Lab NotesLiving between the linesNotesObservationsReflections

Truthfulness of personal information as indicator of social morality?

ObservationsCan the level of accuracy of personal information items be indicative of the moral virtue of the social system in which the information is used?

This question came to me while I was doing some renovation at home while listening to Tapestry CBC One radio show. This week, Mary Hynes met Sam Harris in the wake of the publication of his book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. A surprisingly short interview given that this show’s usual practice is to devote its whole hour to a single personality or subject. By listening to Harris, one understands. He certainly offers a convincing argument about the ability of science to shed light on a moral issue, or even to decide between what is right and wrong. However, the fierceness of his attacks against religions quickly annoys, thus weakening his argument.

Still, neuroscience, for example, can objectively observe through scanner and hormonal analysis that, in general, an altruistic action provides wellness to human beings who do it as those who receive it. It also observes as exactly the opposite effect with a selfish action, that it is even worse for a malevolent action. Many developments in biology, ethology and ethnology as well as psychology and sociology do offer increasingly revealing insights on various moral issues. As Harris points out, science offers here the advantage to transcend cultures, religions and moral systems because of the provable and universal nature of its conclusions.

What with the quality of personal information? The short answer is that, on one hand, science is dependent on the quality of its data and that this quality often depends on the willingness or ability of human beings to tell the truth. Still on the other hand, the level of accuracy of the provided information is measurable… scientifically.

The anecdotal answer comes from to two recent observations about the necessity…  to lie. (more…)

Learning to Live in Between the Lines: The Program

Notes of a mini-presentation at the 3rd Open Forum “Avenirs en chantiers “ (“Futures in Projects”)

organized by Communautique at the Monument national, Montreal, January 30th, 2009

Good afternoon,

To discuss about this first project, I will refer to a few of the topics addressed at the previous roundtable: money, the generation gap, the value of information, standards and what ordinary citizens can understand.

This project responds to the “Citizenship through technology / Efficient Mode of Legislation / Cyberdemocracy”theme identified during the previous two forums of January 24th and February 25th, 2008. It aims at developing the general public’s culture about the social role of information technology.

Our ignorance about how our social relations are organized by information technology is evident by comparison with our ease to understand one of the most abstracted form of information ever created by mankind: money. We would take ten people at random out here on the street and every one of them would understand what the nature of money is and what power (‘purchasing power’ we say) it represents. They could immediately discuss together the various roles that money can play in the relations between employers and employees, between State and citizens, between spouses, between parents and children, between components of society, and even between countries.

Everyone could discuss these from different angles, including the political one.

Should we not be able to discuss just as easily about all these other types of information, often handled by the same computers that process money, and which play at least as important roles in our lives?

This cultural gap is explained by the fact that money appears into human history more than sixty centuries ago (or 300 generations), but informatics for only sixty years ago (or three generations).

But the intensity, speed and consequences of the present computerization of society require of today’s citizens an accelerated learning process. Because it is today those we already need to ensure some social control over these transformations.

Fortunately, who can understand money, can understand other forms information. Just like who can form an opinion on a bill, can discuss how a computerization project will govern our lives. This information literacy program builds on two foundations:

Learning to Live Between the Lines: The Program: Foundations: Theory

  • on one hand, work that I have developed since the’80s on identification of which elements and dimensions of the physical handling of information are relevant to a legal, social, ethical or political discussion [The three publications marking the start of this search being : “L’informatique ordinatrice du droit et du procès d’information relatif aux personnes” (Informatics as It Programs Law and Personal Information Process), Technologies de l’information et société,1989; 1/3: 35-56; “Esquisse d’une théorie juridique des procès d’information relatifs aux personnes” (Outline of a Legal Theory of Information Processes About Persons), McGill Law Journal 1989; 34: 952-982; and “The Informational Privacy Challenge: The Technological Rule of Law”, in: Human Rights in Canada: Into the 1990s and Beyond, R. I. Cholewinski (publisher), Ottawa: Human Rights Research and Education Centre – University of Ottawa, 1990, 93-116]; and

Learning to Live Between the Lines: The Program: Foundations: Modelization

  • one the other hand, more recent work on how to visually present this physical handling of information in order to facilitate open discussion [The initial work described in “La modélisation visuelle des systèmes d’information en santé pour leur gestion administrative, légale et éthique” (Visual Modeling of Health Information Systems for their Administrative, Legal and Ethical Management) in Grant AM, Fortin JP et Mathieu L (publ.), L’informatique de la santé dans les soins intégrés : connaissances, applications, évaluation. Actes des 9e Journées Francophones d’Informatique Médicale (Informatics in integrated health care: knowledge, applications, assessment. Proceedings of the 9th Francophone Medical Informatics Symposium), Sherbrooke : Société Québécoise d’informatique Biomédicale et de la Santé(SoQibs), 2003, pp. 297-308.

Learning to Live Between the Lines: The Program: Notions for Citizens

The development work for a documentary movie project(funded by the Société de développement des entreprises culturelles – SODEC, but which has not yet been filmed) permit me to identify some twenty basic notions of informatics and social sciences needed by citizens to understand their information society. [Since 2007, these notions are, one by one, discussed in monthly radio column presented during the Citoyen numérique (Digital Citizen) weekly show on Radio-Montréal] In 2008, Communautique has successfully tested the communication of these concepts in adult education sessions with people, either with low levels of literacy, or unfamiliar with the use of computers (with a grant from the Canadian Council on Learning). Among the findings, it appears that these notions that can be introduced in a fifty minutes documentary require at least a dozen hours to be fully integrated by participants to a training session. Ideally, however, these notions should fit naturally into already existing education and communication activities. Hence the preparation of a training session program for instructors as well as the development of educational material, including video vignettes.

Learning to Live Between the Lines: The Program: Notions for Key ActorsIf generalized basic understanding of the social dimension of information is essential, it is not enough to ensure democratization of the computerization of society. Applied knowledge and advanced skills should also be developed.

Hence, for example, this project to train patients and their advocacy organizations to understand electronic patient records systems, to learn how to use them and, most importantly, to influence their development.

Learning to Live Between the Lines: The Program: Bridging Notions for Professionals

Hence also the need to also develop advanced training programs for the different parties involved in the design of computerization projects meant to handle interpersonal relationships. Because it must be said that the human and social aspects of these projects still are poorly accounted for as well as there are clear deficiencies in the training and the methods of various categories of professionals involved as well as of the representatives of involved citizens.

Learning to Live Between the Lines: The Program: Overview

The computerization of society demands us to learn, individually and collectively, how to live in between the lines of forms, files and statistics, the lines of codes and programs, the lines of transmission for information. Hence the name “Learning to live in between the lines” given to this program.

Communautique and its partnering organizations contribute to this program. I intend to devote to it most of my work for the next decade. We will need synergies and complicity for its development, for its dissemination as well as its integration as part of popular civic culture.

It is therefore an invitation to join this cultural venture, and even participate into the project itself.

Thank you.

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