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Although Armageddon is averted in the opening chapter, the fear that the leader intends to use cruise missiles as a sort of super-Twitter leads more moderate American patriots to seek out a Lee Harvey Oswald of our days. Maggie is a liberal leftover from the previous presidency by implication, the Obama administration who has remained in post in the hope of moderating the new guy and also because she considers herself responsible — through a secret concealed until the final pages — for the election of the demagogic incompetent.

Now hating herself for serving a man she believes should not be in power, she could solve private and public crises by failing to thwart the gunman.


The fact that Archer, after objections led by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, rewrote the novel with a fictional politician in the rifle-sights shows that what-if assassination plots, as well as debating ethical dilemmas, also raise them. A fascinating aspect of gunman narratives is that the reader is tempted to become complicit. To Kill the President is a techno-thriller, with particular attention to remote inter-activity that allows the owner of devices and vehicles to control them from afar, but opens up the possibility of hackers intervening, Set-pieces include a terrific car-chase involving only one driver, and a plotline that may leave readers paranoid about the central-heating thermostat.

The story also incorporates flashbacks to Iceland, India, Namibia and Norfolk that imaginatively fatten the narrative. By using our website you agree to our use of these cookies. Find out more. Reviews A Day of the Jackal for these dizzying times. Urgently topical. Pacy , engaging and morally serious. A dazzling thriller. Read this book. A gripping thriller and a prescient warning. To their credit, Facebook has recognized their responsibility as an aggregator.

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The current focus on the impact of social media on the electoral process should serve as the stepping-off point for a broader inquiry into the accountability of internet platforms and the oversight of that accountability. The U. Congress, as well it should, is investigating Russian advertising purchases on social media and the use of the platforms as propaganda tools. Looking to solutions established for the one-to-many era of 20th-century broadcasting is insufficient for the targeted-to-the-individual world of internet platforms. I was the U. They were inadequately transparent for broadcasting.

Replicating them will be insufficient for the internet.

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The broader question is how to deal with the exploitation of the Web as a vehicle for de-democratizing communities fueled by fact-free untruth? I would argue that it was software algorithms that put us in this situation, and it is software algorithms that can get us out of it. It is time for algorithms to start playing both sides of the street. An algorithm is like a recipe describing how to combine various inputs to produce the desired output. For this cake, the eggs, flour, and milk are the digital information collected about individuals, the nature of the information being disseminated, and a description of the target audience.

Why Donald Trump's Lies Can't Kill the Truth | Time

Today, the inputs to the recipe as well as its outputs are secret. My friend and Harvard colleague Wael Ghonim has called for these inputs and outputs to be opened to the public through the common software practice of an open API. An example of this is Google Maps. This algorithm-driven mapping software has open APIs so that other applications and their algorithms can work with it.

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For instance, knowing who purchased ads or created a post—and combining that with information about reach, engagement, and demographics—would allow a public interest algorithm to assemble a picture of what is being spread and to which communities. As important as an understanding of what is happening is gaining that knowledge with computer speed. It takes only seconds for an ad or posting to spread throughout the world.

Yet, to discover that the distribution has occurred can take hours or days. Truth has always required transparency; involving a new medium does not change that. Transparency about data on content, reach, engagement, demographic, and geographic groupings would remove the mask behind which social media hides. Disclosing top trending stories and identifying viral reposting could flag what another Harvard colleague, Claire Wardel, has defined as the troika of untruths: mis-information, dis-information, and mal-information campaigns as soon as they get off the ground.

Let me be clear on two key points. We saw in our quick historical review how new information distribution technology has always created challenges for society. It is now our turn to step up to the challenges that technology has created for us. Our solutions must embrace the new technology and eschew the solutions of the past.

The digital-age reality of a powerful and distributed network of powerful and inexpensive computers must be put to work to attack the challenges those forces have created. The internet platforms have delivered wonderful new capabilities to consumers.

To Kill the Truth

They have quickly grown to be the most valuable and powerful companies in the world. We should celebrate their creativity and their contributions. Yet, their responsibility to the maintenance of democratic norms is something that has not been resolved. It was software algorithms that put us in this situation, and it is software algorithms that can get us out of it.

For the last 40 years, I have lived my professional life at the intersection of new technology and the public interest. I know how hard it is for policymakers to keep abreast of new technology and for new companies to accept that anyone other than they themselves might have a say over their activities. In the 19th and 20th centuries, big government arose as an offset to the practices of big business. In the 21st century, businesses utilizing smart networked software require similarly smart networked oversight. The technology that will define our future—software algorithms operating across ubiquitous network connectivity—must be harnessed to oversee the responsible operation of that technology.

With a public interest API, the protection of democratic norms can be achieved without intrusive government micro-management or bureaucracy. Open networks enabled the platform companies to flourish.