“Hacking the SEAMs” — Detailed plans for building a more human-centric Web

In previous articles on Medium, I described the pressing need to challenge and replace the predominant exploitative “SEAMs” paradigm of the World Wide Web. My brand new law journal article, “Hacking the SEAMs,” now explains in depth the whys and hows of creating a new Web paradigm, based on an empowering human-centered ethos.

This article briefly summarizes my brand new law journal article, “Hacking the SEAMs: Elevating Digital Autonomy and Agency for Humans,” just published by the Colorado Technology Law Journal. Please give it a look: http://ctlj.colorado.edu/?page_id=1283.

You can also find more information at the GLIA Foundation website: www.glia.net.

Over the past two decades, Web platform ecosystems have been employing what could be called the SEAMs paradigm — which means, to Surveil users, Extract their data, Analyze for insights, and finally Manipulate the users for impact. The SEAMs paradigm is embedded as reinforcing feedback cycles in online computational systems that mediate, and seek to control, aspects of human experience.

Fronting that SEAMs paradigm are a daunting array of implements, including:

— unbalanced multisided platforms (typically treating their patrons as mere “users”);

— Institutional AIs (consequential and inscrutable decision engines); and

— asymmetrical interfaces (one-way device screens, environmental scenes, and bureaucratic unseens).

Operating behind all of this impressive “cloudtech,” the SEAMs-based feedback cycles continually import and churn through reams of personal data, and export concerted attempts to influence human beings.

While holding accountable these Web platform ecosystems is absolutely necessary work, by itself it does not engender true systems change. Instead, we must challenge, and eventually replace, the underlying SEAMs paradigm itself with a far more human-centric ethos.

The proposed HAACS paradigm — human autonomy and agency, via computational systems — is one such ethos. Rather than feed controlling tech systems, the HAACS paradigm supports new ecosystems that empower ordinary human beings. This means building institutions, governance frameworks, and technologies that:

  • Enhance and promote human autonomy (thought) and agency (action);
  • Conceptualize personal data as flows of digital lifestreams, managed by individuals and communities as stewards under commons and fiduciary law- based governance;
  • Introduce trustworthy entities, such as digital fiduciaries, to help manage individual and collective digital interactions;
  • Create Personal AIs, digital agents that represent the human being vis-a-vis the Institutional AIs operated by corporate and governmental interests; and
  • Craft symmetrical interfaces that allow humans to directly engage with, and challenge, controlling computational systems.

Put more succinctly, these proposals translate into two compact terms:

— the human governance formula of D≥A (our digital rights should exceed, or at least equal, our analog rights); and

— the technology design principle of e2a (edge-to-any/edge-to-all), as instantiated in various “edgetech” tools.

While the Age of Data remains in its infancy, time is growing short to confront its many underlying assumptions. The proposed new HAACS paradigm represents one such opportunity to seize back our human autonomy and agency. Or, in the words of Doc Searls: “Don’t be the pinball. Be the machine.”

Don’t be the pinball. Be the machine.

For much more detail, please peruse the “Hacking the SEAMs” paper: http://ctlj.colorado.edu/?page_id=1283.

Appendix A of the paper in particular provides a multitude of real-world proposals to leverage multiple ecosystem-building opportunities simultaneously across technology, market, policy, and social environments.

And in that same vein, check out this space again in just a few weeks. I’ll be announcing a major step towards actually building and deploying that HAACS-based Web we need and deserve.

Richard is a former Googler with a passion for making the open Web a more trustworthy and accountable place for human beings.