30 May 2017

NewCo Shift: “How to Detect Fake News in Real-Time”

Real-time detection, in this context, does not mean seconds. It may be unnecessary to take action if it does not spread. In practice, rapid response could mean minutes or hours. Time enough for an algorithm to detect a wave of news that seems suspicious and is gathering momentum, potentially from multiple sources. Also, enough of a window to gather evidence and have it considered by humans who may choose to arrest the wave before it turns into a tsunami.

I know a thing or two about algorithms processing news. I built Google News and ran it for many years. It is my belief that detection is tractable.

I also know that it is probably not a good idea to run anything other than short-term countermeasures solely based on what the algorithm says. It is important to get humans in the loop — both for corporate accountability and to serve as a sanity check. In particular, a human arbiter would be able to do proactive fact checking. In the above example, the Facebook or Twitter representative could have called the press office of the Holy See and established that the story is false. If there is no obvious person to call they could check with top news sources and fact checking sites to get their read on the situation.

Krishna Bharat

Still on the subject of fake news and online manipulation: fast detection and prevention doesn’t look complicated if you think about it – and the article comes from the founder of Google News, an ex-Google employee.

29 May 2017

The Guardian: “Google, democracy and the truth about internet search”

They have created a web that is bleeding through on to our web. This isn’t a conspiracy. There isn’t one person who’s created this. It’s a vast system of hundreds of different sites that are using all the same tricks that all websites use. They’re sending out thousands of links to other sites and together this has created a vast satellite system of rightwing news and propaganda that has completely surrounded the mainstream media system.

He found 23,000 pages and 1.3m hyperlinks. And Facebook is just the amplification device. When you look at it in 3D, it actually looks like a virus. And Facebook was just one of the hosts for the virus that helps it spread faster. You can see the New York Times in there and the Washington Post and then you can see how there’s a vast, vast network surrounding them. The best way of describing it is as an ecosystem. This really goes way beyond individual sites or individual stories. What this map shows is the distribution network and you can see that it’s surrounding and actually choking the mainstream news ecosystem.

Like a cancer? Like an organism that is growing and getting stronger all the time.

Carole Cadwalladr

An investigation that started with some (horribly wrong) Google autocomplete queries goes on to uncover an entire network of rightwing propaganda that helped elect Donald Trump into office and push Brexit over the tipping point. While the main problem is that (too) many people believe and share this kind of stuff without a second thought, some responsibility needs to lie with the big tech companies who eroded main-stream media and promoted their own opaque algorithms as final arbiters of truth. Conveniently, they make a lot of money from their advertising networks and have been reluctant to even acknowledge the problem, let alone take measures to fix it. Google has come under pressure for featured snippets (or ‘One True Answers’) with inappropriate content, but they have been slow to address. And Facebook has tested several measures against fake news, but they seem to have the opposite effect. At this rate, the misinformation problems are only going to get worse.

Justin O’Beirne: “A Year of Google Maps & Apple Maps”

This all seems to suggest that Google’s location data is more precise than Apple’s. (Or that Apple’s geocoder is buggy.) And perhaps here we’re seeing the fruits of Google’s decade-long Street View project:

Google has been using computer vision and machine learning to extract business names and locations from the Street View imagery it has collected. And as of 2014, Google had already driven 99% of U.S. public roads.

Justin O’Beirne

Wonderful, in-depth comparison of Google and Apple Maps backed by data and concrete examples. Long-story short: Google Maps is more accurate and detailed than Apple Maps and constantly getting better, while Apple struggles to get business addresses right even in down-town San Francisco. So much for Apple’s superior services

28 May 2017

The New Yorker: “How “Silicon Valley” nails Silicon Valley”

The show’s signature gag, from the first season, was a minute-long montage of startup founders pledging to make the world a better place through Paxos algorithms for consensus protocols, or to make the world a better place through canonical data models to communicate between endpoints. This scene was set at TechCrunch Disrupt, a real event where founders take turns pitching their ideas, “American Idol”-style, to an auditorium full of investors. Before writing the episode, Judge and Berg spent a weekend at TechCrunch Disrupt, in San Francisco. That’s the first thing you notice, Judge said. It’s capitalism shrouded in the fake hippie rhetoric of We’re making the world a better place, because it’s uncool to just say Hey, we’re crushing it and making money. After the scene aired, viewers complained about the lack of diversity in the audience. Berg recalled, A friend of mine who works in tech called me and said, Why aren’t there any women? That’s bullshit! I said to her, It is bullshit! Unfortunately, we shot that audience footage at the actual TechCrunch Disrupt.

Andrew Marantz

An older piece, but still remarkably fresh, especially now that HBO has renewed the show for a fifth season. After all, why not? Considering the realities of Silicon Valley, the writers will never run out of inspiration.

22 May 2017

Slate Star Codex: “Silicon Valley: A Reality Check”

When Capitol Hill screws up, tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis get killed.

When Wall Street screws up, the country is plunged into recession and poor families lose their homes.

When Silicon Valley screws up, people who want a pointless Wi-Fi enabled juicer get a pointless Wi-Fi enabled juicer. Which by all accounts makes pretty good juice.

Scott Alexander

That’s a very convenient way to frame the problem, while circumventing the fundamental issues entirely. Silicon Valley’s deeper issues are not silly products like Juicero; they are companies like Theranos, who consistently lied about having developed revolutionary blood-testing technology; Uber, who consistently disobeys laws in their quest to monopolize local transportation, and may have gone so far as to steal trade secrets from Google’s self-driving division; and let’s not forget Google and Facebook themselves, who with their lax treatment of propaganda and ‘fake news’ helped get Trump elected president. Silicon Valley’s real problem is a lack of accountability, of a sense of responsibility and maturity, and I don’t see any signs of improvement.

11 May 2017

Stratechery: “Apple’s China Problem”

That, though, is a long-term problem for Apple: what makes the iPhone franchise so valuable — and, I’d add, the fundamental factor that was missed by so many for so long — is that monopoly on iOS. For most of the world it is unimaginable for an iPhone user to upgrade to anything but another iPhone: there is too much of the user experience, too many of the apps, and, in some countries like the U.S., too many contacts on iMessage to even countenance another phone.

None of that lock-in exists in China: Apple may be a de facto monopolist for most of the world, but in China the company is simply another smartphone vendor, and being simply another smartphone vendor is a hazardous place to be. To be clear, it’s not all bad: in China Apple still trades on status and luxury; unlike the rest of the world, though, the company has to earn it with every release, and that’s a bar both difficult to clear in the abstract and, given the last two iPhones, difficult to clear in reality.

Ben Thompson

Every time I hear this argument about Apple’s ecosystem advantage it rings more hollow. I’m reasonably sure it’s a clever rationalization from Apple analysts trying to justify its success with a grand unifying theory instead of many small factors (carrier subsidies, brand loyalty, consumer inertia and, as hard is it to stomach, hardware) – a theory with little real evidence.

09 May 2017

ZDNet: “What is Windows 10 S?”

What browsers are available?

The Windows 10 S configuration locks it to the Edge browser. There are no other options for desktop browsers. That means Google Chrome, for example, won’t run unless Google develops a Universal Windows Platform version of Chrome and submits it to the Store. We don’t know whether Internet Explorer 11 will be available as an option.

The default search provider is Bing (and “designated regional search providers”). That setting controls searches from the address bar and the taskbar search box and cannot be changed. Of course, nothing prevents a user from creating a bookmark to Google Search, or even setting it as the home page.

Ed Bott

My first reaction was that this invites – again – the prospect of antitrust investigations against Microsoft. On the other hand… Microsoft can now point at the competition (iPads and Chromebooks), which have similar rules for browsers and default apps. And the European Union ruling regarding the browser choice screen expired more than two years ago, so there’s no legal impediment (for now).

08 May 2017

BuzzFeed: “Climbing Out of Facebook’s Reality Hole”

“With augmented reality,” Zuckerberg said, “you’re going to be able to create and discover all sorts of new art around your city.” Yes, someone can create a virtual painting, meant to beautify the city, or leave a virtual note to a loved one that reaches them at just the right moment, in just the right place. But someone else will probably leave a swastika. Because if there is anything to be learned about the modern internet, it is that if you build it, the Nazis will come.


Instead Facebook went into the reality hole. It touted Facebook Spaces, a new social virtual reality thing that helps you escape the world while experiencing it, too. As Rachel Rubin Franklin, who used to be executive producer of Electronic Arts’ “The Sims” game and now runs Facebook’s social VR efforts, said of Spaces: “When your friends and family join your space, it’s just like really being together.”

But it is not. Your avatar is not human, no matter how real it looks. The digital world is not flesh or blood, but it can have a tremendous effect on things that are.

Mat Honan

A couple of weeks ago, Facebook presented their vision for augmented reality, to mixed reactions. On one hand, it was fairly predictable and uninspiring – I mean, I had expected a similar technology after Facebook acquired Oculus three years ago, only without the weird virtual avatars. On the other, it exposes a much deeper problem with Facebook and social networking in general: creating a parallel world for people to escape into, while at the same time ignoring the real-world problems technology was supposed to fix.

07 May 2017

Kim Stanley Robinson – The Martians

in Bucharest, Romania
Kim Stanley Robinson - The Martians

Când se discută despre colonizarea planetei Marte, e aproape inevitabil să menționezi trilogia Marte Roșu a lui Kim Stanley Robinson, care a imaginat întregul proces la o scară realistă, incluzând caracterul uman pe lângă aspectele tehnologice și ecologice. Colecția de față completează saga cu o serie de viniete, momente din viața oamenilor trăind pe Marte care la momentul scrierii n‑au fost incluse în textul principal. De vreme ce sunt numeroase și, multe dintre ele, extrem de scurte, nu le voi discuta separat, ci pe diferitele teme care reies din întreg.

Câteva dintre ele relatează evenimente legate de Primii O Sută, în special din perspectiva Mayei și a Coiotului, care, din câte țineam eu minte, nu au fost în centrul nici unui capitol din Marte Roșu (am verificat între timp, Maya e punctul de vedere care descrie călătoria spre Marte, ceea ce implică că evenimentele din trilogie sunt cel puțin incomplete, de vreme ce aici se afirmă că ea știuse încă de atunci de călătorul clandestin). Altele, mai puține și scurte, ating tangențial prima generație de coloniști născuți pe Marte, descendenții celor O Sută. Partea cea mai consistentă a colecției urmărește, de‑a lungul a patru povestiri, relația dintre Roger Clayborne și Eileen Monday, de la întâlnirea lor în timpul unei excursii în primele decenii ale planetei, când aceasta era încă sălbatică și neexplorată, la o lungă și dificilă ascensiune pe Muntele Olympus, până spre final, când ambii ajung la vârsta critică de 300 de ani și ecosistemul marțian e pus în pericol de o răcire accentuată a mediului.

Altele, mai stranii, relatează povești din folclorul marțian, despre ficționalele bacterii care ar fi existat de la formarea planetei și Uriașul care a deformat suprafața cu pașii lui, dând naștere la marile forme de relief din prezent. În final, câteva explorează o realitate alternativă în care expediția originală a celor O Sută din 2026 nu ar fi avut loc, Pământul mulțumindu‑se să trimită regulat echipaje științifice pe perioade determinate, fără a încerca o colonizare permanentă.

02 May 2017

Mark Manson: “Everything is Fucked and I’m Pretty Sure it’s the Internet’s Fault”

Economics 101 teaches us that when there’s an oversupply of something, people value it less. If we wake up tomorrow and there are suddenly 3 billion extra lawnmowers in the US, the price of lawnmowers will plummet. If suddenly everyone had a Louis Vuitton bag, nobody would care about Louis Vuitton anymore. People would throw them out, forget them, spill wine on them, and give them away to charities.

What if the same is true for information? What if increasing the supply of information to the point where it’s limitless has made us value any particular piece of information less?

If I read an article today telling me that processed grains are harmful, there will be three articles telling me tomorrow that they’re fine, and then another article telling me why all of the previous articles were wrong. By now, I don’t even care anymore. I don’t trust any of them. The abundance of contradicting information scrambles my brain and makes me just want to go play Mario Kart for an hour.

Mark Manson

Fully agree (see: fake news).

The even larger problem: the tech giants feeding us this constant stream of information have no incentive to dial it back down, because they are funded by ads and views; the more we consume, the more they earn and collect data about our habits. And few people have the discipline to cut back on this infinite online distraction.

01 May 2017

“Twitter teams up with Bloomberg for Streaming News”

The social-media company is joining forces with the global financial news outlet to create a service that will stream news produced solely for Twitter 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

It is going to be focused on the most important news for an intelligent audience around the globe and it’s going to be broader in focus than our existing network, said Bloomberg Media’s chief executive officer, Justin Smith.

The partnership will be announced Monday at an event Bloomberg LP is holding for advertisers by company founder Michael Bloomberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Lukas I. Alpert

I had a very similar idea about two months ago, but unfortunately I didn’t find the time to write an article about it. I was thinking of TV news compared with series, when I realized they both suffer from similar problems: linear TV is not always available when people have the time or are in the mood to watch. TV news coverage is also pretty repetitive, with mostly the same headlines repeated throughout the day, maybe expanded with commentary and more footage if time permits. The problems are then twofold: if you’re at home with time to spare, you end up watching the same news all over again; if you’re busy, you might not find the time to watch when events that interest you are on air. The entertainment component of TV has been ‘revolutionized’ already by streaming providers like Netflix and HBO; might something similar happen with news eventually?