Civicist: Testing Tech for Consensus in a Purple Town

How a radical experiment in participatory democracy came to Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Over the past year, town halls across America have occasionally erupted over hot button issues like health care reform. Rep. Tom MacArthur was shouted down during a five-hour meeting in New Jersey last May; later that summer, a Californian said they hoped Rep. Doug LaMalfa would “die in pain”; and Rep. Ron Blum was called a liar by a prescreened audience in Iowa. A town hall in Bowling Green, Kentucky, last month had none of the shouting or vitriol that made those events national news, but it was the site of something even more elusive: the search for consensus in an increasingly divided nation. Read more…

New Food Economy: Why blockchain won’t fix food safety—yet

These days it’s hard to read about the future of industry—nearly any industry, really—without hearing how the blockchain is going to completely disrupt it. Blockchain is best known for being the digital accounting backbone of the volatile digital currency Bitcoin, but in many other contexts it is being promoted as a catch-all solution for transparency, efficiency, and trust. And the food industry is no exception. Some companies, including giants like Walmart, Nestlé, and Dole, are hopeful that the high-tech tool can be used to address longstanding problems around food safety and traceability. Read more…

Civicist: Hearing on Algorithmic Transparency Reveals Rift in NYC Tech Community

In a packed room at City Hall on Monday, Council Member James Vacca heard testimony from city officials, technologists, and civil rights advocates on his proposed legislation for transparency in the use of algorithms for city services. Vacca said that the legislation is, to the best of his knowledge, the first of its kind in the United States. Although most of the testimony was in favor of the proposed legislation, the hearing revealed a schism between the tech community as represented by the trade nonprofit Tech.NYC—whose dozens of members include giants like Facebook and Google, as well as smaller companies like Meetup and Civic Hall—and the technologists who testified as individuals. Read more…