Tuesday 18 August 2020

Shouting Zeros and Ones: Digital Technology, Ethics and Policy in New Zealand

I edited a book! Thanks to Bridget Williams Books, we worked on this book with a variety of authors to put together this Text, centering the global digital technology debates in Aotearoa New Zealand and focusing on the local context. This summary article first appeared in the August 2020 Tohatoha newsletter.

Data flows around the world as computers trade in 0s and 1s, silently making decisions that affect all of us, every day. Meanwhile, we humans shout louder than ever before, spreading news and opinions through social media, polarising society and pitting ourselves against each other. What are the quiet, hidden impacts that technology is having on New Zealand and our collective psyche? How can we mitigate these impacts so that we can leverage technology sustainably, securely, and safely? A new book in the BWB Texts series, Shouting Zeros and Ones, aims to explore this dichotomy of quiet and loud, off and on in the way we use technology.

A lot has been written globally about how digital technology is changing our societies, but this book focuses on Aotearoa and is a call to action for New Zealanders. Our government has the Integrated Data Infrastructure, which holds information about almost every person that steps foot in our country. We are making progress towards Indigenous and Māori Data Sovereignty, setting an example for the rest of the world. The Christchurch massacre happened on our soil, and our people have taken a leading role in reducing online harm and fighting online fascism so that real-world attacks like that may never happen again.

And we are not immune to the digital challenges that face the globe. Misinformation and disinformation run rampant online, threatening the integrity of information. The environmental impacts of globalised computing are too often swept under the rug in the name of convenience and cost. Predictive risk modelling is used by our government in a variety of sectors, including to inform parole decisions in criminal justice. Online voting is regularly posed a panacea to voter engagement, even though the evidence of effectiveness is weak at best. Digital inclusion/exclusion remains a significant challenge – a symptom of ongoing structural inequality in our society.

The book is not all doom and gloom though. A diverse group of contributors reveals hidden impacts of technology on society and on individuals, and explores policy change and personal action to keep the internet a force for good – home to a careful balance of freedom of expression and the safety and well-being of people in the digital and the real worlds. Where there are challenges, there is also a lot of hope that we can find a pathway forward as a society.

Shouting Zeros and Ones: Digital Technology, Ethics and Policy in New Zealand (ed Andrew Chen) from BWB Texts is available in bookstores in August 2020, and is available for order at https://www.bwb.co.nz/books/shouting-zeros-and-ones

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