Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Technology’

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

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

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 →

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 →


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 →


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

“Who is that?” we asked.

“He’s a policeman from Roxas City.”


“He’s a policeman from Roxas City.”


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


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.

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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?

Monday Morning Vent by Roni: Are telcos in competition for who can give crappier service at a higher cost?

February 22, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Technology No Comments →

Of course civility flies out the window. Nothing gets us furious faster than slooooow internet.

by Roni

It was back in October when I received word of my Wimax connections’ death sentence. Overnight, my router was sent back to the time of Edsamail where the normal dial up speed was 56 kbps. I would need to get up in the middle of the night to get a decent connection. My dreams of cutting up my cable died when my livestreaming just came out with Rafael Nadal in mid-grimace, forever frozen with the racket never meeting the ball.

My Christmas bonus came and went. The New Year celebration passed. Chinese New Year passed. Hell froze over. Several screaming fits of rage directed at poor, poor call center workers passed. Technicians went to my house to take a look at the router, nod sagely and proclaim, “Ma’am, it’s for migration to LTE,” as if it were the mantra of a new religion. Hell, yeah. I’ve been a convert since January when my FB page refused to load. Where do I sign up? I had given my number, my brother’s number, my brother’s other number, the best time to call (which was anytime), and still we waited for the conversion.

I had a discussion with one of my friends over Facebook about internet connection being a basic human right. I was thinking about the people in Darfur being too occupied with war to be bothered about the absence of internet connectivity. He said it impinged on our right to congregate. Now that I think about it, our lives are conducted more and more online, and to have that cut off is like cutting off a necessary part of your life that gives you happiness.

What Philippine telecommunications companies are offering us is the lugaw business. Offer empty carbs to the proletariat because they do not have a choice. I have tasted far better nourishment abroad where I paid AUD99 all-in per month for 100 mbps connection with a cap of 200 GB. And it’s even cheaper now. The LTE migration they are offering me costs PhP1000 for 1mbps (min of 256kbps) with a 20GB cap. I run through that in four days. How magnanimous of them to provide me with crumbs! How dare I demand more?

I was loyal to said worldly provider because I was part of their group of companies for a long time. They fostered loyalty through team building, doing the right thing, the CEOs mingling with us common folk, and charitable works that they let us participate in. But now I’m questioning their business ethics. Their captive market is held prisoner by the bandwidth of services they offer. They get their tubong lugaw net profit but offer no real innovation in light of what other comparable third world countries offer. I get that you take your Corporate Social Responsibility seriously, but shouldn’t you be responsible to your customers first?

Now don’t smirk, Mr. Smarty-pants competitor, because you’re no good, either. Are you guys in competition for who could offer crappier services more expensively? Bilugin nyo ulo ng lelong nyong panot. I’m calling your bullshit. Do right by me, your customer.

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Monday Morning Vent: How to deal with spammers

January 18, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Crime, Technology 1 Comment →


Each day we are deluged with spam, which sounds like meatloaf is falling from the sky. If only meatloaf were falling from the sky, preferably not in cans because that would cause mass concussions and property damage. We mean texts, emails, messages from strangers with designs upon our money.

Some of them are only annoying—real estate offers, no-collateral loans, etc—and easy enough to delete, unless they have the nerve to call you when you’re busy, in which case you are within your rights to yell at them.

Some of them are pathetic little scams aimed at robbing you of 300 pesos. They tell you that you’ve been sent MMS and in order to get it you have to reply by to a certain number with a prefix. It’s a trick to make you send money (pasa-load) to the conmen.

Some of them are messages purportedly from your friends or relatives who have been mugged and left stranded in foreign countries.

Some claim to have stolen large sums of money from their governments, and need friendly bank accounts to hide the money in. Resist the urge to tell them to go fuck themselves—why should they have any fun?

Some claim that you are entitled to something you never signed up for, and if you actually turn up to claim it, reveal that you have to pay. Other spammers prey on the credulous, the uninformed and the greedy, but these are particularly scuzzy because they take advantage of people’s real needs.

Got any scam stories? In the meantime, here’s a guy who’s done what we’ve always wanted to do: reply to spam and string the spammer along. His book wrote itself.