Ethical Futures Lab

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Is the present moment one of catastrophe or renewal? How do you imagine non-obvious futures? How might we think about privacy and trust in nuanced ways? This week, we dig into these questions, with links to some truly excellent reads. But we also know the world is a LOT right now, so we mad sure to include a bunch of fun stuff too, like wacky corporate inventions, NFT rockets, and an amazing conversation between GPT-3 bots.

— Alexis & Matt

What do we mean when we talk about privacy?

As we’ve covered here, recent decisions by a handful of large tech platforms are currently in the process of transforming…


This week, we investigate how personal and collective identities are evolving: from the role of shared infrastructure in our lives to changes in how and what we eat. We also explore systems people can expand on, machines people can collaborate with, and a fun playground for images and text.

— Alexis & Matt

The people behind the data

“He imposed a rule: he wouldn’t work with a data set about a place unless he’d been to that place, and wouldn’t work with a data set involving people unless he’d met with that group of people.”

Ethical collection and use of data has long been a…

This week’s issue runs the gamut, from deep thinking on climate change to NFT strippers and everything in between. On the one hand, we’ve got people doing thoughtful work to make our social and technological spaces better. On the other hand — well, the climate change and the NFT strippers. In the words of Ralph Wiggum, “I’m happy AND angry!”

— Alexis & Matt

1: A technology needs the right ecosystem to thrive

When we were working at the New York Times R&D Lab, someone once asked if there was anything we had notably gotten wrong — something we thought would take off that failed to catch on in…

Our ability to create synthetic media is only getting more uncanny, with simulated voices and images that are increasingly indistinguishable from the real thing. But while the media we create may be less and less constrained by physical reality, many other experiences are deeply tied to the spaces in which they happen. From the pandemic transforming our urban spaces to Cuba’s revolutionaries grappling with the country’s tenuous relationship with the internet, our physical reality still shapes us in powerful ways. …

This week we spent time looking at places that are typically obscured, either through incorrect assumptions, through deliberate obfuscation, or through neglect and decay. In each case, looking where we aren’t supposed to yields interesting results. Read on for chickens as data sources, underground warehouses, and bizarre products you don’t need but really want anyway.

— Alexis & Matt

1: Blockchain chicken farm

Chickens wearing blockchain-connected trackers to prove to consumers that they’re free range. Taobao villages where entire towns manufacture cheap consumer goods for Alibaba. Rural pearl farmers who sell second-rate pearls to American live-streamers. “Digital towns” where workers spend all day categorizing…

This week, we take a look at the physical world to see how our furniture reflects social change, how our workspace contains implicit choices, and how the products we own are increasingly not ours to use. Don’t miss the end, featuring the first extraterrestrial selfie. Cheers!

— Alexis & Matt

Zoom room or board room?

If you have any kind of office job, then you have almost certainly been bombarded with questions, surveys, and communications regarding your “return to the office” following the year-plus closures from Covid-19. You may also have very strong opinions about remote vs. …

Welcome back! We took a break from the last issue for a long Memorial Day weekend, and we hope you’re all enjoying the beginning of summer. This week’s issue is all about how reality is represented in computational systems: how our identities are reflected or distorted, how data is collected (or synthetically created), and how the software we use are modeled on societal frameworks. Read on to the end for some transparent screens from the future.

Alexis & Matt

1: Reimagining computing metaphors

How do the computing paradigms we use reflect our social reality? And what happens when societal change outpaces those paradigms…

A few months ago, we wrote about being in a “plastic hour”, and that the pandemic might be a portal to new possibilities. This week’s newsletter surfaces both those possibilities and those tensions. We see opportunities to remake systems, from our relationship with work to the shape of the internet. But we also see the immense pressure of the status quo and those who benefit from it, right down to how we make decisions and what factors we consider to be important. As always, we lighten it up with some fun things at the end, including a crypto-art-project-slash-multi-player-game.

— Alexis…

This week’s signals speak to the importance of questioning the premise — ways that we can alter the underlying web to make it better, how to see what could be subtracted from a system, and what kinds of incentives you might (intentionally or unintentionally) create. But first, we rant about something incredibly dumb. And we end with a sandwich.

— Matt & Alexis

Gamifying fame with crypto and oh god make it stop

On April 15, pioneering musician Imogen Heap tweeted a cryptographic hash, claiming ownership of her profile in a new BitCoin-based social network. The basic premise of this network is that as people become more famous and well-known…

How do we make the spaces we want to live in, both online and off? Do we innovate within the context of public works, or private markets? Once we build those spaces, how do we tend to them, make them safe, allow people to flourish personally and financially in them? This week’s newsletter gathers thinking on how we imagine, create, and care for our current and future communities. (And there’s an emoji palate cleanser at the end!)

— Alexis & Matt

1: Community moderation & the logic of care

How do we talk to each other online? How can we build the right guardrails for those conversations that…

Ethical Futures Lab

Design & technology for humane futures. An Alexis Lloyd & Matt Boggie project.

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