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Archive for the ‘Technology’

AI in the war against troll farms and outsourced online hatred

September 21, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, Technology 1 Comment →

Manila, Philippines. August 28, 2014. An employee working as a content moderator for Task Us sits in front of her computer at her cubicle on the 11th floor of the SM Aura Office Building Tower in the Taguig district of Manila. Task Us is an American outsourcing tech company with offices in the Philippines. (Photo by Moises Saman/MAGNUM)
Companies like Facebook and Twitter rely on an army of workers employed to soak up the worst of humanity in order to protect the rest of us. It’s a soul-killing job better left to AI. Photo: A content moderator from TaskUs in BGC.

Mass harassment online has proved so effective that it’s emerging as a weapon of repressive governments. In late 2014, Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro reported on Russia’s troll farms, where day laborers regurgitate messages that promote the government’s interests and inundate oppo­nents with vitriol on every possible outlet, including Twitter and Facebook. In turn, she’s been barraged daily by bullies on social media, in the comments of news stories, and via email. They call her a liar, a “NATO skank,” even a drug dealer, after digging up a fine she received 12 years ago for possessing amphetamines. “They want to normalize hate speech, to create chaos and mistrust,” Aro says. “It’s just a way of making people disillusioned.”

All this abuse, in other words, has evolved into a form of censorship, driving people offline, silencing their voices. For years, victims have been calling on—clamoring for—the companies that created these platforms to help slay the monster they brought to life. But their solutions generally have amounted to a Sisyphean game of whack-a-troll.

Now a small subsidiary of Google named Jigsaw is about to release an entirely new type of response: a set of tools called Conversation AI. The software is designed to use machine learning to automatically spot the language of abuse and harassment—with, Jigsaw engineers say, an accuracy far better than any keyword filter and far faster than any team of human moderators. “I want to use the best technology we have at our disposal to begin to take on trolling and other nefarious tactics that give hostile voices disproportionate weight,” says Jigsaw founder and president Jared Cohen. “To do everything we can to level the playing field.”

Jigsaw is applying artificial intelligence to solve the very human problem of making people be nicer on the Internet.

Read it.

Friending, trending, messaging: You’ve been verbed

September 05, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Language, Technology 8 Comments →

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Mothers and fathers used to bring up children: now they parent. Critics used to review plays: now they critique them. Athletes podium, executives flipchart, and almost everybody Googles. Watch out—you’ve been verbed.

The English language is in a constant state of flux. New words are formed and old ones fall into disuse. But no trend has been more obtrusive in recent years than the changing of nouns into verbs. “Trend” itself (now used as a verb meaning “change or develop in a general direction”, as in “unemployment has been trending upwards”) is further evidence of—sorry, evidences—this phenomenon…

New technology is fertile ground, partly because it is constantly seeking names for things which did not previously exist: we “text” from our mobiles, “bookmark” websites, “inbox” our e-mail contacts and “friend” our acquaintances on Facebook —only, in some cases, to “defriend” them later. “Blog” had scarcely arrived as a noun before it was adopted as a verb, first intransitive and then transitive (an American friend boasts that he “blogged hand-wringers” about a subject that upset him). Conversely, verbs such as “twitter” and “tweet” have been transformed into nouns—though this process is far less common.

Sport is another ready source. “Rollerblade”, “skateboard”, “snowboard” and “zorb” have all graduated from names of equipment to actual activities. Football referees used to book players, or send them off: now they “card” them. Racing drivers “pit”, golfers “par” and coastal divers “tombstone”.

Read it in 1843.

How technology disrupted the truth (On social media, ‘truth’ equals ‘likes’)

July 18, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Technology No Comments →

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Illustration: Sébastien Thibault in The Guardian

Algorithms such as the one that powers Facebook’s news feed are designed to give us more of what they think we want – which means that the version of the world we encounter every day in our own personal stream has been invisibly curated to reinforce our pre-existing beliefs. When Eli Pariser, the co-founder of Upworthy, coined the term “filter bubble” in 2011, he was talking about how the personalised web – and in particular Google’s personalised search function, which means that no two people’s Google searches are the same – means that we are less likely to be exposed to information that challenges us or broadens our worldview, and less likely to encounter facts that disprove false information that others have shared.

Pariser’s plea, at the time, was that those running social media platforms should ensure that “their algorithms prioritise countervailing views and news that’s important, not just the stuff that’s most popular or most self-validating”. But in less than five years, thanks to the incredible power of a few social platforms, the filter bubble that Pariser described has become much more extreme.

Read Katharine Viner’s essay in the Guardian.

What does it mean to be a human being in the digital age?

June 13, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Psychology, Technology No Comments →

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Attendees of the Qingdao International Beer Festival taking a selfie with a smartphone, Shandong province, China, August 2015. Ian Berry/Magnum Photos

Virginia Woolf’s serious joke that “on or about December 1910 human character changed” was a hundred years premature. Human character changed on or about December 2010, when everyone, it seemed, started carrying a smartphone. For the first time, practically anyone could be found and intruded upon, not only at some fixed address at home or at work, but everywhere and at all times. Before this, everyone could expect, in the ordinary course of the day, some time at least in which to be left alone, unobserved, unsustained and unburdened by public or familial roles. That era now came to an end.

Many probing and intelligent books have recently helped to make sense of psychological life in the digital age. Some of these analyze the unprecedented levels of surveillance of ordinary citizens, others the unprecedented collective choice of those citizens, especially younger ones, to expose their lives on social media; some explore the moods and emotions performed and observed on social networks, or celebrate the Internet as a vast aesthetic and commercial spectacle, even as a focus of spiritual awe, or decry the sudden expansion and acceleration of bureaucratic control.

Read In the Depths of the Digital Age

Signs that The Singularity is here: AlphaGo has something like intuitive sense

April 10, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Science, Technology 1 Comment →

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Since the earliest days of computing, computers have been used to search out ways of optimizing known functions. Deep Blue’s approach was just that: a search aimed at optimizing a function whose form, while complex, mostly expressed existing chess knowledge. It was clever about how it did this search, but it wasn’t that different from many programs written in the 1960s.

AlphaGo also uses the search-and-optimization idea, although it is somewhat cleverer about how it does the search. But what is new and unusual is the prior stage, in which it uses a neural network to learn a function that helps capture some sense of good board position. It was by combining those two stages that AlphaGo became able to play at such a high level.

This ability to replicate intuitive pattern recognition is a big deal. It’s also part of a broader trend. In an earlier paper, the same organization that built AlphaGo — Google DeepMind — built a neural network that learned to play 49 classic Atari 2600 video games, in many cases reaching a level that human experts couldn’t match. The conservative approach to solving this problem with a computer would be in the style of Deep Blue: A human programmer would analyze each game and figure out detailed control strategies for playing it.

By contrast, DeepMind’s neural network simply explored lots of ways of playing. Initially, it was terrible, flailing around wildly, rather like a human newcomer. But occasionally the network would accidentally do clever things. It learned to recognize good patterns of play — in other words, patterns leading to higher scores — in a manner not unlike the way AlphaGo learned good board position. And when that happened, the network would reinforce the behavior, gradually improving its ability to play.

Read the full article in Quanta.

Support your local police

March 04, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Technology 3 Comments →

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Brewhuh, our Chief of Research, sent us this photo.

“Who is that?” we asked.

“He’s a policeman from Roxas City.”

“And?”

“He’s a policeman from Roxas City.”

“And?”

“Look at the photo. He’s. a. policeman. From Roxas City.”

“Oh.”

So today’s post is courtesy of Brewhuh. The fetching cop is Ford John Orbida. Do not commit a crime in order to meet him. Apparently he’s on Facebook. And support your local police.

* * * * *

It occurs to us that in the same way we promoted the then little-known rugby team by showing attractive players to the public, the police, military and civil service could gain greater public support by showing examples of their professionals. It humanizes them. Maybe instead of paying vast sums to celebrities, clothing companies and other advertisers could feature real public servants who also happen to be good-looking?