Archive for Science Po’

Infomocracy [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2017 by xi'an

Infomocracy is a novel by Malka Older set in a near future where most of the Earth is operating under a common elective system where each geographical unit of 100,000 people elect a local representative that runs this unit according to the party’s program and contributes to elect a Worldwide government, except for some non-democratic islets like Saudi Arabia. The whole novel revolves around the incoming election, with different parties trying to influence the outcome in their favour, some to the point of instating a dictature. Which does not sound that different from present times!, with the sligth difference that the whole process is controlled by Information, a sort of World Wide Web that seems to operate neutrally above states and parties, although the book does not elaborate on how this could be possible. The story is told through four main (and somewhat charicaturesque) characters, working for or against the elections and crossing paths along the novel. Certainly worth reading if not outstanding. (And definitely not “one of the greatest literary debuts in recent history”!)

The book is more interesting as a dystopia on electoral systems and the way the information revolution can produce a step back in democracy, with the systematisation of fake news and voters’ manipulation, where the marketing research group YouGov has become a party, than as a science-fiction (or politics-fiction) book. Indeed, it tries too hard to replicate The cyberpunk reference, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, with the same construct of interlacing threads, the same fascination for Japan, airports, luxury hotels, if not for brands, and a similar ninja-geek pair of characters. And with very little invention about the technology of the 21st Century.  (And a missed opportunity to exploit artificial intelligence themes and the prediction of outcomes when Information builds a fake vote database but does not seem to mind about Benford’s Law.) The acknowledgement section somewhat explains this imbalance, in that the author worked many years in humanitarian organisations and is currently completing a thesis at Science Po’ (Paris).

major confUSion

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2016 by xi'an

crossing the Seine in RER C near Maison de la Radio, Nov. 09, 2012In a recent evening talk-show on France Inter, the French national public radio, the debate was about the [bad] surprise election of the donald and the fact that the media had missed the result, (self-)blaming a disconnection with the “real” country. One of the discussants, Julia Cagé, Professor of Economics at Science Po’, started the discussion with the amazing confusion [at 5’55”] between the probability that Hillary Clinton would win [evaluated at 84% on the last day] and the percentage of votes in her favour [which was around that figure in Manhattan]…

On a related if minor theme, my post on Flaxman et al.’s early [if preliminary] analysis of the said election got so many views that it became the most popular post for 2016! (If not competing with Ross Ihaka’s call to simply start over with R!)

And yet another related entry today in Libération, blaming the disastrous result partly on the social media and their algorithms (again!) that favour items of information (or dis-information) from the same perspective and do not rank those items by their reliability… The author of the tribune is an econometrician at Essec, but there is no methodological content in this ideological entry that seems to call for a super-monitor which would impose (how?) diversity and (which?) ranking on social media. A post-truth era, for sure! Shifting the blame from the deplorable voters themselves to anything else…