New Design Congress

Spare a thought for the parched data centre

Posted 04 Jun 2024

CABLE is a digest and recap of New Design Congress' efforts to confront the gap between what is said to be happening, and what is actually happening in digitised societies.

CABLE 2024/03-05 (a little late!) is split into two parts. Part one covers announcements and updates about our work and its real world impacts. Part two is a digest of our research into the massive environmental footprint of data centres and AI, and a curated collection of articles from our reading list.



Rocío's Armillas Tiseyra as she appears in the NDC universe.

Last month, Rocío Armillas Tiseyra joined NDC as — in her words — a strategic development operative. Rocío is a bureaucratic hacker with experience at the United Nations, EIT Climate-KIC, and most recently Bauhaus Earth. She holds a BSc. in Social Anthropology and an MSc. in Development Studies, both from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Rocío’s work encompasses gender equality, urban planning, ecology, digital innovation, and fundraising; all squarely in the realm of NDC's work as a socio-technical red-team.

Welcome, Rocío!

7 JUNE 2024 @ 10PM UTC / 12AM CEST

Spend enough time online and you’ll come across a meme that ‘Furries run the internet.’ Some build networks, write code or work as sysadmins, but alongside those who create these spaces are those who shape a creative and desirable world – artists, organisers, educators and other non-technical furs. At a time of intense real-world uncertainty, what could the wider world learn from the furry community for safety, community and economic resilience?

Join a live conversation at Furality Umbra with Ån (Systems Design Lead at VRChat) and NDC's Cade “Shibco” Diehm. We will discuss how the social and technical savvy of the furry community offers hope for a more just wider world, and how the tools of furry expression – VRChat, Blender, Unity, OBS, Godot and others – serve as a hybrid “third space” between the digital and the physical, in stark opposition to the doom-scrolling mainstream.

Tickets to Furality Umbra start at $25. The event is held in VRChat, but VR headsets are not required. For those who don't own a copy of VRChat, we will – if possible – stream the panel privately on the NDC Discord.


Thanks to a kind invitation extended by Cent Hostin, we hosted a Metagov seminar in May 2024 to present our problem statements of digital identity. The Metagovernance Seminar Series invites individuals working in online governance to present their work to a community of other researchers and practitioners. Far from drawing conclusions, this was a convening of curiosities: what are the under-appreciated connections between digital governance and cybernetics, and how else does digital identity fail? In a stroke of serendipity, our presentation followed an earlier seminar held a week earlier on digital identity and the real-world non-technical vulnerabilities of proof of person-hood and coercion.


Help inform our digital identity research by becoming a participant. This is an open call for security researchers, policy makers, activists, technologists, journalists, academics, artists, and other professionals whose work involves the design, development, deployment or assessment of digital identity systems.

Participants will be given a stipend for their time. Interviews are approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes in length, and are completely anonymised.



Benjamin Royer

Rewatch][Spoilers] Neon Genesis Evangelion - Episode 13 Discussion : r/anime
The CASPER super-computer from Neon Genesis Evangelion (1996).

As 2024 progresses, a clearer picture of the next era of the digital arms race comes into focus: a resource- and market-hungry race towards a seemingly zero-sum end game. Such headlong rush towards destructive horizons simply appeared as an opportunistic pivot towards militarisation. Rather, it started with a consumer-friendly drive, notably through the promise of digitisation of gig work and data centres.

What powers this pivot? Beyond capital, a destructive extractivism of other core resources supplies the tech sector. Power, water, materials, the expansive consumption is everywhere but the speculative age of so-called artificial intelligence, LLM and blockchain technologies are tech’s most egregious. Ravenous as they are in calculation power, essential infrastructures already threaten to collapse under the speculative assets and monopoly drive of the tech sector.

It is not only a gluttony for energy that animates Big and Small Tech, but also social legitimacy. Here, oblivion doesn’t just mean eradication: it is erasure. This manifests in the social burden of the so-called ‘unintended consequences’ of technology. There is much concern to hold regarding the deployment of digitised forms of identification, including so-called decentralised and self-sovereign ones. Feasible only at immense scale, their proposed reliance on power-hungry blockchains so susceptible to scams, frauds and wastefulness is but one issue. Digital identities sketch schizophrenic futures made of radical self-custody combined with naive market-based ecosystems of private identity managers. This assetisation is backed by a trust mechanism bound to become the mother of all social engineering attack vector, relying as it does on idealist claims of identity. If trustworthiness within a digital identity system can be defined as that which is necessary to permit access, it can also be defined as that which necessarily breaks security policies. In the US and UK, voter ID is already an efficient weapon for reactionary power structures to fight off democratic participation, particularly of minorities. No actors in the field has seriously reckoned with such socio-technical weaponisation of their tech stack.

As we etched in the previous Cable, another world is possible. One where new modes of self- and interpersonal recognition are developed from a posture of conciliation, rather than a fragile and vampiric extraction of socially-shared goods. The challenge now is sifting through the gold rush, to find systems that are capable of fulfilling this promise.


Curated by Louis Center

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang at Nvidia's pre-Computex 2024 keynote showing off Nvidia Blackwell
NVIDIA's CEO Jensen Huang holds the just-announced 'Blackwell', an unprecedentedly power-hungry GPU that also looks like a skull.

BRAZEN: Fur & Loathing – A gripping podcast produced in collaboration with Dogpatch Press that investigates the 2014 Midwest Fur Fest attack, in which an unknown perpetrator detonated a chlorine bomb at a crowded Furry convention. The attack was second biggest chemical weapon attack on US soil in fifty years and the crime remains unsolved. From the show notes: “Nineteen people are hospitalized and hundreds are evacuated into the freezing cold, many still wearing their colorful anthropomorphic animal costumes, or fursuits. Hazmat teams trace the gas to a stairwell, where they find the remains of a chemical bomb. This was an intentional attack.

GLOBAL PAYROLL ASSOCIATION: Phoenixed: Inside Canada’s payroll disaster – In 2016, the Canadian government digitised the country's payroll system for public servants. Eight years later, the project remains a complete failure, costing billions and ruining lives in the process. This six part podcast investigates the project's collapse, and assembles one of the most compelling examples of how digital systems create brittle societies.

TECH RADAR: I watched Nvidia's Computex 2024 keynote and it made my blood run cold – Benjamin is not the only one worried about the insatiable data center. Tech enthusiasts are freaking out, too. From the article: “While I don't give financial advice, I can say that if you're an Nvidia shareholder, you were likely thrilled by Sunday's keynote presentation. For everyone else, however, all I saw was the end of the last few glaciers on Earth and the mass displacement of people that will result from the lack of drinking water; the absolutely massive disruption to the global workforce that 'digital humans' are likely to produce; and ultimately a vision for the future that centers capital-T Technology as the ultimate end goal of human civilization rather than the 8 billion humans and counting who will have to live — and a great many will die before the end — in the world these technologies will ultimately produce with absolutely no input from any of us.

INTI DE CEUKELAIRE: When privacy expires: how I got access to tons of sensitive citizen data after buying cheap domains – A Belgian security researcher buys up 100 expired social welfare domains and gains access to confidential documents, shares and personal data belonging to thousands of vulnerable people.

THE REGISTER: 70% of CISOs worry their org is at risk of a material cyber attack – From the article: “This is compared to 68 percent the year prior, and 48 percent in 2022. Additionally, nearly a third (31 percent) believe a significant attack is "very likely," compared to 25 percent in 2023.”

ED ZITRON: The Rot-Com Bubble – Another frank assessment of US tech companies by Zitron, which includes metrics that suggest industry-wide decline: “More worryingly, data I’ve received from Similarweb shows that the majority of the internet’s top 100 web properties have seen significant declines in traffic since 2021. In the years since the world slowly emerged from lockdown, has seen a decline of 5.3% in web visits, as has YouTube (-3.8%), Facebook (a remarkable -27.7%), Twitter (-3.5%), (-11.6%), (-17.5%), Wikipedia (-24.8%)  and even porn sites like xVideos (-27.4%) and Pornhub (-17.1%).”

NATURE: Japan’s push to make all research open access is taking shape – Tired: Academic paywalls. Wired: Nation State Sci-Hub. From the article: “In June, the science ministry will assign funding to universities to build the infrastructure needed to make research papers free to read on a national scale. The move follows the ministry’s announcement in February that researchers who receive government funding will be required to make their papers freely available to read on the institutional repositories from April 2025.”

SCHNEIER ON SECURITY: AI Will Increase the Quantity—and Quality—of Phishing Scams – Cryptocurrency made ransomware a viable business model: infiltrate a computer , encrypt its contents, and demand an irreversible, borders-agnostic sum as a hostage payment. The same story may be unfolding with AI and phishing attacks. From the article: “Research we published earlier this year showed that 60% of participants fell victim to artificial intelligence (AI)-automated phishing, which is comparable to the success rates of non-AI-phishing messages created by human experts. Perhaps even more worryingly, our new research demonstrates that the entire phishing process can be automated using LLMs, which reduces the costs of phishing attacks by more than 95% while achieving equal or greater success rates.”