Saturday, November 17, 2018

How Plato Foresaw Facebook’s Folly | NYT

A bit deeply nested to read, earlier in the article: "Written words, Thamus concluded, “give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things but will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”"

Fast-forwarding to today:
"Tweeting and trolling are easy. Mastering the arts of conversation and measured debate is hard. Texting is easy. Writing a proper letter is hard. Looking stuff up on Google is easy. Knowing what to search for in the first place is hard. Having a thousand friends on Facebook is easy. Maintaining six or seven close adult friendships over the space of many years is hard. Swiping right on Tinder is easy. Finding love — and staying in it — is hard.

That’s what Socrates (or Thamus) means when he deprecates the written word: It gives us an out. It creates the illusion that we can remain informed, and connected, even as we are spared the burdens of attentiveness, presence of mind and memory. That may seem quaint today. But how many of our personal, professional or national problems might be solved if we desisted from depending on shortcuts?"
How Plato Foresaw Facebook’s Folly | NYT

Pick three people you think will replace Google Cloud CEO Greene, then forget them – because it's Thomas Kurian | The Register

Also see Transitioning Google Cloud after three great years | Google cloud blog
"And stepping up to the plate is Thomas Kurian, brother of NetApp boss George. Thomas's arrival at Google is a somewhat surprising development. We had assumed he would be taking a break after ejecting out of Oracle at the end of September.

Kurian was the database giant's cloud supremo, and oversaw much of its product development. He seems to be a natural fit for Google Cloud: as an experienced enterprise IT vendor executive, he follows in the footsteps of industry veteran Greene in trying to smarten up Google Cloud so it can compete against Azure and AWS for business."
Pick three people you think will replace Google Cloud CEO Greene, then forget them – because it's Thomas Kurian | The Register

Friday, November 16, 2018

Facebook and the Fires | NYT

Check the full article for Kara Swisher's five suggestions for tech companies
"The overall sense of this year is that the brilliant digital minds who told us they were changing the world for the better might have miscalculated.

Dan Lyons, a longtime tech observer and author of the new book “Lab Rats: How Silicon Valley Made Work Miserable for the Rest of Us,” recently tweeted: “Nobody in Silicon Valley can solve homelessness or figure out how to hire with diversity, but 11 electric scooter companies have raised VC funding. Oh, and a company that uses robots to make pizza. You wonder why there’s a tech backlash.”

Actually no one wonders that anymore, which is why it’s probably time to think about where the industry goes from here. While I can be hard on tech, I still have hope that it can regain its innovation, inspiration and sunny approach to the future."
Facebook and the Fires | NYT

‘No Morals’: Advertisers React to Facebook Report | NYT

You know it's bad when... See the full article for additional context-setting, e.g., "And after this article was published online, Mr. Tobaccowala called The New York Times to add to his comments. “The people there do,” he said, referring to possessing morals, “but as a business, they seem to have lost their compass.”"
"Several top marketers were openly critical of the tech giant, a day after The New York Times published an investigation detailing how Facebook’s top executives — Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg — made the company’s growth a priority while ignoring and hiding warning signs over how its data and power were being exploited to disrupt elections and spread toxic content. The article also spotlighted a lobbying campaign overseen by Ms. Sandberg, who also oversees advertising, that sought to shift public anger to Facebook’s critics and rival tech firms.

The revelations may be “the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” said Rishad Tobaccowala, chief growth officer for the Publicis Groupe, one of the world’s biggest ad companies. “Now we know Facebook will do whatever it takes to make money. They have absolutely no morals.”"
‘No Morals’: Advertisers React to Facebook Report | NYT

Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg: "We absolutely did not pay anyone to create fake news" | CBS

The buck stopped with a nameless communications team member unworthy of senior management awareness, apparently... Also see ‘Alarming’: Soros calls for investigation of Facebook after report of a smear campaign | Washington Post. Sheryl Sandberg also noted, in a Facebook post last night: " I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing, but I should have. I have great respect for George Soros – and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against him are abhorrent."
""We absolutely did not pay anyone to create fake news – that they have assured me was not happening. And again, we're doing a thorough look into what happened but they have assured me that we were not paying anyone to either write or promote anything that was false. And that's very important," Sandberg said.

The Times also reported that the firm tried to tie critics of Facebook to George Soros, the billionaire investor and philanthropist – and frequent target of conservative anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Sandberg said the firm was hired by "the communications team" and that she only learned about its work from the paper."
Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg: "We absolutely did not pay anyone to create fake news" | CBS

Indictment vs. Julian Assange Mistakenly Revealed by Prosecutors | NYT

Also consider this Dan Gillmor tweet: "Whatever contempt one may have for him, please understand that if this prosection [sic] goes forward, the same logic will someday be used to prosecute the Washington Post and New York Times" (check the tweet link for a lively discussion...)
"But even as the Obama administration brought criminal charges in an unprecedented number of leak-related cases, it apparently held back from charging Mr. Assange. Members of the Obama legal policy team from that era have said that they did not want to establish a precedent that could chill investigative reporting about national security matters by treating it as a crime.
Their dilemma came down to a question they found no clear answer to: Is there any legal difference between what WikiLeaks was doing, at least in that era, from what traditional news media organizations, like The New York Times, do in soliciting and publishing information they obtain that the government wants to keep secret?"
Indictment vs. Julian Assange Mistakenly Revealed by Prosecutors | NYT

Thursday, November 15, 2018

You've heard of AR glasses, but this startup wants to make them into contact lenses | CNET

See this Mojo Vision press release for more details. Contact lens make my eyes too dry, so I'll just look forward to using Apple AR glasses while waiting for Neuralink to get beyond beta testing...
"Investment in VR has slowed in recent years, SuperData says, amid slow sales growth and struggles by app developers to create the must-have game. AR, by comparison, has already begun attracting businesses that see opportunity in using the technology to bolster customer service or to help repair technicians by letting them work remotely with experts.

Mojo Vision's ambitious project is made all that much more interesting by who's working for the company. Mojo boasts veterans from the tech industry's biggest hitters, including Google, Amazon, HP and Apple, which is hard at work on its own headset, a product, CNET reported, that's scheduled to arrive sometime in 2020."
You've heard of AR glasses, but this startup wants to make them into contact lenses | CNET

Watch Marc Benioff try to explain what he’s going to do with Time magazine | Recode

Check the full post for an interview video excerpt (the full interview will be on MSNBC Sunday night at 10:00 PM ET)
"Swisher: “But what’s your role? What’s your role? You’re not answering my question.”

Benioff: “I’m the inspiring visionary!”

Swisher: “What does that mean? What are you going to do, walk around and say things?”

Benioff: “Yeah, I’m going to walk around and try to inspire a vision for the future of the brand.”

Swisher: “What does that mean? I don’t even understand what that means.”

Benioff: “Well, that is why I’m a visionary leader, Kara, and you’re not.”"
Watch Marc Benioff try to explain what he’s going to do with Time magazine | Recode

Oracle's JEDI mind-meld doesn't work on Uncle Sam's auditors: These are not the govt droids you are looking for | The Register

Also see GAO Statement on Oracle Bid Protest | GAO Press Center; tbd if IBM's similar and still pending protest will be retracted now that IBM is all about multi-cloud solutions...
"Oracle has been fighting to overturn a stipulation in the DoD's request for proposal that states one lucky contractor would have to provide all parts of the deal. Chiefly, Oracle – let's make that clear, Oracle – thinks locking an agency into a single legacy vendor is a bad idea in terms of innovation and security. Secretly, we think, Oracle doesn't want to risk losing it all to Microsoft or Amazon, so in all, Oracle thinks JEDI is a bad idea for Oracle.

Oracle and others also complained that, because JEDI is such a massive project, the one-vendor stipulation means that only huge companies, such as Amazon and Microsoft, can fill it, whereas if it were broken up Oracle would have a fighting chance over the pieces. Oracle had also argued that AWS may have had a hand in crafting the requirement, creating a conflict of interest.

Both arguments were shot down by the GAO on Wednesday."
Oracle's JEDI mind-meld doesn't work on Uncle Sam's auditors: These are not the govt droids you are looking for | The Register

See your messages with local businesses in Google Maps | Google Keyword blog

For another perspective, see Google Maps will let you chat with businesses | The Verge, which notes "It is becoming overburdened with so many features and design changes that it’s becoming harder and harder to just get directions in it."
"Last year we enabled users in select countries to message businesses from the Business Profiles on Google. Sending messages to businesses gives you the opportunity to ask questions without having to make a phone call so that you can order a cake for your mom’s birthday while on the bus or find out if a shoe store has your size without having to wait on hold.
Now you’ll see your messages with the businesses you connect with via Business Profiles within the Google Maps app, where you’re already looking for things to do and places to go or shop. You’ll find these messages in the side menu of both Google Maps for Android and iOS. With these messages in Maps, you’ll never have to worry about accidentally sending “I love you, Mom” to that shoe store you’ve been sending messages to."
See your messages with local businesses in Google Maps | Google Keyword blog

Police think Alexa may have witnessed a New Hampshire double homicide. Now they want Amazon to turn her over. | Washington Post

Also see The Cybersecurity 202: Amazon is now at the center of a debate over public safety versus privacy | Washington Post
"Alexa may have been listening, as she almost always is, when Christine Sullivan was stabbed to death on Jan. 27, 2017, in the kitchen of the home in Farmington, N.H., where she lived with her boyfriend.

But does Alexa remember any of it?

That’s the question state prosecutors are hoping will produce key evidence in the murder case against Timothy Verrill, who is accused of killing Sullivan and her friend Jenna Pellegrini over suspicions that they were informing police about an alleged drug operation. Prosecutors say Alexa, the voice service for Amazon’s Echo smart devices, was sitting on the kitchen counter the entire time."
Police think Alexa may have witnessed a New Hampshire double homicide. Now they want Amazon to turn her over. | Washington Post

Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis | NYT

Another busy week for Facebook's PR department; also see Facebook Cuts Ties With Definers Public Affairs Following Outcry | NYT, Who does Facebook fire after a bombshell New York Times investigation? | Recode, and (in other Facebook news) Quitting Instagram: She’s one of the millions disillusioned with social media. But she also helped create it. | Washington Post
"But as evidence accumulated that Facebook’s power could also be exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe, Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg stumbled. Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view. At critical moments over the last three years, they were distracted by personal projects, and passed off security and policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former executives.

When Facebook users learned last spring that the company had compromised their privacy in its rush to expand, allowing access to the personal information of tens of millions of people to a political data firm linked to President Trump, Facebook sought to deflect blame and mask the extent of the problem.

And when that failed — as the company’s stock price plummeted and it faced a consumer backlash — Facebook went on the attack."
Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis | NYT

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

So some people will pay for a subscription to a news site. How about two? Three? | NiemanLab

Must be about time for Apple to launch the next phase of Apple News...
"To be fair, these paid products offer substantially different value propositions, mixing content, membership, and experience. Quartz is keeping its main output free to read and making an interesting education-and-networking play that makes sense for a business site; New York is building a paywall that can flex open or closed depending on a reader’s predicted propensity to pay; The Atlantic is mostly offering a premium experience while leaving the main site open; The New Yorker and Bloomberg offer relatively traditional meters allowing a set number of articles a month.

But only 16 percent of Americans say they are willing to pay for any online news. If someone’s first digital subscription is to the Times or the Post — how many are willing to pay for a second, or a third, or a fourth news site? Especially if that second or third site costs as much or more than their favorite national daily?"
So some people will pay for a subscription to a news site. How about two? Three? | NiemanLab

Trump Is Spreading Bogus Voter Fraud Claims On Twitter. Twitter Says It'll Talk About It In 2019. | BuzzFeed

#NotReassuring; also see Trump, stung by midterms and nervous about Mueller, retreats from traditional presidential duties | LA Times, which notes "Publicly, Trump has been increasingly absent in recent days — except on Twitter."
"Despite Twitter's promises leading up to the election that it would "ensure that Twitter provides a healthy space for public conversation that voters can rely on for accurate election news and information," it hasn't done anything about Trump's tweets. Asked by BuzzFeed News if Twitter was considering updating its rules to address Trump's voter fraud claims, the company's vice president of trust and safety, Del Harvey, suggested that the company would wait until 2019 to address the issue, if at all.
"One of our goals for 2019 is to significantly increase transparency around those conversations as well as the principles we draw from when evaluating the impact of potential changes," Harvey tweeted at BuzzFeed News. Pressed for specifics, Harvey declined to provide any examples of what "increased transparency" might look like, noting vaguely that "we have ongoing conversations about these themes broadly.""
Trump Is Spreading Bogus Voter Fraud Claims On Twitter. Twitter Says It'll Talk About It In 2019. | BuzzFeed

Google is absorbing DeepMind’s health care unit to create an ‘AI assistant for nurses and doctors’ | The Verge

See this DeepMind post for more details; also see Google accused of 'trust demolition' over health app | BBC News
"More broadly speaking, the news clearly signals Google’s ambitions in health care and its desire to get the most of its acquisition of the London AI lab. There have reportedly been long-standing tensions between DeepMind and Google, with the latter wanting to commercialize the former’s work. Compared to Google, DeepMind has positioned itself as a cerebral home for long-sighted research, attracting some of the world’s best AI talent in the process.

DeepMind Health has produced work with more immediate and practical applications than other parts of the company, which likely made it a tempting target for the new CEO of Google Health, David Feinberg, who was appointed last week. Feinberg’s new mandate is to restructure all of Google’s disparate bets in health, from hardware to algorithms. Apparently, that also includes absorbing other parts of Alphabet if necessary."
Google is absorbing DeepMind’s health care unit to create an ‘AI assistant for nurses and doctors’ | The Verge

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

How Google and Amazon Got Away With Not Being Regulated | Wired

An excerpt from Tim Wu's latest book, The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age
"In total, Facebook managed to string together 67 unchallenged acquisitions, which seems impressive, unless you consider that Amazon undertook 91 and Google got away with 214 (a few of which were conditioned). In this way, the tech industry became essentially composed of just a few giant trusts: Google for search and related industries, Facebook for social media, Amazon for online commerce. While competitors remained in the wings, their positions became marginalized with every passing day.

If many of these acquisition were small, or mere “acquihires” (i.e., acquisitions to hire employees), others, like Facebook’s takeover of Instagram and WhatsApp, eliminated serious competitive threats. In the 2000s, Google had launched Google Video and done pretty well, but not compared to its greatest competitor, YouTube. Google bought YouTube without a peep from the competition agencies. Waze, an upstart online mapping company, was poised to be an on-ramp for Google’s vertical challengers, until Google, the owner of its own dominant online mapping program, bought the firm in a fairly blatant merger to monopoly. Google also acquired Doubleclick and AdMob, two of its most serious advertising competitors. The government allowed the AdMob acquisition on the premise that Apple might also enter the market in a serious way (it didn’t). Amazon acquired would-be competitors like Zappos, Diapers.com, and Soap.com."
How Google and Amazon Got Away With Not Being Regulated | Wired

How to Teach Artificial Intelligence Some Common Sense | Wired

From a broad AI market dynamics review
"Yann LeCun, a deep-learning pioneer and the current head of Facebook’s AI research wing, agrees with many of the new critiques of the field. He acknowledges that it requires too much training data, that it can’t reason, that it doesn’t have common sense. “I’ve been basically saying this over and over again for the past four years,” he reminds me. But he remains steadfast that deep learning, properly crafted, can provide the answer. He disagrees with the Chomskyite vision of human intelligence. He thinks human brains develop the ability to reason solely through interaction, not built-in rules. “If you think about how animals and babies learn, there’s a lot of things that are learned in the first few minutes, hours, days of life that seem to be done so fast that it looks like they are hardwired,” he notes. “But in fact they don’t need to be hardwired, because they can be learned so quickly.” In this view, to figure out the physics of the world, a baby just moves its head around, data-crunches the incoming imagery, and concludes that, hey, depth of field is a thing.

Still, LeCun admits it’s not yet clear which routes will help deep learning get past its humps. It might be “adversarial” neural nets, a relatively new technique in which one neural net tries to fool another neural net with fake data—forcing the second one to develop extremely ­subtle internal representations of pictures, sounds, and other inputs. The advantage here is that you don’t have the “data hungriness” problem. You don’t need to collect millions of data points on which to train the neural nets, because they’re learning by studying each other. (Apocalyptic side note: A similar method is being used to create those profoundly troubling “deepfake” videos in which someone appears to be saying or doing something they are not.)"
How to Teach Artificial Intelligence Some Common Sense | Wired

Voice tech like Alexa and Siri hasn’t found its true calling yet: Inside the voice assistant ‘revolution’ | Recode

Final paragraphs from an extensive voice assistant reality check
"Voice is much more intuitive than a mouse, but we’re still trying to find ways to make voice work.

“There’s always been a tendency to force the ‘old’ onto the ‘new’ when it comes to emerging technology platforms — the first ads on television, for example, were essentially radio ads, read out loud,” Will Hall, chief creative officer of Rain, a digital agency that specializes in voice, told Recode, regarding early attempts at voice advertising. “Eventually TV ads evolved into multi-sensory stories — images of a car driving down the highway, music blaring — and so will the voice experience.”

Until we find the app, use-case or invention that could only be possible using voice, we’re still just repurposing online content for your ears."
Voice tech like Alexa and Siri hasn’t found its true calling yet: Inside the voice assistant ‘revolution’ | Recode

The Potential Unintended Consequences of Article 13 | YouTube Creator Blog

In other YouTube news, see YouTube helps a majority of American users understand current events — but 64 percent say they see untrue info | NiemanLab
"We have already taken steps to address copyright infringement by developing technology, like our Content ID programme, to help rights holders manage their copyrights and earn money automatically. More than 98 per cent of copyright management on YouTube takes place through Content ID. To date, we have used the system to pay rights holders more than €2.5bn for third party use of their content. We believe Content ID provides the best solution for managing rights on a global scale.
The consequences of article 13 go beyond financial losses. EU residents are at risk of being cut off from videos that, in just the last month, they viewed more than 90bn times. Those videos come from around the world, including more than 35m EU channels, and they include language classes and science tutorials as well as music videos."
The Potential Unintended Consequences of Article 13 | YouTube Creator Blog

People are going to sell sex in driverless cars, researchers say | Washington Post

Passenger discretion is advised
"“Whenever anyone proposes anything beyond riding in your car and sitting belted in — whether it’s sex or getting a massage or getting your hair cut — all of those suffer from the same reality check,” Cummings said. “You’re still a body that can die in a moving vehicle. ”
Additional services will require extra safety tests.
“There are dangers of collision, of getting thrown around,” said Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who focuses on autonomous vehicles, “and if you’re doing particularly intense activities, you’re going to be at risk of unusual injuries.”"
People are going to sell sex in driverless cars, researchers say | Washington Post