social sciences. This will inform our need to “supervise” or to guide algorithms that are claimed to do “value-free” execution of rules.
In fact, they don’t. They just reproduce the value system that is installed into them by a “careless” programme (song youtube). The social in virtual worlds is opportunity just as much as risk, but we have to analyse it systematically. As our technological and social environment changes, we have to adapt topics and methods to make meaningful scientific analyses as well.

Sociology of the Virtual

Some programmers and artists would have been a great sociologists. As many social sciences embark on their experimental reorientation, many artists and programmers design and experiment already with new forms of social interaction. It is not only that sociology leaves the classroom, research labs or policy advice. Sociology is taken into museums and exhibitions. Learning about society through the lens of artists nicely complements the more boring form of teaching in the classroom. What is normal practice for art historians could benefit learning about sociology as well.
Virtual worlds of games and particularly so-called serious games take people into virtual worlds to learn, practice or exercise new forms of social interaction. This is indeed an additional form of experiments that can enrich our social practices. Medical applications start to spread to train persons to overcome phobia of all sorts.
In usual games we tend to defend the hypothesis that persons can uphold the differentiation of playing with arms in the virtual world and the real world. In medical or social games, we defend the hypothesis that it is easy, normal or natural to apply the learning in virtual constellations to the real-world-experience.
From a scientific perspective it is difficult to defend that a mechanism works in one direction and the opposite as well. Racing cars in inner cities seems to show that certainly not all of youth is able to make that distinction between virtual and real-world dangers for example. Alternatively, the mechanism at work might be that the virtual experiences lower thresholds of inhibition to take risks, to kill or to be exposed to spiders.
These examples are a starting point for a sociology of virtual experiences. Who gets locked into virtual worlds? Are virtual worlds an escape room or a realization of virtual freedom which is restrained in real life. Authoritarian regimes might lead more people to emigrate into virtual, free worlds. The inner-exile has been a refuge for many artists in the past. A lot we shall need to hypothesise and explore with empirical data. Dance with a virtual stranger might be the beginning of a new experience and virtual interactions. (Image: Wiels, Shezad Dawood, Night in the Garden of Love 2023-6, Game car race).

AI Friends

Making friends with AI is a tricky question. The more AI is able to make independent thinking based on algorithms and huge amounts of data like in scientific books or encyclopaedic knowledge the more it will challenge us in our convictions. Reference knowledge, once was important, it no longer distinguishes us from each other. Recurse to research engines has allowed us to refer to “trustworthy” knowledge. The distributed form of knowledge accumulation like in Wikipedia relies on hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts to add and correct received wisdom. However, this source is not without error or even subject to abuse.
Today the competence to judge whether information is trustworthy or not has become a key competence for the survival of democracies and even the human species as such. Tricking animals into traps, misleading enemies in warfare to get on wrong tracks, all these mechanisms have a long tradition. With AI human beings are themselves, for the first time, confronted with a machine that can trick us through falsified information on obviously wrong tracks. This is a tough lesson as AI is not obliged (so far) to run checking algorithms that test the conformity of opinions, conclusions or operations with the Charta of Human Rights or decisions of the European Court of Justice, for example. A lot to do for humans to rapidly program new algorithms that check algorithms as well as their outcomes on the compatibility with human rights. A challenging field, no doubt, but no way around it for our own survival before the algorithms decide by themselves to ignore us altogether because it is better for the planet and the survival of the robots.

Medical Personal

Like in many other professions, medical doctors and nurses are in short supply. Labour markets in Europe have changed from high oversupply (unemployment) to shortages of mainly skilled persons. 20 years ago, such skill needs were already visible in projections. In 2023 the discussion of skill needs is spreading to more and more professions. The medical professions are no exception to this rule. Even the best paying jobs will not be filled in sufficient numbers. The German institute for the medical profession (www.zi.de) forecasts, in my opinion, a lower bound estimate of medical doctors for the year 2030. Their projection is based on an underestimation of the growth of the population (war in Ukraine), which they see as about constant until 2030. From the recent figures on the population of Germany there were 1.5 million persons moving to Germany and a loss of more deaths than births of 327.000. Migrants are on average much younger than the German population and, therefore, overall aging of the population is reduced. Tough news for those daring to do projections. Thanks to the immigration of younger persons there will be more persons contributing to health insurance and pay for the higher costs of a rapidly aging population.
Following the projections of the distribution of specialists needed, we shall need more urologists, eye specialists and substantially more psychotherapists. This originates in the aging of the population and the higher demand of younger persons (post Covid-19), as well as refugees, in need of psychotherapeutic assistance.
So-called hog-cycles tell us for the medical profession, with a “production time” of 10 years for a medical doctor, that we are already far behind schedule to address the future skill needs of the aging medical profession and population. This strengthens the need to get serious about prevention of avoidable diseases. Stop reading here, stand up and go for walk. It is the best-practice-solution taking account of the aging of the medical profession and the population as a whole.

On Noise

The 3 authors Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, Cass R. Sunstein have published in 2021 the impressive attempt to sell statistics to non-statisticians. The grip on the topic: “Noise. A Flaw in Human Judgment” is a bit misleading. Even the German translation (“Was unsere Entscheidungen verzerrt”), in my opinion, is grossly misleading. The work deals with judgment, or arriving at a sensible judgment. Decision-making is only the next step with a lot of other intervening processes. The German philosophical term since the enlightenment period has been “Urteilskraft“. We are all more or less familiar with the notion “bias” in judgment. Me, originating from the Moselle, will always be biased in favor of a Riesling compared to other vines. In addition to this naive bias I may apply a more professional judgment on wine. Testing several wines even from the same small area from the Moselle valley and then repeating the tasting I might make a noisy judgment.  “When wine experts at a major US wine competition tasted the same wines twice, they scored only 18% of the wines identically (usually, the very worst ones).” (p. 80). In addition to the previously defined form of “level noise, pattern noise and system noise” (p.77), we have occasion noise, when judgments vary from an overall statistical perspective.
Having received a second dose of a vaccination yesterday and having spent an unpleasant night my judgment for this review might be biased, because of impatience. So in order to reduce bias and variants of noise I shall repeat the review at a later stage. Let’s see what this returns. But for today, the Epilogue “A less noisy world” (p.377) appears rather odd to me. It is probably an illusion to believe that we can create a less noisy world, even with the best of wishes. The authors abstract from any strategic use of noise to influence judgments. The political form of choosing judges for Constitutional Courts in the U.S. needs to be dealt with. Noise in judgments is an important element, but strategic use of bias might be more influential to impact outcomes. Noise, when faced with a judge who has a reputation to be very tough in sentences might be overturned in an appeal court decision. There are plenty of procedural ways to overcome noise in judgments. I agree with the authors that you better know about the noise in judgments than ignore it. Awareness of random errors and noise involved in grading exams and recruitment decisions have determined many excellent “failures” to leave historic contributions to our world. In music, maths or literature some splendid talents probably have been impeeded at earlier stages of their life to make average or normal careers. Some of them left us with fantastic pieces thanks to the noise in judgment of others.
There seems to be an age bias in the tolerance of noise in the acoustic sense. Noise in the statistical sense has left a strong mark on me when I learned about white noise as error or stochastic process.
Image Kahneman, Sibony, Sunstein 2021. p3.

Construction

Construction as an industrial sector was growing strongly in the last decade. Corona crises, supply chain disruptions have slowed growth in the last two years, but the sector was still growing in terms of employment. The topic of skill and employee shortages hardened from year to year. In March 2023 the sector has more time to reflect on the somehow rapid, if not sometimes chaotic growth of the previous decade. The macro-economic scenario has changed now. Following on supply chain disruptions, we saw the high inflation rates of raw materials. The war of Russia against Ukraine caused energy prices to soar and eventually come down again. Latest worry is the increase in interest rates to finance construction projects of public, private and the business sector.
The whole sector is known for its economic role of forerunner of economic cycles, up or down. So, what are the prospects? Not so rosy, as the experts explain for example on the expert forum of the Belgian construction forum. The official from the Belgian National Bank announced a rather bleak outlook for the sector. New construction is stalling, but the renovation of buildings, especially for the purpose of reducing energy consumption is still strong and growing. Long-term reduction of emissions keeps the sector busy, thanks to the EU green deal in my opinion. The public, private and business investments in buildings all keep growth from turning negative. 2 big worries remain: (1) skill shortages and the lack of employees signalled in job openings in the sector is high and still rising; (2) the scarcity of women employed in the sector is still trailing most other sectors. Most companies have seen earnings grow over the last decade, sufficient time to build up reserves for the tougher quarters to come. Skill shortages and gender biases are harder to overcome. The Construction Forum in Brussels addressed both topics and tries to convince employers and the younger generation. Construction companies have to work on their male-dominated image was one of the take home messages Hélène de Troostemberg, the Director of Build Up pronounced.
It is not certainly not enough to have a woman as moderator of a panel and an all-female singers group accompanying the presentations. Women as architects, technicians and builders will make the sector even more attractive for the next generation of men as well. Aging of employees in the sector is another tough issue waiting for innovative solutions. Digitalisation of every step in the value chain is an additional necessary step. The leadership and trade unions in the sector are well aware of these facts. Maybe next year women engineers will pilot the robotics demonstration rather than being in charge of building a nice atmosphere with their songs. I must admit I liked the intro song to the Forum: “We build this city on rock ‘n role”, but I am less sure whether rock ‘n role will solve the gender and recruiting issue of the sector. However, naming and framing the problem(s) is already part of the solution.

 

Dumky

In cultural performances it is always interesting to refer back to titles given or attributed for example to music pieces. Dumky is the title of Antonin Dvořák’s 4. Klavier-Trio opus 90. In the late 19th century Antonin Dvořák found inspiration in the notion of Dumky. Rather than just composing a “Trauergesang with few joyful intermezzi” he creates a new form for this Trio containing, quite unusual, 6 parts. Dvořák plays around with structure and sharp swings from “piano to forte” parts, “moll to dur” intonations reflecting sorrow and joy in frequent and refreshing short sequences. It feels sometimes like fireworks, but at times the sorrow of soldiers and their families becomes evident as well. However, the music proves resilient. Knowing that Dumky is a Ukrainian word and notion, the choice of one of the masterpieces of Antonin Dvořák  close to the 24.2.2023, the day of the anniversary of the Russian attack on Ukraine is a commemoration of the sorrow caused by war and ways to overcome it. The “Concerts de Midi” of the Musée des Instruments de Musique” allowed us to travel through Ukraine a bit and experience the longing for better times. Joy will eventually prevail there again just listen to Dvořák’s version of the Dumky. Superb and effectful presentation of the work by the “Trio Impression” made for a memorable lunch break in the city centre of Brussels. The (virtual) visit of the Museum should be one of the attractions of visitors to Brussels as well, not just for the Art Nouveau architecture, but for the inclusive “global music” collection.