bench politics

Because I was not able to participate in the group design exercise in class, I am instead submitting a reflection based on Winner’s “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” that seems to be one of the crucial texts upon which we’re basing our analysis this week. I thought this reading was particularly interesting because it connected to the previous week’s discussion about the four levers of social change. The politics of an artifact can also be read as the code that is baked into the components of the world we’re surrounded by, and it’s interesting that code was one of the hardest levers to ideate on during our billionaire pitch challenge because it was hard to think of ways we could strategize change in the subtle and almost deterministic ways that Winner describes in the paper.

The political artifact that I’m choosing to analyze today is public benches. Hostile architecture is something that I read about a couple years ago, and public bench design became something that I started to notice everywhere I went (noting that my ability to not have noticed hostile architecture shows my privilege in not being part of the demographic targeted by this code). The most obvious example of this would be park benches that have sharp wedges or bars built into them to make lying down uncomfortable or even impossible, or the recent transition in places like the New York subway stations or even the light rail trains in my hometown to standing benches where users can only lean against the bench to rest their legs. This kind of design, like Robert Moses’ low-clearance bridges described in Winner’s piece, serve to subtly but very effectively remove a certain group of people from the public landscape. A lot of these hostile benches that I’ve seen come disguised or are even just created as artsy and modern decorative benches, like these:

While these kinds of innovative space designs are trendy, creative, and eye-catching, the priorities of who the space is designed for becomes clear through the utilities that the objects can serve. Something I’m thinking about now as I also have experience working at an architecture firm is the big trend towards glass and clean, simple lines. While I’m also a fan of the look, I wonder what that translates to in terms of comfort and surveillance, and what audience is able to enjoy these kinds of design trends. Anyways, next time you sit on a bench, maybe you too can now ponder who the bench designer is trying to discourage from sitting on it.

Teacher Shortages // Housing & Community Safety // Rural Youth Futures

Problem 1

There is a shortage of 120,000 PK-12 teachers in the United States caused by a combination of high attrition rates and low supply. This shortage is concentrated in hard-to-staff rural and urban schools that have high concentrations of students from low-income households (Title I schools), and the subjects that are most affected are math and science. For example, the U.S. Department of Education estimates that only 50% of public high schools are able to offer Calculus and only 60% are able to offer physics.

Code: Utilize new technology platforms (VR, AR, high-speed internet) to enable award-winning teachers to teach more students in real-time (not just pre-recorded distance learning of the past) and to mentor new teachers (to help with attrition).

Legal: Work with teacher unions, school districts, and state agencies to make it possible for teachers with different state certifications to work across state lines and to ensure equitable opportunities for teachers to participate, earn additional income and receive support.

Markets: Pay these award-winning teachers a stipend on top of their salaries to participate, thereby incentivizing them to stay in the classroom (instead of being pulled into administration where salaries are higher).  Create a business model that makes use of this platform a cost-savings to districts when compared to the cost of professional development and teacher replacement.

Norms: Promote the importance of equitable access to the fields of the future (STEM) in rural and urban communities through parent organizations, advocacy groups, and the media.


Problem 2

My neighbors in Dorchester—parents, kids, family members; homeowners and renters; local business owners; school leaders and teachers, civic and religious leaders—simultaneously feel priced out of their neighborhood and unsafe as violence persists, particularly among discouraged and disconnected young men and women who may identify as Black, Central American, Caribbean or as affiliated with a street gang. These issues have deep historical roots with linkages to segregation, economic exclusion, immigration, housing policy, education policy and investment, political disenfranchisement, community-level conflicts, and general disconnection from the power centers in Boston and Massachusetts. Simply calling this “gentrification” misses, in my view, the complexity of the forces at work and, therefore, the challenges of identifying a point of entry that can lead to a meaningful “solution.”

Code: Going to interpret code liberally and include the built environment. Work with developers to build housing that aims to accommodate mixed-income communities and add to the economic well-being of the Dorchester neighborhood specifically.

Legal: Use zoning and other housing policy tools to focus on truly accessible low-middle income housing construction within every new development, as well as the use of land-trusts, prohibitions of the sale of public lands for private development without appropriate public-use, mixed-housing development or public transportation improvements.

Markets: There is a housing shortage in Boston and so prices are inflated; this creates the potential for triple bottom line thinking, meaning there is enough of a margin between construction costs and market value that social and environmental investments could be made without mixed-use housing projects becoming unprofitable. In other words, investors could still make money and be attracted to projects that are oriented towards community retention and health instead of displacement. In fact, like fair trade goods, investors may even pay a premium for socially conscious, community-focused real estate development.

Norms: The vast majority of the resources needed to make these large-scale changes happen are in the hands of others who need to be influenced, so utilizing the power of the ballot, lobbying, media campaigns and awareness strategies will all be necessary. There are also many resources within the community that could be mobilized through public messaging campaigns to explore what can be done without city/state government—to think about how to promote land trusts, school partnerships with trade unions or other local businesses for training programs, and networking existing mentorship/youth programs.


Problem 3

A community I work with in rural Mississippi has an anemic local job market that, combined with fifteen generations of race-based exclusion, is having a devastating impact on the outlook of teenagers who may identify as Black. They have no reason to have faith in the underfunded schools, see unemployment in the area that is as high as 30% and few jobs outside of entry-level service positions, and they imagine that the only way to succeed is to leave for Memphis or Atlanta. They want a bright future but have limited opportunities (especially since there is no local public transportation system) to even begin to chart out a pathway for themselves.

Code: Mobile education unit featuring a technology, arts and entrepreneurship curriculum; partners with after-school programs, local schools and businesses in the area.

Legal: Promote career pathway programs in high schools that allow for work apprenticeships that are credit-bearing and that can lead to an associate’s degree at the local community college.

Markets: Paid positions for student workers, scholarship and entrepreneurship opportunities for student participants, and apprenticeship programs with local businesses.

Norms: Build a sense of place within the youth program—a place for relationship building and acceptance, not just skill development. Expand this sense of place through partnerships with other civic organizations in order to create a community dialogue focused on valuing its assets, truly facing its history, and building an inclusive economy for the 21st century.

Passport + Feminisme

A regular passport as explained to a Martian:

  • A piece of paper – a mini booklet – that signifies where on Earth I was born, what nation-state I belong to and the legal privileges that comes with it.
  • Every time you enter a new country, you get a stamp in the passport thus creating a track record of all travel.
  • A standardized picture of me is in it along with my fingerprints and signature.
  • It is the only thing that will make people believe who I am no matter where in the world I am.
  • It allows me to travel across country borders but some passports are better than others. Singapore is #1, USA and Denmark share #2 and Kenya #58. Afghanistan is the worst. I can update it to let me stay longer than usual.
  • I have to buy it from my local government but it expires after a certain number of years. Usually ten.

A feminist passport would…

Take the form of a necklace, an armband, a watch or many other forms.

It is used for travelling but doubles as a safety device, that can call emergency responders and notify emergency contacts when triggered.

A location chip contains all the travel data and personal information needed for travelling. As the main goal is raising safety it will also contain emergency data i.e. contacts and blood type.

The necklace and and armbands can be triggered by yanking them apart in case of an emergency.

When triggered it sprays a mist of ID spray that is impossible to wash off but can be seen by using UV light to identify the attacker.

Critical Data Literacy // “Predictive Policing” // Recommender systems

1. Critical Data Literacy

The broad idea that everything we do becomes data, is analyzed by algorithms and that the result of that shapes the way we live in the world has become a major topic of discussion in public discourse. The dawn of GDPR in Europe (and consequently the world), the Cambridge Analytica scandal, among other stories punctuate a moment of acknowledgement and, in many places, worry about personal data. This worry is indeed justified, as many reports have been pointing to the major problems of privacy, surveillance, bias, and discrimination. We need to educate citizens with a critical lens towards digitality and datafication. There is a lot of talk about computational thinking, but not as much of how to increase critical consciousness of datafication.

NORMS: We are already starting to see how people are becoming more wary of sharing our data online. I think a lever of change that could be activated, in this sense, is raising consciousness of people of how their data becomes utilized by these corporations. To further achieve this it would be possible to use these norms to exert pressure in the MARKET, as companies would have to adapt and deal with a less naìve public.

It would be interesting to see more projects that seek to make CODE readable and understandable, not only in its core sense (i.e. computational working), but also in how it works more deeply in society. If Scratch allows kids to understand and play around with code as if it was Lego, what would it look like if kids could see the deeper layers of Amazon’s exploitation of data sets, Mechanical Turkers and earth’s minerals (see Anatomy of an AI System)? On the other hand, companies could be forced to unblackbox their systems and thus become more transparent by changes in LAW.

2. “Predictive Policing”

The systems of so-called ‘predictive policing’ are becoming more and more common. They have been linked, though, to increasing inequality, racism and other highly problematic questions. As CCTVs, bodycams, social media, etc are used without any transparency by companies like Palantir, we face a situation where we face dire social consequences from technological changes.

MARKET: Would it be possible to work with the activist community inside of the open source movement to impede the appropriation of open source for violent/racist software? What if CC/BY had a condition that certain companies cannot be done to your open CODE, unless they pay hefty licensing charges? But how would we all agree which companies get to be part of this?

LAW: The AI Now 2017 report contains 10 recommendations says asks for the development of “​standards​ ​to​ ​track​ ​the​ ​provenance,​ ​development,​ ​and​ ​use​ ​of​ ​training​ ​datasets throughout​ ​their​ ​life​ ​cycle”. These standards could be constructed through law, and thus define more harsh limitations for policing using algorithms.

NORMS: I think there’s a strong ‘norm’ currently on the technological development community that tech companies that work with the military are ostracized and receive criticism from their employees (although that does not really impede them from existing, e.g. Clarifai). Could we adopt that ethos also in relation to predictive policing and work with the developers to be more critical toward that work?

3. Ethics of recommender systems

As recommender systems become pervasive, and are powered by machine learning algorithms, we need to think of how to deal with their ethical quandaries, specially when they are pervasively used, but we don’t quite completely understand/can interpret some of the decision of these systems. As our reflection on the systems often moves slower than the adoption of them in society (e.g. YouTube), we need to discuss the ethical elements of it in a broader societal discourse.

LAW: the conception of accountability is still very poorly defined. The companies argue that they are accountable and follow society’s requests, but we don’t really feel like we are part of the conversation. ToS really are not read, and they don’t really define how the system works. What would happen if, for example, companies like Facebook and YouTube/Google were understood as media companies and not as tech companies?

Interventions on CODE could work to try to render understandable how these algorithms work, which could potentially lead the publics to change/rethink their habits (NORMS). We in part already do this in our day-to-day life as we get angry with what is recommended to us (why does Facebook think I’m so interested in pre-packaged meals?). But being able to see that more clearly and perhaps even respond to it, even collectively, could be game-changing. Finally, thinking about the MARKET could mean creating a business model for recommendation that really does not use and sells personal data as much. Or that uses user’s interests in a way that is not so exploitative, while also giving access to information that is unexpected.

homelessness, loneliness, and loneliness

Homelessness – homelessness has become a huge issue in America. Approximately a half a percent of the US population is homeless, and the majority of those do not have jobs. Urban areas in many cities are becoming overrun by homeless populations, with them setting up tent camps that overtake city sidewalks. Work needs to be done to help these people return to society and find meaning in life. But at the same time, it would be helpful to further stigmatize the issue so that people are more discouraged from living this lifestyle and have a stronger desire to return to a non-homeless life.

Norms: As mentioned above, while people do look down on the homeless, they do not do it enough. It should be less of a socially accepted norm for people to be homeless. If people treated them with even less respect, then perhaps it would encourage homeless to not be okay with this lifestyle. Additionally, it should be the norm that no one gives them money while they are panhandling. This is a bad habit, and they may need more motivation to find a job that pays.

Market: One way to find meaning in life is to have a job that satisfies you and that can pay for your bills, the market can reward people for working in low-skill jobs, such as street sweeping. Additionally, there should be more of a market for training programs that have a stipend.

Law: To support the training programs and increased jobs for low skilled, laws need to be put in place to allocate money for this. People should be required to do work of some kind. Additionally, laws should be put in place to not allow people to sleep on the streets.

Code: One problem is that many homeless people sleep in publically available areas, such as benches. Benches could be redesigned to prevent sleeping.


Loneliness in Elderly – Loneliness is a crippling epidemic around the world. Globally, as much as 40% of people are estimated to experience loneliness at some point in their lives. It can impact all ages, ranging from small children to the elderly. Due to isolation, many people go days without human contact, with an estimated 25% of adults over 75 going a month without seeing another person. Programs need to be put in place to aid the elderly in interacting more with people.

Norms: It seems that Americans especially are bad at keeping constant contact with older relatives as many aging relatives live far apart from their younger family members. Elderly also try to stay as independent as possible, often living alone through old age. There needs to be more of a norm of communal societies, and a shift away from total independence. People can still maintain independence while living in a communal environment, and in a communal environment, they would be surrounded by others, which could facilitate more friendship formations.

Market: Oftentimes elderly care facilities are overly expensive. These costs need to be lowered so that more people can afford to live in group homes, getting the care they need while surrounded by people they can interact with.

Law: Laws should be put in place to limit the maximum cost of elderly care or have it subsidized for those that need it.

Code: More facilities like The Villages in Florida should be designed. This is a city where mainly elderly live that is designed to support activities they enjoy doing: dancing, listening to old music, driving around on golf carts, etc.


Loneliness in those who use internet forums to reach out – As mentioned above, loneliness is a crippling issue across the world. Face-to-face interactions are ideal for combating feelings of isolation, but this is not always possible due to shyness or medically-necessitated bed rest. As a result, many individuals turn to the internet to connect with others. We need to build technologies to surround these forums to help further connect people. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s suppose we build a system that shows people personal information about others, highlighting the things they have in common, so that they can interact with those that are more similar to them, increasing the chance that a positive interaction will occur, since network analysis theory predicts that they would be more likely to be friends in real life.

Norms: People may need to get over the shock factor that their personal information is available to others, even if this personal information is something that can be easily surmised from internet activity (eg hobbies based on other postings they have made online)

Law: Laws should be put in place to allow AI to access people’s posting history on the open web so that users can be modeled more intelligently, ie, allow it to scrape all postings that are publically made.

Market: For the information that is not public, let users allow the system to buy that information or access it freely with the user’s permission, again so that a more complete model can be made.

Code: The system would need to be designed to carefully highlight where the system is mining its personal information about you from. This would hopefully put people’s minds more at ease when using a tool like this.

Combining Lessig’s 4 Levers with Mitch Resnick’s 4Ps

I found this assignment incredibly useful for rethinking some of the problems I’m working on: from problem definition to thinking about the different levers that I might interact with in my work.

The three issues I’ve chosen to discuss here:

1/ Connecting educators: Creative Learning in South Africa and Kenya
2/ Helping teachers and designers unleash their creativity: creative learning design platform
3/ Helping people make sense of the world around them: constructionist media

1/ Connecting educators: Creative Learning in South Africa and Kenya

Nairobi and Johannesburg are flourishing as hubs for innovations in learning. However, educators in both cities (across the two cities and within them) operate in loosely connected circles, with weak tie-ins to each-other for peer-learning, movement building, and shifting norms around learning. Moreover, donors, foundations, and international institutions often invest resources in non-African initiatives (e.g. Bridge International Academies) that are neither progressive nor connected to innovations already happening in these cities.

Building on the work of Aprendizagem Criativa no Brasil (Creative Learning in Brazil – a decentralized network of educators, designers, systems leaders, foundations, companies all involved in or hoping to support creative learning), we hope to first gather stories of educators across a range of contexts, connect them with one another (including at next year’s Africa Scratch conference), support co-development of resources, and hopefully engage in movement building. This leverages a few of the levers:

Code: We hope to design a network that is both decentralized (as opposed to command from the center) and organized by committees in Nairobi and Johannesburg – enabling more distributed ownership while facilitating learning across the network.
Norms: By identifying with the network, we hope to facilitate voice – likely thin at first, but hopefully leading to thicker forms of engagement. We’ve seen this happen in Brazil in different ways – they’re struggling currently as some of the novelty of the program has worn off – a concern Zuckerman raises in his work.
Markets: creative learning is often seen as expensive and/or not useful for employment or “meaningful learning.” By partnering with employers, we can shift “market signals” about the value of creative learning. And by demoing and sharing open-source resources and activities that are free/low-cost, we can show that creative learning doesn’t require expensive equipment and can be done in low cost environments.
Law: In Brazil, the Creative Learning Program sought to build a grassroots movement and generally avoid getting involved in legal issues. However, they had an indirect impact on the law – as schools and cities became known for creative learning, leaders tried to “own” the success by adopting creative learning principles and outcomes into their curriculum. We hope to take a similar approach in Kenya and South Africa – using norms, the market, and code to indirectly influence law. Part of the reason we’re electing for this route is in the light of projects like One Laptop Per Child – which generated deep skepticism in government driven education initiatives. We might, however, use relationships with member companies or MIT to try and mitigate legal constraints to creative learning work.

2/ Helping teachers and designers unleash their creativity: creative learning design platform

Creative learning design can be difficult, particularly when most teachers have primarily been “schooled” in linear, hierarchical environments. While some companies have attempted to support teachers through trainings and creative learning tools, support on design has been lacking. In the US, many teachers need to deliver to the common core within tight constraints, and often lack resources for incorporating powerful learning experiences into these constraints. A few companies, including Learnzillion, have tried to fill this gap through platforms that support design with constraints. However, these tools often still result in instructionist, linear experiences as the code for these projects doesn’t encourage creative learning designs and market incentives push for growth and catering to district level decision makers.

In contrast, I’d like to propose an open-source, nonprofit learning design tool. Modeled on Scratch and Glitch, this tool would enable teachers to remix each other’s lessons, see both the outcome (slides, design) as well as the “code” behind the lesson. Briefly, this would leverage:

Code: designed to encourage remixing of lessons, “blocks” for activities with links to tools and further resources, and potentially slides and other materials generated from this. Basic idea would be that the architecture of the platform would encourage sharing, remixing, and creation in line with creative learning principles – lowering floors to creation while enabling wide walls (for a variety of projects) and high ceilings (for complex projects).
Market: as a nonprofit, incentives would be strongly aligned with designers, teachers, and learners. Partnerships with employers might provide sexy incentives for teachers to engage with the tool.
Norms: Teachers often don’t see themselves as creative. The tool would likely need to include and/or interface with experiences and tools that help teachers see themselves as creative – and enable them to experience what they might design. This could include things like Learning Creative Learning or Getting Creative with Scratch or the Scratch Ed Network – or networks like the one I’ve described above.
Law: This would vary by context. In the US, this would likely require buying districts into this tool. And to remove constraints for lesson experimentation in other places.

3/ Helping people make sense of the world around them: constructionist media

Magnus touches on this in his post when he describes the challenge of people feeling overwhelmed by daily news. Where a number of tools have been developed to try to curate or to aid consumption, I’m more interested in tools that might help people construct meaning themselves from the mass of information – tools that might make it easier to grapple with the world, vast quantities of information, fake news, and feelings of inefficacy.

Code: synthesis is a difficult activity. Current tools for engaging news don’t really help with synthesis or active, creative sense-making. I’m curious as to how architecture for a news platform might enable a more constructive engagement with issues – and help people create and make sense of these issues. For example, instead of disaggregating headlines, the architecture of this kind of tool might borrow from places like Vox or the Crisis Group, while enabling users to manipulate and connect information.
Norms: Our current culture is consumed with surprise and novelty (see Vousoughi et. al 2017 in Science on how false news spreads much faster than true news because of novelty and surprise) over deeper understanding. But people seem to aspire to deeper connections. How might we exploit this tension – between reacting to novelty and desiring depth – to encourage a more constructive approach to understanding issues?
Market: Market incentives encourage novelty. Clickbait headlines abound for a reason – our attention is a commodity that social and news media compete for – which in turns encourages novelty and shallow exploration. How might different norms around consumption (e.g. paying for news as a service instead of paying with one’s attention, similar to sites like Inkl) shape market decisions?
Law: Education seems like a powerful entry point – pilot use of this kind of tool in civic ed spaces and use that in turn to shift norms (toward a more constructive engagement with issues).

Chinese closeness with Africa and the Uneasiness for the West/Trump, the best in the past 3 decades of American White House/The danger in the power of codes/algorithm

Chinese closeness with Africa and the Uneasiness of the West

Markets: The current events of Chinese investment in Africa and the consequential fidgeting by the western power, evident through series of mainstream media reports, has resulted in the call to interrogate the status of Africa in the global political and economic powerplay; one could ask what’s really the interest? everyone is looking for a new market, and Africa seems to be available for grab.


Norms: It is kind of obvious to see that, this is a matter of everyone fighting for their personal interest, which is completely economical and the idea of seeing China becoming this close to Africa in terms of trade, security, development etc would not sit well with many world superpowers. This is not a question of the Chinese approach, it is more like holding on to your subject and not allowing them to get off your grip.

Law: It is clear now than ever before how globalization has benefited few top players, the concept of unfair trade practices is historically the style of the west and we are in an interesting time that everyone is renegotiating bilateral/multilateral agreements and there’s a lot more of that to come.

Codes: The phenomenon of ‘leapfrogging’ I feel is just another attempt to justify our slackness as Africans, and the exciting thing for me is that the real technological revolution is happening in a manner that the rest of the world would find it difficult to understand especially from the emerging market. We are yet to see the true potentials of the blockchain, the next 20-50 years would be particularly interesting in this regards.


Trump, the best in the past 3 decades of American White House

It is a public knowledge what seems to be the perception of many Americans about president Donald Trump; questions around his person, his ideology, his leadership style (whether he’s qualified to be even called a leader), his ethics, his policies, his lifestyle and of course his friendship or not with the Russian leader. America as a country since 1989 has had 5 different presidents till date including Donald Trump and as it is now, he appears to be the best in many ways.

The danger in the power of codes/algorithm

queer rights, algorithmic discrimination, waste reduction

Queer Rights

While queer rights in the US has not necessarily advanced to where most want it to be, my primary focus now will be on queer rights in Korea where I spent a significant number of years. Korea is still very conservative in these issues, as discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is not outlawed (in fact, the military bans homosexuality and has undergone purges fairly recently, in 2017), and close to 60% of the population are against same-sex marriage.


Implementation of fundamental anti-discrimination laws (which would direct the norm) could be an eventual goal, but it is a difficult one that many rights organizations have been working towards for over a decade. Another unmentioned yet possibly helpful establishment may be a more rigorous separation of church and state, because far-right Christians are often the strongest opponents of the anti-discrimination law. In the past, their anti-homosexuality arguments based on the Bible have been taken seriously by the government in annulling the proposed anti-discrimination laws.


One of the difficulties in establishing queer rights is low visibility. Given that acceptance from the general public is as important a factor as establishing anti-discrimination laws (though the two are correlated), it is difficult to advocate for a group that does not seem to exist. Increasing public visibility—whether it is introducing more media content or more individuals (especially public figures) coming out of the closet—would help significantly.


Online community services have been a major driving force in organizing support groups and strategic rights movements. Changes I would like to see implemented are differentiated use of words sex vs gender in official papers, a wider variety of choices in sexual orientation and gender identity on social media websites, and many more.


More companies could be invited to advertise in Pride. Companies would have a monetary incentive to somewhat inadvertently participate in pride and to advocate for queer people as a special market. There is a precedent of a more natural occurrence of queer(especially gay)-targeted marketing in the UK where it was popularly referred to as pink economics.



Algorithmic discrimination

Algorithms are supplanting humans in making decisions. However, these systems have been often found to perpetuate bias, especially socioeconomic discrimination, while forgoing explanation or critical interpretation.

Law & Market

A vast majority of these algorithms are developed and implemented in commercial settings, so the market is of great significance. Law could regulate the market by requiring publication of training/testing data for the model and periodic performance reports? To critique this suggestion, there are so many models out there and such verification is a nontrivial amount of work with not much incentive that even if the data is released, not much may be done with them. On the other hand, data may start coming from more credible sources.

Restrict the usage of algorithms in hiring processes unless proven to be fair enough?


The current public opinion—machine learning is magic!—or the lack thereof may be the main source of troubles. Publicly recognizing the fact that 1) “correct” results are not necessarily correct nor justifiable especially when the process cannot be explained and 2) these systems are not destined to solve all of our problems would help proliferate a culture of critical implementation and usage.


Ideally, code would become more explainable in the future. In the meanwhile, since lack of formal analysis is probably another reason for continuously biased performance, so developing guidelines and infrastructure to gauge performance at each step would help. Regarding transparency, development of open source models could help.



Waste Reduction

Americans produce 7 pounds of trash per day on average, and nearly 70% goes to landfill.


There is so much law could do: mandate compost, tax waste by volume/weight; restrict (by taxing or banning) usage of excessive packaging, single-use material, and non-recyclable material; give incentives to developing materials that are bio-degradable.

Norm & Market

There are many unsustainable norms in the US compared to other as-developed countries: consumerism that could be improved; short cycle of buying to throwing out exacerbated by the tendency to buy cheaper, lower-quality products; lack of recycling principles; overusing single-use, disposable products, use excessive/un-recyclable packaging.


Increasing the number of Waste-To-Energy facilities. Development (and competitive pricing) of bio-degradable material.

Housing Instability / Vision Zero / Suspension & Expulsion in K-5 Schools

Chronic Housing Instability in the City of Boston

The City of Boston, like many of our coastal cities, is dealing with a housing crunch like no other. A shortage of affordable housing is pushing people out of affordable rentals and homeownership, and increasing the prevalence of housing instability at the margins, including evictions, housing discrimination, and predatory landlords. There’s a lot the city is currently trying to do, and a lot it’s not able to do because of a difficult regulatory environment. This is a speculative exercise in what I would do, could I change those things:

Markets –  The City of Boston is past the point where building affordable housing might appreciably affect chronic housing instability for marginalized communities. Like most cities in the Northeast, there’s incredible pressure on the supply of housing currently available in the city. Furthermore, the pace and type of construction (far more market-rate housing is going up than affordable units) is insufficient to address these needs. Because the change necessary to stymie housing instability from a traditional market perspective is really slow, I’d advocate for a faster market-driven solutions that could supplement construction by allowing people to stay in their homes during times of stress or insecurity. For example, should a family come close to missing a rental payment, the city could offer a program that steps in to foot the bill during moments of emergency or an issue of timing mismatch. This critical aid during moments of vulnerability can keep families in their homes more permanently, kids in their schools, prevent the short-term panic caused by a potential eviction or case of homelessness. The City of Boston recently hiked up prices for traffic tickets across the city—this could be a good way to funnel that money.

Norms – Though finding housing for single students is hard, finding housing for working families is an especially difficult endeavor in the city due to cost, availability of right-sized units, high broker fees and security deposits, and increasingly the coordination problems caused by the widely accepted September 1st move-in date. Because so many properties save units for a September 1st move-in, it creates a landlord’s paradise both in terms of price and wraparound services for the move. Due to that artificial scarcity that hits the market around mid-June and early-July, families looking to move into apartments in summertime are forced to sublet for the first few months of their stay, pay exorbitant fees to brokers to show the last few apartments on the market, and take time from busy work days to view the last few available apartments at their price range. The increased competition creates spillovers throughout the rental market, including the high price of movers, trucks, cleaning services, and the incredible pressure on the few days surround September 1st move-in. While this may work for a flexible student schedule, the extra costs due to missed days of work, financial burden, brokers fees and child care are incredibly difficult or impossible for working families, locking them out of housing opportunity. Releasing the pressure of 9/1 and the Allston Christmas might smooth out the housing market throughout the city, making it easier on renters who aren’t students to find housing for the year.

Law – Boston’s housing market has relatively few protections for renters, including those at risk of eviction, rent hikes, and discriminatory landlords. Though the city is subject to federal laws governing fair housing and other housing provisions, stringent home rule means that efforts to enact rules like rent control and just cause evictions have stalled at the State House. Fixing housing in Boston is hard as a result, both because legislation is hard to pass and property owners and landlords are particularly powerful in the city. If I could do anything to affect chronic housing instability in the city, I would remove home rule to allow the city more flexibility to enact the housing legislation that works best for Boston.

Code – The city has incredibly limited data on housing instability because there are only a few ways for folks to report problematic landlords or practices to the city without retribution. I would bolster the 311 services the city already has to allow for anonymous reporting of landlords to the city to better define landlords who perpetuate evictions or discrimination with limited risk for the reporting party.

Traffic fatalities due to bicycle-vehicle crashes 

Though the city of Boston is aiming to lessen serious traffic accidents through it’s efforts through Vision Zero, most of these interventions are geared towards increasing driver awareness of bicycles in the street, and maintaining the right of way for all modes of transportation.
Markets – There are already quite high financial penalties for traffic fatalities, not least of all the money needed attend to yourself or your vehicle after a wreck. However, I’d bolster that financial incentive by explicitly detailing insurance plans to increase driver awareness towards bikers. Perhaps more congested cities can make biker-vehicle interactions a clear line-item in driver’s insurance plans, creating specific monetary penalties for crashes involving a bicycle.
Norms –  The “Dutch reach” is often an example a particularly effective mechanism for increasing driver awareness of bikers. By incentivizing drivers to check their side view before opening their doors, it will decrease dooring crashes between motor vehicles and bicyclists, one of the largest contributors to serious injuries in bike-vehicle accidents. Although that is a specific intervention, it does imply that drivers are generally aware enough of bikers to moderate their own behavior, which is a place I think we can get to.
Law – It’s very legal for bikes to be on the road, but it doesn’t always appear to be that way based on signage, road markings, and other indicators of the rules of the road. Where there aren’t road markings, there should be signs alerting drivers to the rules of the road, namely that drivers and bikers are to share the roadway
Code – Build a warning system into vehicles to let them know there are items in there peripheral approaching. For example, some newer models of motor vehicles have lights on their mirrors that illuminate when other vehicles or obstructions approach the car. Something like this would be immensely helpful to alert drivers of bikes approaching and reduce fatalities.
Excessive Suspensions and Expulsions in K-5 schools
The widely publicized school-to-prison pipeline is one of the major contributors to structural racism in our lifetime. A stab at some solutions:
Markets – Though markets and education already have a difficult relationship (and I’m not advocating for complicating that relationship further), a solution may come in disincentivizing punitive action for young kids. The cost of teachers staying after school to host detentions, parents arranging childcare for suspended young children, and the administrative cost of expelling students are all faced by some actor in this ecosystem. Perhaps instead it may be cheaper to train teachers in deescalation tactics or embed moments of reflection in the school day, leaning away from punitive actions for kids who may be having a difficult time adjusting to school.
Norms – I think we need to shift away from excessive punitive actions for young children in school anyway, especially to young boys of color. By treating rambunctious behavior as inherently dangerous, it stigmatizes playfulness for young kids far more than necessary. This is the first place I’d start. By putting additional emphases on the socioemotional perspective of a school day, kids may be more able to communicate the things that are troubling them, and it may open a conversation that can precede disciplinary action.
Law – Where it is flexible enough to do so, school superintendents and principals could enact rules that create more distance between initial “offenses” and suspensions. For example, kids may have to see a school counselor for a certain number of sessions before a detention, or have a certain number of parent/teacher conferences before moving directly to suspensions and expulsions.
Code – Often when kids act up in school, it can be due to a number of other issues including their home or neighborhood environment, personal difficulties, bullying, or a myriad of other issues. It may be helpful to develop a way to track students who are seeing other professionals to address a number of these other issues (for example, a child’s social worker, spiritual leader, sports coach) to coordinate care more effectively for students who may really need it. That extra ounce of coordination may keep a student from falling behind in school, or worse, getting suspended or expelled for a minor offense.

Asylum / social programs / crime

Asylum requests in Brazil

Asylum services are extremely lengthy, frustrating and adding to the hardship of asylum-seekers that are eager and impatient to rebuild their life. Part of the problem is that asylum services are overwhelmed with more demands than they are equipped to handle. According to a recent article, in Brazil, 86,000 asylum seekers are waiting to hear about their asylum request while there are only 14 officials able to undertake the assessments.

CODE: pre-assessment, i.e. notifying straightforward cases (e.g. applications from countries at war), fact-checking (e.g. consistency between event dates) using ML, NLP, could decrease the length of the procedure significantly.

LAW: regulation enforcing higher (public) budget allocation to asylum services would allow to increase Human Resources dedicated to the different stages of the process (I.e. conducting the interviews, reviewing assessments and evaluating requests) and therefore decrease overall length of the process.

NORMS: Part of the reason why the Brazilian (and overall Latin-American) asylum services are so under-equipped to handle the increasing demand is because the topic is not considered a priority, by the government nor the civil society. A push from civil society could help bring the topic to the public agenda, increase the number of volunteers to support assistance and even legal processes.

MARKET: in Brazil, asylum-seekers are allowed to work once they have initiated their asylum process. Companies could partner with civil society, even government, to offer jobs for asylum-seekers thus reducing anxiety over papers.

Targeting of social programs

Targeting is intrinsically one of the core challenges posed by Conditional Cash Transfers (social programs aiming to reduce and break the intergenerational cycle of poverty). Currently, there are more than 100 nation-wide CCT programs.

CODE: improve inclusion/exclusion error rates using algorithmic fairness methods, i.e. reducing bias in selection against certain population subgroups (for e.g. rural vs urban).

NORMS: In certain countries, social programs such as CCTs face heavy criticism, for several reasons including ideology, accusations of patronage, corruption and inclusion errors (“people that are not poor receive it”). Improves in targeting could themselves contribute to changes in public opinion.

LAW: CCTs should be as institutionalized as possible, i.e. legally defined as initiatives independent from elected offices.

MARKET: private companies can partner with the government to offer employment for professionals who are themselves head of a beneficiary family or graduates / young professionals whose family was a beneficiary.

Crime prevention

In Latin America, homicide rates are four times higher than the world average. Violence creates fear and uncertainty, affecting not only the primary victim but also his/her family and community, also known as secondary victims. Although abundant research exists on the nature and sociology of crime, only a few studies worldwide have explored the effects of crime and violence on daily routines / activities of both primary and secondary victims.

CODE: use behavioral data such as bank card transactions’ metadata to assess the effect of crime shocks on daily lives, with a focus on the differential impacts between subgroups, starting by women and men – and provide insights for evidence-based policy to increase community resilience in the face of shocks.

LAW: Crime is a multifaceted issue. In certain Latin-American countries, one of (the many) drivers of criminality is impunity, especially for crimes such as murders and rape. Lobbying for stricter law enforcement and persecution of high-level crimes instead of low-level crimes.

NORMS: perception of insecurity, not just insecurity, also has an impact on individuals’ behavior. In areas where perception of insecurity is higher than insecurity, information-based campaigns can help citizens feel safe in their neighborhoods.

MARKET: local economy and businesses are also affected by crime and should be part of public initiatives to increase resilience of communities in the face of crime shocks.

Aadhar // Phone Scams // Emotional Labor

I have written in this blog before about my background in policymaking and data analysis, and that is the lens that I bring to this course. Two things that I have not written about are two personal interests of mine- audio storytelling and deconstructing masculinity. From these three topics arise three issues to potentially be addressed through this course- one on state data and privacy, one that was compellingly covered last year by one of my favorite podcasts, and one that I’ve been thinking about in healthier masculinity discussion circles.

Aadhaar Cards in India

Almost a decade ago, India launched a program to bring its citizens out of the shadows. The Aadhaar program launched to provide citizens a unique ID number based on demographic and biometric data. Initially, the program was hailed as a solution to corruption and fraud in the country’s welfare system, but ID numbers have become necessary to enroll in a wide range of services- from passports and drivers licenses to bank accounts and cell phones.

The program has often been deemed a resounding success, bringing identification to 1.21 billion of India’s 1.3 billion people, but more recently, privacy advocates have raised questions about the security of this data. The country is currently at odds: a case has made its way to the Indian Supreme Court on the program’s constitutionality (with a verdict coming as soon as tomorrow), while Prime Minister Narendra Modi and multinational tech companies have leapt to its defense.

At its core, this issue is one framed by James C. Scott as legibility to the state- as long as the state is able to know its citizens, it is able to organize and socially control them (for better or worse). While the issue of central identification may seem moot to citizens of countries that have long had such systems (e.g., Social Security Numbers in the United States), the introduction of such a system during an age of technology poses much deeper questions of ownership and use of data as fundamental as biometric and personal identity.

In full honesty, this issue- of how to understand and serve citizens without using that information to potentially infringe on their rights (or, worse, sell their rights to companies)- is of greatest interest to me. I’ve started thinking of how the four levers of social change can solve this issue, such as through greater legal restrictions on use, sale and privacy of data; a change in norms to make the population more aware of the power of this data and sensitive to giving it away; by building code that can more closely monitor use and secure personal data; or by giving each individual ownership of their own data and setting up a market for people to willingly sell or lease their data for a fair price. I would love to spend the semester thinking more about this issue.

Phone Scams

Your phone rings and you don’t recognize the number. You maybe pick up, in case that concert venue happened to find two extra tickets to the sold out show that you wanted to take your friend to. Instead you’re delivered a audio ransom notice about unpaid taxes or a compromised cloud account over the chaotic hum of telephone operators giving other schmucks the same spiel.

Phone scams. You know them. You hate them. They and their tech-savvy cousin, the scam email, have been around for so long that we should have figured this out by now, right? But somehow, despite improved spam email filters and official do-not-call lists, it seems like scam phone calls have been on the rise.

This seems first and foremost like an issue of international governance- as long as there’s a government too inept or hamstrung or paid-off to look the other way, we’ll continue to face phone scammers. The solution, however, can come from different sources: a legal international ban that’s agreed to and enforced across countries, perhaps paired with market sanctions against those nations that do not comply; the coded creation of a secure communication system that can only allow communication to be initiated by verified actors (like governments, utilities, creditors, etc.) paired with a norms campaign to ensure that people only trust that secure communication system.

Imbalanced Emotional Labor

Over the past few years, the term ‘emotional labor’ has become more and more common. It refers to a wide range of activities, both personal and professional, that often go unnoticed and almost always go unpaid, but are critical to maintaining the foundation and structure of social environments and relationships. A range of things fall into the bucket of emotional labor- from smiling at strangers to checking-in on and emotionally supporting loved ones to managing domestic space (and on and on).

Perhaps we’ve come to a point that this single term is inadequate to describe all of the interactive work that falls into it, but two things that remain true of things identified as emotional labor are that they generally go unrecognized and that they are unequally done much less by men and much more by others (including women and non-binary or non-gendered people).

This gendered imbalance arises from the way we socialize infants and children, is reinforced by the expectations we hold adults to, and manifests in fragile relationships later on in life, among a range of other adverse and inequitable consequences to people of all genders. At one level, it is important to raise awareness of what counts as emotional labor and who is doing it (which can be done by changing norms through educative campaigns, media depictions, and modified expectations of this work), it is also important that emotional labor is seen as valuable and the shared responsibility of all people, regardless of gender (which can come about by a change in laws to encourage equal participation, such as through equal maternal and paternal leave; by a fair compensation of emotional and domestic work in markets). In addition, more ways to code and measure who is doing different kinds of emotional labor can help us evaluate the progress that we make in this sphere.

Politics, the Gig Economy and Education

1. Political Representation

Government, and political representation in particular, are long overdue for modernization. Most of the systems in place for electing representatives are holdovers from the technological limitations of centuries past. For instance, the fact that individuals are restricted to choosing candidates for national legislatures from their geographical vicinity, rather than those that represent their views best, made sense when it was only realistic to run and consume local political campaigns. But with the advent of mass media and the internet, this has not been the case for the better part of the last century.

Although technology can, and must, play an integral part in this modernization, there is no doubt that it must be done carefully. Technology is clearly not an inevitable force for good, as can be seen clearly with how it has been used recently as a force for mass manipulation and propagation of false information.

How can technology improve and modernize the systems of political representation?


There are a number of different intervention points through which both civic engagement and political representation can be “coded” into new systems. Digitizing elements of conventional voting or moving to more “dynamic” methods would fall on the more ambitious side of the spectrum. However, there is also great potential in building on existing digital platforms to reduce the information asymmetry present between candidates and citizens. This could take the form of better systems to aggregate campaign promises, policy performance and legislative voting records on one side and collect and summarize more accurate and timely information on users’ political preferences and priorities on the other.


The fundamental challenge for market induced change, when it comes to the government or public sphere, is to create systemic incentives for non-financial social goods. There is a clear need and desire for this to happen as citizens are gaining awareness of the level of control profit motivated private organizations are having on their political futures.

More generally, there is a need for people to accept, and develop, new models that shoulder the monetary burden of sustaining civic technology that provides public goods such as fact-checking and political accountability.


In this case, legislation is the most direct obstacle to change. Any attempts to change some of the foundational structural aspects of government are likely to be met with extreme resistance from law-makers and citizens alike.

In the absence of pressure from citizens this is unlikely to happen in the short term. What is more likely is for legislators to start taking a more proactive role in reigning in big tech companies whose reach gives them an outsized influential role in public life. These will include establishing adaptable, but clear laws on issues such as removing bias in algorithms and mandating transparency in policies and incentives.


As stated above, a push for more modern interpretations of the political system will require a movement from citizens demanding such changes. Awareness on the potential benefits and risks of new systems needs to be generated by pushing these discussions out into public discourse. Additionally, making civic engagement and informed citizenship an important aspect of culture could be an important normative step. Perceptions that government and political figures are unreachable and accountability is not feasible need to be challenged with the demonstration of how modern tools can aid (and ideally not impede) this process.

2. Labor Rights in the Gig Economy

There has been a dramatic surge in labor marketplaces that allow workers to offer services without being tied to traditional employers; the emergence of the so-called gig economy. The trend has called into question the sustainability of the traditional system of benefits provision, where employers provide and heavily subsidize critical benefits such as health insurance. Freelance employees have not immediately been able to find comparable alternatives. Additionally, while the flexible hours offered by such jobs are attractive to many, they also introduce a distinct element of uncertainty and precarity into wages and long-term employment. Many workers end up being pushed to work longer hours and earning less in net terms than they initially planned.

How can we ensure that the rights of freelance workers are protected in the face of rapid technology driven changes?


One element that is often ignored in this discussion is the impact of some of the design elements in the apps that power these platforms. An obsession to continually optimize and maximize efficiency has resulted in seemingly beneficial innovations such as dynamic pricing and instant scheduling. However, the psychological toll of the consequences of these choices is not studied or considered. Many Uber drivers, for instance, feel drawn into the “game” of following surge pricing and completing streaks even when it might mean working outside of the limits they set for themselves to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Buffers built-in to the apps that show a greater respect for human limitations and psychological impulses could go a long way in countering the harmful effects of these tendencies. Just because something can be optimized, doesn’t mean it should.


Markets can step in by providing innovative products that can more adequately replace the employer-centric solutions of the past. For instance, models for insurance provision that target individuals but offer them rates as part of pools and groups could help reduce some of the financial burden on freelance workers.


A number of proactive laws are needed to govern the impact of labor marketplaces and protect workers. These include clearly delineating the role of platforms for workers providing services using their product and extending some of the basic rights of traditional workers to apply to contractors and freelance workers.


Consumers need to recognize the human cost of their transactions. In many cases, there is a need for them to reflect on whether, regardless of its economic feasibility, there is a sustainable and/or humane way for them to get a service. Do we really need one-hour delivery if it will mean workers on minimum wage needing to be on their feet for 16 hours at a time?

On the other hand, many workers themselves need to be educated on the implications of the trade-offs they are making by going freelance.

3. Equitable Provision of Education

There have been a number of technological false dawns in education delivery and quality over the last few decades. Two of the fundamental challenges that still remain are improving the quality of teaching and reducing the inequality in access to educational resources.

How can we leverage technology to improve the quality and accessibility of education?


A number of improved hardware and software solutions are needed to ensure more successful interventions than those of the past, even though the “code” aspect was not the primary reason for their failure. One challenge to address is merging the benefits of instant access to high-quality online content with the need for in-person tutoring, especially for younger students. There is also a need to ensure, where needed, more resilient and sustainable hardware solutions.


The main issue to resolve, in developing and developed countries alike, is creating incentives that can attract and motivate high-quality teachers. This is by no means an easy problem, but it might be possible to provide new ways for teachers to supplement their main incomes (e.g. through some technologically enabled services and hopefully reduce the income gap with other professions. Other aspects of education that inflate costs and reduce accessibility, such as textbooks, could also be partially addressed through market forces.


Legislation and budgeting can ensure a more equitable distribution of funds for schools. The disparity in funding and education outcomes for schools based on the demographics of their neighborhoods is concerning to say the least. Finding creative ways to balance out funding where local taxes are falling short could be an important first step.


In order for there to be political momentum to address some of the inequality in education there must also be a perceptual shift in how education and life outcomes are viewed, especially in the United States. The belief that some notional demonstration “merit” can dictate, or be the primary factor responsible for success or failure is problematic when there is such gross disparity in starting positions, largely driven by availability and quality of educational resources. Changing that mindset could help ensure a greater appetite for spreading out educational funding and resources to create a more level playing field.

Beyond Wishful Thinking..?

Societal re-entry for returning citizens

Citizens seeking to re-enter society after a period of incarceration face several structural and societal challenges. On a structural level, they are denied housing and employment because of their criminal record. The societal challenges may pose as even greater obstacles to overcome because of the nuanced nature of these challenges. Re-entering society after a period of incarceration can feel very disorienting that navigating the minute details of daily life are overwhelming.

Law: A law can be passed to remove the need to state one’s criminal record status in a job application to give returning citizens an equal chance of getting through the front door.

Norm: Societal stigmas and norms are huge obstacles to societal re-integration. Some serious campaigning/conversations/awareness rallies are needed to address society’s mental stigmas toward returning citizens. Universities, given their societal and cultural standing, can facilitate such conversations to transform society’s attitudes.

Code: Many returning citizens feel completely overwhelmed by the re-entry process that few can take advantage of support programs available. The architecture of social programs can be better designed to ensure that there are consistent check-ins with each individual and that they are connected to the right resources.

Market: Corporates can partner up with social programs to either train, hire or create new markets for returning citizens.


Homelessness in urban cities

The U.S. prides itself as one of the world’s wealthiest nations, yet the country’s homelessness crisis remains an epidemic. 2017 saw a 1% rise in the total number of homeless people in the country, with the percentage of unsheltered homeless rising by 9%. Unsurprisingly, the rise of the tech elites is proportional to the rise of homelessness in cities – in California, Oregon and Washington, overall homeless population climbed by 14% in the past 2 years, while Seattle’s unsheltered population grew by 44%.[1]

Law: The law can eradicate homelessness in 3 ways: i) Increase housing subsidies; ii) Build more affordable houses, ii) Implement Housing First policies.

With the influx of tech elites into cities, daily living expenses have increased, making it hard for many to maintain a home. State and federal governments can increase housing subsidies and vouchers for those earning below a certain wage level. Further, the number of affordable houses is in dire short supply. Governments can fund affordable homes that are well-integrated within diverse neighborhoods.

Homelessness is a multifaceted problem; rather than aiming to solve all the social problems that result in homelessness, governments can implement Housing First policies that primarily ensure a roof over someone’s head before addressing the social issues.

Market: The law and market need to work in tandem to better regulate the housing market as housing prices continue to rise especially in cities that have experienced an influx of tech elites in the recent years.

Private capital, which comes with fewer restrictions than federal funding, can also be used to build affordable homes and support social programs to alleviate the homelessness epidemic in the US.

Norm: Similar to returning citizens, the homeless population is commonly viewed as second-class citizens and a liability to society. Such stigma strips them of their humanity and acts a mental barrier to their social progress. Social programs and campaigns can be implemented to re-build confidence and self-esteem of these individuals and their role in society.

Code: At a recent design conference, a non-profit revealed a 3D printer capable of constructing a 3D home in less than 24 hours. Whilst this is a temporary solution, these homes serve as transitional housing and at the very least, gets people off the streets faster than waiting for the government to build more affordable homes. Ideally, these 3D homes are means to an end of securing permanent housing for the homeless.


Digital wellbeing

By now, it comes as no surprise to learn that the technologies we use every day were intentionally designed to keep us hooked. As a UX designer, I’m concerned about the ways in which persuasive design has diluted our human interactions. More importantly, I’m concerned about its impacts on our human psyche i.e. our reduced attention span, our need for societal validation, our digital proxies over human connection.

Law: At present, there are no laws regulating types of persuasive design, yet countless research has shown that these technologies are fundamentally transforming how we think and approach the world. Lawmakers need to figure out a new vocabulary to talk about and enforce restrictions on the use of behavioral psychology in design.

Norm: We need a cultural shift in our digital hygiene practices i.e. taking digital sabbaths, setting aside our phones during social gatherings etc. We also need to cultivate habits to rebuild our short attention spans.

Code: Google’s recent Android Pie is a good example of the use of architecture in reducing our screen time. Their latest update allows users to greyscale their phone as a means of working against persuasive design and color psychology that underpins digital design.

Market: Social media companies need an overhaul of their business models since the bulk of their profits comes from selling ads and collecting data.



Responding to Natural Disasters in the US, Liberating Patient’s Own Access to Medical Data, Stop the Straws

Responding to Natural Disasters in the US

“FEMA leadership acknowledged that the Agency could have better anticipated that the severity of hurricanes Irma and Maria would cause long-term, significant damage to [Puerto Rico]’s infrastructure
-FEMA 2017 after-action evaluation report

In the aftermath of Hurricane María, Puerto Rico fell into a literal and metaphorical abyss of darkness as 100% of the electric grid went offline immediately after the storm. Cellphone towers went offline and millions were unable to contact their loved ones, many times for weeks. Access to clean water and food was cut off for thousands. Many agencies were severely unprepared at different levels of public management, with one of the most salient being the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that even admitted that it was unprepared for the scale of the disaster. Much more could have been done, such as the restocking of emergency food and water warehouses, the delivery of energy generators, and public

With climate change, natural disasters are bound to become more common. We cannot allow lack of preparation before them become the norm or have political actors beget its lack thereof.

Law: Continue having FEMA as an independent organization of the government. This will (hopefully) prevent the politicization of responses towards individual regions of the US. Moreover, illegalize the inflation of prices of essential resources such as power generators in times of crisis.

Norms: Retain the public memory of the aftermath of unwisely managed disasters in the public domain. Media outlets have done an excellent job of this by illustrating the narratives of many people directly affected by large-scale natural disasters. Make human perception of such heartfelt narratives more welcome and thus more naturally received.

Market: Provide government subsidies to essential supplies in times of preparation and response to natural disasters.

Code: Develop urban planning simulation software that models the effects of natural disasters on cities and larger regions. Make the results of these simulated stress tests play an important role in emergency planning by government and non-government agencies alike.


Liberating Patient’s Own Access to Medical Data

When I sprained my ankle badly right before college, I had to take a number of MRIs, X-Rays, and physical evaluations to coordinate treatment. When the medical practitioner I was going to went for vacation, closed, or when I simply did not enjoy them, I had to seek a new person to see. With each new doctor or physical therapist that I encountered, I basically had to start from zero and re-explain my situation and treatment journey. At times, I would also have to repeat or reproduce MRIs of my treatment area. As a result, I was responsible for keeping a log of all my treatments and would be frustrated when there was something I forgot , did not ask for a copy of, or did not have immediate access to. Why is it hard for patients to see their own medical data?

Through this personal experience, I have noticed that much of medical record data is isolated within medical systems and hard to for patients themselves to collect and have at hand for subsequent medical visits.

Law: Amend the HIPAA law or complement it to require health providers to make access to patient data and test results immediately available for patients at the same time as the provider gains access.

Norms: Have healthcare providers print out evaluations and test results to give to patients at the conclusion of each visit. Essentially, make the act of the patient receiving a record of their evaluation as the last milestone in the process of visiting of a healthcare provider.

Market: Have your health data be tied to your healthcare provider. As a result, healthcare providers will have their patient data delivery systems as marketable selling points to potential consumers.

Code: Standardize a database system for storing medical records of which patients have easy, clear access to. For the sake of slapping this buzzword in, blockchain-ify medical record systems on online platforms.


Stop the Straws

“On July 26, the Walt Disney Company announced that it would eliminate single-use plastic straws and stirrers in all its locations by mid-2019 as part of its “journey of environmental stewardship.” Disney also plans to reduce other plastic products in its hotels and cruise ships as well as plastic shopping bags and styrofoam cups.”

“Starbucks made a similar announcement earlier this month, saying it would transition to a new lid for cold drinks that many have likened to an “adult sippy cup.”

-Vox, “Why Starbucks, Disney, and Tom Brady are all shunning plastic straws”

The waste generated by one time use plastic straws can be feasibly mitigated. In most cases, one-time plastic straws are not necessary tools for liquid consumption and can be easily obviated. There is traction in the movement of banning the usage of such straws, which we can take advantage of to effectively extirpate a sizeable human contribution to waste generation.

Law: Create laws that prevent or tax the sale and distribution of straws.

Norms: Make using straws be views as uncool within society. Word of mouth convincing has proven to be especially strong and is what convinced me to stop using straws. Public awareness campaigns through television or physical postering within organizations come to mind.

Market: Have restaurants and eating establishments that do not distribute straws make this as an apparent positive to customers. Restaurants that market themselves as non-straw using will be viewed as conscientious and trendy.

Code: Re-engineer the design of one-use cups to not include straw holes. Instead of straw holes, make cups have more grooved sides for comfortable, strawless drinking.

How can we save democracy and restore trust?

1) Voters would like to but don’t know what the political parties stand for

All the feedback, evaluations and focus group work I have read as a digital project manager for the election coverage in Denmark points to one major conclusion: The voters are having a hard time distinguishing the political parties apart when looking at what they actually want to change. So, their choice ends up being based on more superficial reasons like tradition, likeability etc. I have a feeling that a similar thing is happening in the U.S..

The political process is not always as open and transparent as one could have wished for. Lately it has even gone the wrong way in Denmark. Politicians are getting more ways of shielding their administration and policy work from the press and public.

Many information campaigns aim at raising the number of people voting. But the effort to get people involved in Politics should really take place between the elections. Interest in joining political parties has also dropped over the years as the direct democracy in most parties has dwindled. Making more people politically active would perhaps have a network effect in attacking the problem.

The media market has in many ways favored less coverage of policy content and more process coverage. The market mechanisms in the media business is to blame for this. Quality news coverage is blooming for a select elite of subscription media companies. But we need to figure out a business model that informs the rest. Bundling of news sources might be a solution.

Gamification of the political coverage like the Scandinavian candidate tests is a popular but last-ditch effort to let the voters get to know who they are voting for. Open APIs and easier access to public data like voting data would make it easier to not just hear what the politicians plan on doing but actually survey what they are doing.

2) People feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of daily news and need a way of staying above water to be informed citizens

Part of the reason people are overwhelmed and unable to sort through the news anymore is that they simply don’t trust it. Fake news and low-quality news have blurred the lines to a place where many simply just tune out. But I believe that being a critical consumer of news (and commercials) is the best way to avoid this. And it should start in our schools.

A push-back on both social and mainstream media might be what is needed to slow down and look up from what is in front of us right now.

The same market force issues that affected the voters’ knowledge of the political parties’ agendas are at play here. Cable news and social media has whipped the news into a frothy mess where it gets increasingly harder to tread water and stay above.

The web is still not set in stone. So, news corporations should experiment and invest in new ways of updating and summarizing the news. The current article format and social media ecosystem is often doing the opposite by making readers find old and obsolete articles instead of collection all we know.

3) Facts don’t matter anymore

The last year has given us an almost total collapse of facts. Institutions and media organizations are getting away with outright lying. The result is apathy and probably also polarization. Stronger libel laws might take the edge out of it. But they might just end up creating an even worse situation if used to strong arm the people pointing the actual liars.

It used to be okay to dismiss women and use ethnic stereotypes in everyday language. It is not anymore. Mainly because of changed social norms that made it unacceptable. Might this issue also be attacked that way?

It turns out there is a big market for non-facts and untrue content as long as it riles us up and satisfies our preconceptions. But it also turns out the death of facts is a huge business opportunity for a select group of media companies like The New York Times and Washington Post that have experienced the famous Trump Bump. But how do we make the bump scale?

Fact-checking and truthfulness ratings have not had a major impact on the spread of fake news. De-platforming might but also brings its own issues. That is not to say that code doesn’t have a role to play. Platforms need to get better at removing or flagging misinformation but it will probably not be the sole solution.

reparations, data, bail


One issue I’m really interested in working on is reparations for slavery and colonization, particularly in the United States. This is a pretty big idea but I think reparations are an essential part of working towards reconciling a lot of unjust foundations that this world is built upon.

Law: Echoing the calls for reparations that Ta-Nehisi Coates made in his well-known article (The Case for Reparations), reparations policies could go through law and be made into policies that provide direct reparative resources, such as land, symbolic reparation, and financial stipends. For example, the conversation on land restitution in South Africa is an example of how the U.S. government could think about going about providing reparations for slavery and even Jim Crow-era policy.

Norm: Public information campaigns to normalize reparations and wealth redistribution on an everyday basis and make known the idea that reparations should be instituted in some form for slavery and colonization of indigenous land in the U.S.

Market: Institute some “micro-finance” type of program (but not loan-based, just giving money) which might incentivize well-resourced people and corporations to help provide the conditions for marginalized people to succeed and gain capital.

Code: Automate the transfer of some small portion of funds of payment systems to go towards reparations funds. For example, some portion of tuition payments could be pooled to pay for tuition for descendants of enslaved people as was demanded of Georgetown University due to its history of being built upon the foundation of the slave trade.

Data Transparency

I have background in social sciences, particularly ethnic studies, so another project I am interested in is “open data”-related work (e.g. Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences) especially in connection with police departments around the country.

Law: Update data transparency laws, with collaboration from current developers and data scientists so there are clear standards. In a similar vein to financial accountability laws, police departments should be required by law to make statistics on race, income, gender, sexuality, incarceration rate vs. offense, salaries, financial statements, etc. public.

Norm: Show people how lack of data can be leveraged against marginalized populations (e.g. lack of detailed Asian American data makes it so that the wealth disparities among Asian Americans can be glossed over without addressing South-East Asian and other Asian American populations that are not at all represented by the “Crazy Rich Asian” stats)

Market: The norm lever could be combined with the market one to have consumers and public funders to go against institutions with low data transparency, which is against the market interest of the actor.

Code: I think a lot of this problem has to do with the amount of resources people are even willing to put into data transparency, so the availability of code seems to not be the issue here (since the potential to collect detailed data or publish it already exists). One idea I had is that you could automatically log police officer actions somehow and push them to a publicly accessible database for accountability.


We talked about this a little in class when discussing mass incarceration, but the current cash bail system and the bail bond industry that’s been built upon it has huge potential for and realities of abuse which overwhelmingly targets poor people in a massively unfair way, and has been shown to be linked to higher actual incarceration rates when people actually do go to trial. Pre-trial detention based on how much you are able to pay is unjust, but current methods of dealing with it by using things like algorithms are also filled with potential to be wrong and prejudiced.

Law: Eliminiate cash bail, then figure out some legal standards for pre-trial detention (do we want it, when are we going to implement it, thorough standards for making sure whatever metric for using pre-trial detention is instituted are not biased if possible)

Norms: Talk about cash bail and how it’s unfair. Especially bail bonds — it seems to be pretty normalized in the U.S. which was weird coming from Canada, but when I talked to people I know here they seemed to just accept bail bonds as something that happens in life. Not great!

Market: Disincentivize bail bond companies and insurance companies that back them in some way. Implement huge taxes on bail bond income or something (although this is combined with law in a big way).

Code: Reduce the use of cash bail by overhauling the pre-trial detention system in the first place.


Information Accountability – Cost – Ownership

Those who control information tend to wield an outsized portion of power.

The prolific 20th century author, Tom Clancy, probably said it best.

“The control of information is something the elite always does, particularly in a despotic form of government. Information, knowledge, is power. If you can control information, you can control people.”

Yet, despite vast technological moves assumed to have democratized the dissemination of information, challenges to healthy democracy, to necessary civil discourse have never been greater. There is no doubt information moves more freely, through fewer gatekeepers, today than it did a decade ago, but those advancements also brought unforeseen manipulation that has drained public trust.

Turns out ease of access also meant ease of manipulation.

Average consumers of information struggle to vet the information that sways public opinion, particularly through social media platforms that have become ubiquitous in modern life. Meanwhile, the power over that flow of information has been consolidated to a small number of tech companies whose motives and values aren’t always clear. Worse, their relatively hands-off approach to information that appears on platforms allowed the proliferation of vast misinformation and disinformation.

Three key areas of our information infrastructure must improve to ensure the health of our civic discourse: accountability, cost and ownership.

Platform accountability:


The erosion of public trust in the information disseminated and consumed through modern platforms was swift and pronounced. Platform owners and operators — although they likely couldn’t have predicted the adverse uses for their technologies — must be held to account for how their tech is employed for nefarious deeds.

This is a difficult balance, because abrasive laws and norms likely would stifle innovation. 

A combination of legal reforms to allow platforms to be exposed to at least some liability for what is published on their platforms — similar to structures in place governing publishers — seems not only appropriate, but necessary at this juncture. The threat of potential litigation likely would compel more active and careful self-regulation by platform operators — a move that likely would trigger more robust efforts to verify content and ensure user accountability.

Further, the continued erosion of public trust in material published on social platforms already has begun a shift toward user distrust. Some platforms have launched efforts to counter the loss of trust in content published through their sites, but there likely will be a continued slide/revelations of manipulation before social norms build enough momentum to force more accountability.


There is a substantial financial opportunity for a disruptor to enter the social platform/information dissemination space as existing operators continue to take hits in accountability scandals. Glancing efforts have been made to install bottom-up accountability by verifying users’ identity. A new platform (or innovation on an existing one) that verifies the identity of every user, disallowing manipulation of discourse through disinformation by bots and anonymous users and therefore generating credibility for the information published would have far-reaching positive social impacts. There are scenarios where the removal of anonymity could be damaging (namely in countries where governments or entities would retaliate against individuals who publish information that challenges authority) but there also are plenty of platforms that already address that type of threat.

Information cost


Social norms already are shifting in favor of financially supporting news gathering and information dissemination mechanisms, but there still are far too many news and information consumers in the U.S. who do not pay a share of the costs of collecting, vetting and disseminating that information. 

It is likely within the next few years many of the nation’s most prolific and trusted news organizations — if they haven’t already done so — will place paywalls in front of their articles in an effort to generate enough revenue to support their news gathering efforts. 

The shift will have a number of positive net effects on the sustainability of credible, professional information gathering and dissemination organizations. Prices for access and mechanisms for obtaining subscriptions no doubt will evolve as more readers become accustomed to viewing such information as carrying inherent value.

This evolution does, however, pose one substantial drawback. There likely will become a time when the cost of access to information will make it a luxury, therefore, diminishing its positive impacts on society.

In a paywalled digital world, there is no equivalent to bygone eras when several people could read a single copy of a purchased newspaper.



For some time aggregation and unauthorized republication of copyrighted materials, particularly via social media platforms, has been a problem. The practice has allowed some platforms to siphon revenue away from original sources, creating a disincentive for investment in labor-intensive information gathering ventures.

A combination of revisions to copyright laws to address this modern problem and code innovations that could track and verify the ownership of materials seems like a viable solution. Similar to cartographers’ techniques of marking maps they create to protect their investment of expertise and time, a code solution could install simple tracking measures to ensure those using such information help foot the bill for its creation.


In addition to legal and code efforts, a campaign similar to ones undertaken by the music and film industries to call out information misappropriation likely would have important effects. Equating reading clearly aggregated articles to theft the same way the aforementioned industries did with digital piracy could help shift public opinions and diminish patronage to those who make their living appropriating, not producing valuable information.

Quality Education | Gender Equality | Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.

The issues that I am interested in, are based on three of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how they are applicable in Kenya. The 3 SDGs are: Quality Education; Gender Equality; and Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.


Target 4.1

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes 


Education needs to be viewed as a rite of passage for children in Kenya. To achieve this would mean creating awareness about the importance of education and learning among families and in particular parents. In some households, school-aged children are tasked with chores and other domestic responsibilities because parents do not understand the need for their children to attend school regularly.


Market can be equated to the number of employment opportunities. If there is a demand for skilled and educated youth, this may also influence the number of children in primary and secondary education. If youth are guaranteed jobs upon graduation, this may increase the number of children in school and reduce dropout rates.


The solution for law is simple: to have governments enact compulsory education laws. These laws, will mandate that all children to attend school up to a certain level. Failure to comply would be unlawful.


This can be achieved through promoting creative learning in various educational institutions. This would result in developing an enabling environment for young people and also teachers. Typical rote based learning is considered rigorous, boring and unchallenging. Through adopting Mitch Resnick’s 4Ps of creative learning: Projects, Passion, Peers and Play; we can ensure that kids are inspired and interested to learn.


Target 5.5

Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.


Unconscious biases are a key driver of gender inequality in the workplace. During the recruitment and selection processes, women are unjustly stereotyped despite having the same qualifications (or even better) than their male counterparts. To become aware of our biases and to take action to alleviate them, may help to promote gender equality.


Majority of senior and leadership roles across many disciplines are held by men. There needs to be a deliberate push to increase the number of women in managerial positions. Both public and private sectors should urge women in junior levels to pursue professional development trainings. Furthermore, women in senior roles should also make effort to participate in mentorship programs to encourage and inspire young women to pursue their career ambitions.


In 2010, Kenya enacted a new constitutional requirement that states that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective bodies can be of the same gender. This law has had a positive effect on the number of women in national and local public office. Although, the two thirds gender rule has not been 100% complied with, it creates future opportunities for women to vie for various available positions.


For women, the workplace can be quite a hostile environment. With cases of sexual harassment and assault on the rise, this creates an extra hurdle for women in pursuit of professional growth and development. Companies and various institutions need to create environments where women feels safe and comfortable. There need to be proper channels that are developed to report complaints and misbehavior in the workplace and consequently, strict punishment for perpetrators.


Target 9.3

Increase the access of small-scale industrial and other enterprises, in particular in developing countries, to financial services, including affordable credit, and their integration into value chains and markets.


In Kenya, locally produced goods and services and perceived to be of low quality. People should support local businesses and enterprises to ensure the survival and sustainability of the small-scale industry.

Market / Law

Increase access to markets for small scale businesses by eliminating cartels that monopolies certain industries. This may be achieved through legislature that promotes a free market economy. The market lever would work in tandem with law.


In Kenya, with accordance with the State Corporations Act (CAP. 446), Brand Kenya Board (BKB) corporation was established. Two of the key functions of the board are to promote local products and services and to encourage commitment to quality and innovation among businesses and people. The establishment of this corporation is an example of how code can be modified to assist small-scale businesses and enterprises.

Karoshi, Missing Worker, and Bankruptcy after Disaster

Issue 1.   Overwork Death “Karoshi”

Japan is the one of the highest suicidal mortality rate countries in the world. According to WHO, male suicidal mortality rate in Japan is 20.5 out of 100 million population in 2016, female 10.1, compared to 10.5 on average in the world. This male high mortality rate derives from pressure in their working environment. A quarter of Japanese have to work more than 80 hours overtime, and many of them are actually unpaid for their overtime service. I have sometimes worked an extra 200 hours per month, and also worked 60 hours straight without a break. Death by being overworked is called “Karoshi” in Japanese. Even though it is recognized that supervisors are exerting power harassment, Japanese refrain from raising their voices, such complaining or reporting as this runs a great risk for them, resulting in less work opportunities. This kind of negative impression tends to be critical for their career as most Japanese work for one company for life. Many Japanese people end up trapped in negative working environment as employers tend not to tire those who quit a previous job.

Law: Law should stipulate strict regulations on overtime work by capping hours, with a predetermined maximum allowed, and giving heavy penalties for those who do not respect this law.

Norm: Companies should cultivate a culture that allow employees to feel comfortable to leave work at a set time such as ensuring that supervisors leave earlier than their subordinates

Market: The government should impose “overtime work tax” on company products or service based on their employee overtime work hours.

Code: The government should require all companies to set a system in place to calculate exact hours of each employee, including check-in and check-out times. To avoid abuse of this system, all PC hours should also be logged.


Issue 2.   Increasing “Missing Worker”

720,000 people in their 40’s and 50’s are unemployed in Japan. This number indicates unemployment; however, drastically understates the real situation, as it only accounted unemployed people actively seeking work. It is notable to also take into account the “missing worker”. “Missing worker” is those who are unemployed and not actively seeking a job. In Japan, “missing worker” at the age of 40-59 years old are estimated at 1,030,000. One of the main reasons this age group is unemployed, and not seeking employment is because they are caring for their elderly parents. The number of singles, unmarried, people in this group is increasing, and estimated to be at 6.5 million. To provide nursing homes for their elderly parents would be too costly and depend upon the paltry pension of their parents. Taking a break to care for their parents creates difficulty with getting back into the workforce as employers frown upon those who have taken a break.

Law: Law should protect people from discrimination for taking a break from work. When a hardship, such as caring for elderly parents is in the case, there should be programs to help reinstate employment.

Norm: Each community should create a support system to help neighbors with caring for the elderly and obtaining employment, at least on a part-time basis.

Market: Government should give financial support to afford nursing home for elderly people.

Code: Some companies should create systems for missing workers to work remotely or receive technical training through VR.


Issue 3.   Bankruptcy of Restored Companies after Tsunami Disaster

1,857 companies have gone to bankrupt since March in 2011 related to the Great East Japan Earthquake, Tsunami caused by which wiped away northeast regions. To restore companies’ facilities, the government invested US$ 265 billion in the first five years. However, 90.5% of companies have gone bankrupt not because of “direct” influences such as facility destructions but “indirect” influences such as such missing supply chains for former wholesalers making contract with other supplier during restoration, order cancellation due to negative images, lack of workforce, decreasing local consumers and so on. Still more companies are expected to go bankrupt.

Law: Law should be enacted that residents in the northeast Japan converge to central cities in each region to create compact cities in order to recover from decreasing population and decrease infrastructure costs.

Norm: Companies in the region should promote their positive image, for example, by featuring cool young workers in their fishery business which is common in the region, and by processing their raw materials and producing original stories on their products to sell directly to consumers without depending on wholesalers.

Market: Government should grant financial support wholesalers which make contracts with suppliers suffering from the disaster to reconnect supply chains.

Code: Government should produce an e-commerce platform where companies in the region provide their products or services.