Sunday, December 31, 2017
Friday, December 29, 2017
Thursday, December 28, 2017
"The world was kind of a crappy place in 2017, especially online. Google, as a company, needs to do a better job dealing with that.
Google is doing so much that it can be a little difficult for any one thing to break through as the primary narrative for the company, something to move it beyond just search. Apple and Samsung make mostly hardware, but Google seems to be trying to do everything. Google CEO Sundar Pichai has decided what he'd like that primary to be — the expansion of AI and Machine Learning into every corner of the world — but damned reality keeps upending that narrative.
These realities sometimes undercut Google's self-image as an AI powerhouse. The biggest example was the rash of fake news stories that appeared at the top of Google's "Top Stories" carousel, which effectively gave those false stories a patina of Google approval. You'd like to think a company that prides itself on algorithms wouldn't allow them to fail so badly and so dangerously. The company also failed to adequately protect children from both watching or being made to participate in some supremely sketchy YouTube videos..."
The Verge 2017 tech report card: Google - The Verge
Wednesday, December 27, 2017
Sunday, December 24, 2017
"Earlier this year, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden met with Jacqueline Moudeina, the first female lawyer in Chad and a legendary human rights advocate who has worked tirelessly to bring former dictator Hissène Habré to justice. Habré was convicted of human rights abuses — ordering the killing of 40,000 people, sexual slavery, and rape — by a Senegalese jury in 2016.
Snowden told Moudeina that he was working on an app that could turn a mobile device into a kind of motion sensor in order to notify you when your devices are being tampered with. The app could also tell you when someone had entered a room without you knowing, if someone had moved your things, or if someone had stormed into your friend’s house in the middle of the night. Snowden recounted that pivotal conversation in an interview with the Verge. “She got very serious and told me, ‘I need this. I need this now. There’s so many people around us who need this.’”
Haven, announced today, is an app that does just that. Installed on a cheap burner Android device, Haven sends notifications to your personal, main phone in the event that your laptop has been tampered with. If you leave your laptop at home or at an office or in a hotel room, you can place your Haven phone on top of the laptop, and when Haven detects motion, light, or movement — essentially, anything that might be someone messing with your stuff — it logs what happened. It takes photos, records sound, even takes down changes in light or acceleration, and then sends notifications to your main phone. None of this logging is stored in the cloud, and the notifications you receive on your main phone are end-to-end encrypted over Signal."
Edward Snowden made an app to protect your laptop - The Verge
Thursday, December 21, 2017
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
"An international team of astronomers has concluded that when it comes to theories about colliding neutron stars, Einstein got it right. Everybody else, not so much.
A neutron star is what's left when a star burns out and collapses in on itself, leaving a small, incredibly dense ball.
Einstein's theory of general relativity predicted that when two neutron stars collide, they would generate a gravitational wave, a ripple in space time.
That's exactly what physicists saw for the first time last summer with LIGO, the new gravitational wave observatory.
There were also plenty of theories about what else they'd see. For example, there were predictions about energetic emissions known as gamma rays.
'The old picture suggested that when the two nutron stars merged you launch this very narrow, very, very bright, very fast jet of gamma rays, says Mansil Kasliwal, Assistant Professor of Astronomy at Caltech in Pasadena and principal investigator for GROWTH, the Global Relay of Observatories Watching Transients Happen.
She says that old picture was wrong. It's true astronomers did see a burst of gamma rays, 'But the brightness of this burst was rather wimpy.'
Indeed, the gamma ray burst was 10,000 times weaker than what they were expecting.
Other measurements proved the theorists wrong as well. The ultraviolet light from the merger was bluer than theories said it should be, and the radio waves generated by the collision were predicted to fade over time. Instead they kept getting stronger.
Kasliwal and her colleagues now think they know where the theorists went wrong. The explanation appears in the journal, Nature.
Before the neutron stars collide, they rotate around each other. 'So you have these neutron stars doing this dance around each other, coming closer and closer and closer together before they merge, says Kasliwal.
During the dance, the stars start to break apart, forming a cloud of stuff.
When they finally do merge, a jet of gamma rays does in fact form, but it doesn't get very far.
'The jet sort-of gets stuck,' says Kasliwal. 'Because there's so much stuff around, that this poor jet cannot just barrel through that and escape out into the interstellar medium.'
Kasliwal says the jet transfers some of its energy into the cloud of stuff surrounding the merged neutron stars. This pushes the cloud outward, forming a kind of glowing cocoon.
It's the glowing cocoon that causes the blue ultraviolet light, and the persistent radio waves.
'We are now a hundred days after the merger ad most beautifully it keeps getting brighter and brighter and brighter, exactly as we predicted the cocoon model would do,' says Kasliwal.
It's probably not surprising that modern theorists got things wrong. Predicting what kind of gamma rays, radio waves and X-rays colliding neutron stars would produce is 'a complicated and messy problem,' wrote Daniel Kasen, Associate Professor of Physics, Astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, in an email to The Two Way. 'You have to consider the structure of the neutron stars, the hydrodynamics of how material gets spit out in a merger, the nuclear physics of how heavy elements are synthesized, [and] the atomic physics and electromagnetism of how the ejected material radiates light.' Understanding all this relies on lots of different kinds of physics.
Predicting the gravitational wave signal is 'a much cleaner problem,' wrote Kasen."
"Apple might start to converge iOS and macOS in a big way next year by letting developers create a single app that runs across both platforms. Bloomberg reports that Apple is planning to let developers create apps that will adjust to whichever platform they’re running on, so that they’ll support touch input on an iPhone or an iPad and mouse and trackpad input on a Mac.
The report notes that plans could always change, but it sounds like the combined apps could become available next year. If so, they’d likely be announced in June at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference and then introduced in the fall, when new versions of iOS and macOS typically ship."
Apple might combine iOS and Mac apps next year - The Verge
Tuesday, December 19, 2017
"(CNN) The mysterious flying object that one man saw looked like a "40-foot-long Tic Tac" and was maneuvering and shifting directions rapidly.
That claim doesn't come from a random townsperson, though. It comes from retired Cmdr. David Fravor and bears the Pentagon's stamp of approval. And it was one of many confounding examples of unidentified flying objects the Pentagon investigated in the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program.
"My personal belief is that there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone," Luis Elizondo, a former Pentagon official, told CNN.
The belief in alien encounters has long been a prominent feature of American life. A 1997 poll from CNN/Time on the 50th anniversary of the Roswell incident found that 80% of Americans think the government is hiding knowledge of the existence of extraterrestrial life forms.
But instead of funding a $22 million project to get to the bottom of the issue, the US military could have spent its time reading some of the many tales of UFO sightings, abductions and alien encounters with humans over the decades.
There are thousands and thousands of reported UFO sightings, but in light of the Pentagon's extensive research into the possible existence of UFOs, here's a look back at some of America's closest encounters of the third kind."
A short history of UFOs in America: Aliens, flying discs and sightings
Monday, December 18, 2017
Saturday, December 16, 2017
"Like so many classic Western anti-heroes before him, he rolled (literally) into town with a singular goal in mind: cleaning up the streets, which had become a gritty hotbed of harassment, vandalism, break-ins and grift.
The only difference was that he was a slow-moving, 400-pound robot with a penchant for snapping hundreds of photos a minute without people’s permission, and this was San Francisco’s Mission District in 2017.
What could go wrong? Quite a bit, as it turns out.
In the past month, his first on the job, “K-9″ — a 5-foot-tall, 3-foot-wide K5 Autonomous Data Machine that can be rented for $6 an hour from Silicon Valley start-up Knightscope — was battered with barbecue sauce, allegedly smeared with feces, covered by a tarp and nearly toppled by an attacker.
As if those incidents weren’t bad enough, K-9 was also accused of discriminating against homeless people who had taken up refuge on the sidewalks he was assigned to patrol. It was those troubling allegations, which went viral this week, that sparked public outrage and prompted K-9’s employers — the San Francisco chapter of the animal rescue group SPCA — to pull the plug on their newly minted robot security pilot program.
“Effective immediately, the San Francisco SPCA has suspended its security robot pilot program,” Jennifer Scarlett, the organization’s president, wrote in a statement emailed to The Washington Post on Thursday. “We piloted the robot program in an effort to improve the security around our campus and to create a safe atmosphere for staff, volunteers, clients and animals. Clearly, it backfired.”
[Saudi Arabia, which denies women equal rights, makes a robot a citizen]
SPCA officials said the robot was hired to patrol the parking lot and sidewalk outside the animal shelter after the building had been broken into twice and employees had become fed up with harassment and catcalls. The robot, they said, would be able to snap photos, record security footage, and then notify shelter employees or police during an emergency.
The backlash began after an animal shelter spokeswoman, in an interview with the San Francisco Business Times this week, seemed to suggest that the robot was an effective tool for eliminating the homeless encampments outside the SPCA, leading to a sudden reduction in crime. SPCA officials now say they didn’t mean to imply that they wanted to be rid of the homeless and have pointed out that they partner with several local organizations to provide veterinary care for homeless pet owners.
Nevertheless, a public outcry, complete with calls for the robot’s destruction, quickly ensued. A flurry of attention-grabbing headlines implied that the robot was specifically employed to target the homeless.
“Robot wages war on the homeless,” a particularly inflammatory Newsweek headline read."
Crime-fighting robot retired after launching alleged ‘war on the homeless’ - The Washington Post
"The Defense Department has never before acknowledged the existence of the program, which it says it shut down in 2012. But its backers say that, while the Pentagon ended funding for the effort at that time, the program remains in existence. For the past five years, they say, officials with the program have continued to investigate episodes brought to them by service members, while also carrying out their other Defense Department duties.
The shadowy program — parts of it remain classified — began in 2007, and initially it was largely funded at the request of Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was the Senate majority leader at the time and who has long had an interest in space phenomena. Most of the money went to an aerospace research company run by a billionaire entrepreneur and longtime friend of Mr. Reid’s, Robert Bigelow, who is currently working with NASA to produce expandable craft for humans to use in space.
On CBS’s “60 Minutes” in May, Mr. Bigelow said he was “absolutely convinced” that aliens exist and that U.F.O.s have visited Earth.
Harry Reid, the former Senate majority leader, has had a longtime interest in space phenomena. Credit Al Drago/The New York Times
Photo by: Al Drago/The New York Times
Working with Mr. Bigelow’s Las Vegas-based company, the program produced documents that describe sightings of aircraft that seemed to move at very high velocities with no visible signs of propulsion, or that hovered with no apparent means of lift.
Officials with the program have also studied videos of encounters between unknown objects and American military aircraft — including one released in August of a whitish oval object, about the size of a commercial plane, chased by two Navy F/A-18F fighter jets from the aircraft carrier Nimitz off the coast of San Diego in 2004.
Mr. Reid, who retired from Congress this year, said he was proud of the program. “I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going,” Mr. Reid said in a recent interview in Nevada. “I think it’s one of the good things I did in my congressional service. I’ve done something that no one has done before.”
Two other former senators and top members of a defense spending subcommittee — Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, and Daniel K. Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat — also supported the program. Mr. Stevens died in 2010, and Mr. Inouye in 2012."
Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program - The New York Times
"...But despite Alexa’s human name and female persona, Zorn counters that Amazon doesn’t aim to turn its voice assistant into another member of your family. Instead, the team’s guiding light and original idea for the Echo is the all-knowing but behind-the-scenes computer from “Star Trek.”
“We don’t have an explicit desire for customers to anthropomorphize more or less than they do,” Zorn says, as if reading aloud the warning label on the tush of a giant metal robot. “We’ve recognized that some do.”
Amazon's on a mission to make Alexa on your Echo more human
Friday, December 15, 2017
Thursday, December 14, 2017
"...It comes with four Thunderbolt/USB-C ports, four USB-A ports, 10Gb Ethernet, an SDXC card slot that supports UHS-II speeds, and a headphone jack. It has the same screen as the current 27-inch iMac Retina 5K and it is as beautiful on the Pro as it is on that other machine.
The iMac Pro also has the usual complement of RAM and storage options — though "usual" in this case of course means top-flight components and the opportunity to get as much as 128Gb of RAM. (The base model has 32GB of RAM and 1TB of storage.) Apple says that the entire system has been optimized throughout so the iMac Pro will perform better than a custom-built workstation using the same components. Apple also argues that building a comparable workstation with comparable components will end up costing you as much or more than the iMac Pro.
Much of that integration comes thanks to new, custom silicon that Apple is calling the T2. It's an integrated system that handles a ton of the deep computer controls that are usually handled by disparate parts of the motherboard. It handles audio, the image processing for the upgraded 1080p camera, and other system management functions. It also acts as a more powerful SSD controller, handling the compute load of file encryption directly rather than having it bog down your main processor.
The iMac Pro is a beast, but it's not for everybody - The Verge
"The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to repeal Obama-era net neutrality rules, handing the broadband and wireless industries a big victory in their battle against government oversight of the internet.
The Republican-led FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to dismantle the 2015 regulations, which ensured all traffic on the internet is treated equally, and prevented broadband and wireless providers from blocking or slowing online content. The agency also voted to eliminate the legal foundation that gives the FCC oversight over internet service providers.
The vote was delayed briefly while security at FCC headquarters cleared the room.
Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr called it 'a great day for consumers, for innovation and for freedom.' He said the vote returns the FCC to a light regulatory regime that had worked for 20 years until they were changed in 2015."
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
"Donald Trump's FCC is set to roll back the controversial Obama-era net neutrality regulation this week.
At its monthly meeting Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission, led by Republican Chairman Ajit Pai, will vote to repeal regulation passed in 2015 that prevents broadband companies from blocking or slowing access to websites or services. The rules also prohibit broadband companies from offering paid-priority services that could lead to internet "fast lanes."
FCC net neutrality repeal -- what you need to know - CNET
Friday, December 08, 2017
"No matter how infinitely imaginative I may consider myself, there are some things I am still unable to fathom. I cannot imagine feeling so loyal to a political party that I don’t care if people lose their health care or if a man molested little girls. I can’t picture myself being so sensitive that I needed to remind myself that “It’s OK to be white.” I am unable to envision a world in which I have every societal advantage but am still butt-hurt by the simple use of the words “Black Lives Matter,” even when they are uttered by an inanimate object.
Apparently, my imagination isn’t big enough.
I recently found out that some of our beloved Caucasian brethren are upset because Alexa believes black lives matter. Not the woman named Alexa who works at the Starbucks near your house and spells your name wrong every time. (It’s Michael, not Michel!) I’m referring to the Amazon assistant whose brain was sucked out of her body and put into the Amazon Echo. She’s Siri’s cousin who went to a good college so she can actually understand what you’re saying.
I only use my Alexa to control a few household devices, but apparently, there are people who have whole conversations with their Alexa, and someone discovered that she responds when she hears, “Alexa, black lives matter....”
White People Are Upset That Amazon’s Alexa Believes Black Lives Matter
Thursday, December 07, 2017
Wednesday, December 06, 2017
"Amazon has just responded to Google’s decision to remove YouTube from all Fire TV products and the Echo Show. “Google is setting a disappointing precedent by selectively blocking customer access to an open website,” a spokesperson told The Verge by email. “We hope to resolve this with Google as soon as possible.” YouTube is being pulled from the Show effective immediately, and Fire TV owners will lose out on the popular, essential video streaming app on January 1st.
Google says it’s taking this extreme step because of Amazon’s recent delisting of new Nest products (like Nest Secure and the E Thermostat) and the company’s long-running refusal to sell Chromecast or support Google Cast in any capacity.
But regardless of the public stance each company takes over the next few days, it’s their mutual customers who are unfairly getting jerked around. YouTube is a cornerstone of any living room streaming device, and for Google to suddenly decide to strip it from millions of existing Fire TV owners — assuming no agreement is reached by January 1st — is shameful. YouTube is video on the internet. Period. It’s also home to beloved creators, and Google’s decision will soon rob them of viewers...."
Google and Amazon are punishing their own customers in a bitter feud - The Verge
Monday, December 04, 2017
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Saturday, December 02, 2017
Friday, December 01, 2017
Thursday, November 30, 2017
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Andy Rubin takes leave from Essential as probe into 'inappropriate' Google relationship goes public: report - The Verge
"Essential founder and CEO Andy Rubin has taken a leave of absence from his new company for ‘personal reasons’ following a report on the circumstances of his 2014 departure from Google. According to The Information, Rubin left Google shortly after an investigation found that he had maintained an ‘inappropriate relationship’ with a woman who worked under him and filed a complaint to HR.
The nature of that relationship isn’t detailed in the report, and Rubin’s spokesperson Mike Sitrick denies the connection. ‘Any relationship that Mr. Rubin had while at Google was consensual,’ Sitrick tells The Information. ‘Mr. Rubin was never told by Google that he engaged in any misconduct while at Google and he did not, either while at Google or since.’ Rubin is said to have told Essential employees of his leave of absence on Monday after The Information informed Sitrick of its story.
RUBIN’S BEHAVIOR 'WAS IMPROPER AND SHOWED BAD JUDGEMENT' The woman who filed the complaint reportedly worked in the Android division run by Rubin, which would make any personal relationship between the two violate Google policy; the company requires employees to disclose such relationships so that one of them can be moved to another division. Rubin left the Android department in March 2013 to lead Google’s efforts in robotics, but the HR investigation is said to have taken place in 2014. That investigation, according to The Information, concluded that ‘Rubin’s behavior was improper and showed bad judgement.’"
Monday, November 27, 2017
Sunday, November 26, 2017
Friday, November 24, 2017
Thursday, November 23, 2017
"Pioneers in robotics and artificial intelligence have called on the Australian and Canadian governments to ban killer robots ahead of a United Nations meeting on weapons this month.
Leading researchers from the countries urged prime ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Justin Trudeau respectively to take a stand against autonomous weapons, arguing that their development and use crossed a “clear moral line.”
Artificial intelligence can be used to make weapons that operate without human oversight, giving them the ability to loiter in an area and make life or death decisions without approval from a military controller.
“If developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever before, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend,” the letter to Turnbull states. “The deadly consequence of this is that machines, not people, will determine who lives and dies.”
The letters are signed by hundreds of specialists including Toby Walsh, an AI professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Geoffrey Hinton, an AI pioneer who runs Google’s Brain Team in Toronto, and Ian Kerr, professor of ethics, law and technology at the University of Ottawa.
In August, many of the world’s top robotics and AI scientists called on the United Nations to ban killer robots and so halt the arms race now underway to build autonomous weapons. The race threatens to usher in a “third revolution in warfare” after gunpowder and nuclear weapons, the researchers warned in an open letter.
The military is one of the largest funders of AI research, and while the technology could be used to make mine-clearing robots or unmanned vehicles that deliver supplies, fully-automated offensive weapons would effectively become weapons of mass destruction, the scientists state.
“One programmer would be able to whole control armies of weapons,” said Walsh “They are the perfect weapons to suppress a civilian population. Unlike humans who have to be persuaded to commit atrocities, these will be cold, calculating weapons that will do whatever they are programmed to do.”
Arms manufacturers have already built highly autonomous weapons for the military, from robotic sentries and autonomous tanks to flying drones that can track and strike targets. The systems are designed to operate under human supervision. Compared with nuclear weapons, AI-powered weapons are likely to be cheap and simple to make, meaning they could easily find their way onto weapons black markets.
The letters to the Australian and Canadian governments coincide with the UN’s conference this month on the convention on certain conventional weapons, which aims to restrict or prohibit weapons that are excessively injurious or indiscriminate."
Ban killer robots, experts urge Australian and Canadian leaders
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
"OnePlus is one of those beguiling companies that seem to promise impossibly wonderful things. Flagship products at budget prices. The assiduous elegance of an iPhone at the attainable cost of a midrange Motorola. It’s a company that constantly flirts with the “too good to be true” label, sometimes delivering on its lofty claims and at other times failing to live up to its own hype.
I like the new OnePlus 5T for many of the same reasons that I like OnePlus itself. This device is full of all the right ideas — hardware design, software responsiveness, and overall usability — and if I were tasked with the job of assembling a phone, my specification would read a lot like the OnePlus 5T does on paper. In practice, this phone isn’t the total fulfillment of every objective that OnePlus set for itself, nor every promise the company has made. But it’s damn close. It takes the imperfect OnePlus 5 from five months ago and fixes much of what ailed it. This is the most refined OnePlus phone yet...."
OnePlus 5T review: polished to a T - The Verge
FCC's Pai moves to eliminate net neutrality regulations - CNET - This is a direct attack on the open internet and a gift to large telecommunication companies like Xfinity, Verizon and Time Warner
"The Federal Communications Commission is planning a full repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules, handing the broadband and wireless industries a big victory in the war against government oversight of the internet.
On Tuesday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued his proposal for dismantling the 2015 net neutrality regulations, which ensure all traffic on the internet is treated equally, and prevent broadband and wireless providers from blocking or slowing online content. Pai has also eliminated the legal foundation that gives the FCC oversight over internet services providers.
The federal government will stop 'micromanaging the internet' under the proposal, Pai said in a statement. Instead, broadband providers will be required to be 'transparent' about how they manage their networks to allow consumers and businesses to buy the service they need."
Monday, November 20, 2017
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Saturday, November 18, 2017
"Over the last year I have been slowly migrating from Apple to Windows, and to be honest breaking out of the walled gardens that I lived within (some known, some unknown) has not been easy, but it has been freeing. I have to hand it to Apple, they made a system, an environment, that has been comfortable and creatively useful for many years. However, slowly the sparkle that was once held in such high regards by artists, has begun to dull.
For me, there was one piece of hardware that remained from my Apple past, one that traveled with me to all my photo shoots and pre-production meetings, coffee shops and airport bars, studios and locations alike… my MacBook Pro.
When I began transitioning to Windows, I had made concessions. I thought at the time, that one of the few pieces of Apple hardware that would stay in my repertoire was the MBP. I had even decided to upgrade it to the newest one before the announcement, for I knew it would be cutting edge in the ways that other Apple products of the past had been. Then, to the horror of myself and many around, we watched as Apple gave us the new MacBook Pro, complete with… wait for it… the Touch Bar (ready to suit all of my emoji needs).
That very day I bought a Microsoft Surface Book (the very one that I am typing this blog on) and never looked back. To be honest, I had intended to write a review of it for quite some time, however, that blog had been put on the backburner. What was striking about the original Surface Book was something I had a very hard time quantifying. While there were many things I fell in love with on it, such as the keyboard, and the detachable screen, the thing that won me over more than anything was how much it just worked...
The Surface Beast: Microsoft's Surface Book 2 is a MacBook Pro Killer
Friday, November 17, 2017
Thursday, November 16, 2017
Thursday, November 09, 2017
"One of my favorite things about the tech industry is how quickly innovations from the big companies and premium products trickle down into more affordable devices. The rampant stealing of ideas isn't so awesome when it happens between small companies — or, as in the case of Facebook treating Snapchat like its incubation lab, when a big company copies a smaller one. But I don’t have a problem with the general flow of good ideas from giants like Apple and Google to more budget-friendly suppliers of hardware and software. Apple and Google, though, have an obvious problem with that, and they’ve worked hard to develop new techniques and approaches that can’t be readily imitated.
The big new thing in smartphones lately is one of those buzz phrases you’ll have heard tossed around: machine learning (ML). Like augmented and virtual reality, machine learning is often thought of as a distant promise, however in 2017 it has materialized in major ways. ML is at the heart of what makes this year’s iPhone X from Apple and Pixel 2 / XL from Google unique. It is the driver of differentiation both today and tomorrow; and the companies that fall behind in it will find themselves desperately out of contention.
A machine-learning advantage can’t be easily replicated, cloned, or reverse-engineered: to compete with the likes of Apple and Google at this game, you need to have as much computing power and user data as they do (which you probably lack) and as much time as they’ve invested (which you probably don’t have). In simple terms, ML promises to be the holy grail for giant tech companies that want to scale peaks that smaller rivals can’t reach. It capitalizes on vast resources and user bases, and it keeps getting better with time, so competitors have to keep moving just to stay within reach.
I’m not arguing that ML is a panacea any more than I would argue that all OLED displays are awesome (some are terrible): it’s just the basis on which some of the key differentiating features are now being built.
Google’s HDR+ camera
Let’s start with the most impressive expression of machine-learning consumer tech to date: the camera on Google’s Pixel and Pixel 2 phones. Its DSLR-like performance never ceases to amaze me, especially in low-light conditions. Google’s imaging software has transcended the traditional physical limitations of mobile cameras (namely: shortage of physical space for large sensors and lenses), and it’s done so through a combination of clever algorithms and machine learning. As Google likes to put it, the company has turned a light problem into a data problem, and few companies are as adept at processing data as Google.
I spoke with Marc Levoy, the Stanford academic that leads Google’s computational photography team, recently, and he stressed something important about Google’s ML-assisted camera: it keeps getting better over time. Even if Google had done nothing whatsoever to improve the Pixel camera in the time between the Pixel and Pixel 2’s launch, the simple accumulation of machine learning time will have made the camera better. Time is the added dimension that makes machine learning even more exciting. The more resources you can throw at your ML setup, says Levoy, the better its output becomes, and time and processing power (both on the device itself and in Google’s vast server farms) are crucial.
At CES in January this year, Huawei’s mobile boss Richard Yu was asked if his company would introduce its own voice assistant in the US, to which he replied, “Alexa and Google Assistant are better, how can we compete?” That uncharacteristically pragmatic response (for a mobile company CEO) neatly encapsulates the difficulty of copying Google and Amazon’s machine-learning efforts. All the vast resources that the two US companies have invested into natural language processing and voice recognition are returning a dividend in keeping them far enough ahead of the competition that even Huawei, one of the biggest consumer tech brands outside the US, isn’t trying to compete. That’s the cumulative power of long-term investment in machine learning.
Is Google Assistant a differentiating feature? Not for hardware, as Google wants to have Assistant running on every device possible. But the Assistant serves as a conduit for funneling users into Google search and the rest of the company’s services, with practically all of them benefiting from some variety of machine learning, whether you’re thinking of Google Maps tips or YouTube video suggestions. What Assistant does for the mobile market is to enhance Google’s influence over its hardware partners: woe betide the manufacturer that tries to ship an Android phone in 2018 without either the Google Play Store or Assistant on board.
Apple’s Face ID
On the Apple side of the fence, machine learning is permeating much of the software running on the iPhone already, and the company’s Core ML tools are making it easy for developers to add to that library. But the big highlight feature of the new iPhone X, the thing everyone notices, is the notch at the top of its display and the technology contained within it. Up in that monobrow section, you’ll find a full array of infrared and light sensors, something tantamount to a Microsoft Kinect system, which facilitates the new FaceID authentication method.
I remain uncertain about how well Face ID strikes the balance between security and convenience (especially without the fallback of Touch ID’s fingerprint recognition), but I have no doubt about the technical achievement that it represents. Everyone I know that has used Face ID gives a glowing assessment of its accuracy. The system is robust enough to work in the dark and, thanks to machine learning, it will adapt to changes in your appearance. If you strip away all the usual incremental upgrades and design tweaks, the FaceI D system is the iPhone X’s defining new feature. And it’s reliant on ML to work its technological magic..."
Democracy Needs a Reboot for the Age of Artificial Intelligence | The Nation
Tuesday, November 07, 2017
Monday, November 06, 2017
"He hates being criticized, challenged or even cautioned by his own advisers. When they do speak up, President Donald Trump retaliates by doubling down on his virtual megaphone: Twitter.
To his base, which led the way to his 46.1 percent of the popular vote, Trump's provocative tweets are a daily reminder they backed a Washington outsider who revels in using a "tremendous platform" to bypass what he calls the "fake media." It doesn't matter if his comments are true -- and multiple fact-checking sites like PolitiFact, FactCheck.org and the Washington Post's Fact Checker blog have shown that many of the assertions he tweets are false. Trump's 140-character outbursts are just what many among his 41.5 million online followers want to hear.
To his critics, the tweets sent from his personal handle -- @realDonaldTrump -- rather than the official @POTUS account are proof he's a narcissistic "bully" they consider misogynistic, ill-informed and racist. They say his tweetstorms, while protected by the First Amendment and even by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, often create false controversies aimed at switching attention away from things like his failed health-care reform efforts and the ongoing investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. And that he seeks to undermine the free press..."
Donald Trump’s tweeting has changed how we view leaders - CNET
Sunday, November 05, 2017
Saturday, November 04, 2017
Friday, November 03, 2017
Wednesday, November 01, 2017
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Monday, October 30, 2017
Sunday, October 29, 2017
"Apple has reportedly dismissed an engineer after his daughter’s iPhone X hands-on video went viral on YouTube. Brooke Amelia Peterson published a vlog earlier this week, which included a trip to the Apple campus to visit her father and see an unreleased iPhone X. Peterson’s video was quickly picked up by sites like 9to5Mac, and it spread even further on YouTube.
Peterson now claims her father has been fired as a result of her video. In a tearful video, Peterson explains her father violated an Apple company rule by allowing her to film the unreleased handset at Apple’s campus. Apple reportedly requested that Peterson remove the video, but it was clearly too late as the content spread further and further.
THE VIDEO PROBABLY REVEALED MORE THAN IT WAS SUPPOSED TO The video itself may have seemed like an innocent hands-on, but it did include footage of an iPhone X with special employee-only QR codes. A notes app was also shown on the iPhone X in the video, which appeared to include codenames of unreleased Apple products. Filming on Apple’s campus is strictly prohibited, so filming an unreleased iPhone X is a definite rule violation.
We’ve seen similar dismissals in the past. A Microsoft employee was dismissed after his son posted pictures of the Xbox 360 before its release. The Apple engineer in question had worked at the company for around four years, building the iPhone RF and wireless circuit design. The Verge reached out to Apple to confirm the dismissal, but the company has not yet responded to a request for comment."
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Friday, October 27, 2017
Thursday, October 26, 2017
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Saturday, October 21, 2017
Friday, October 20, 2017
Thursday, October 19, 2017
"Apple’s newest MacBooks apparently suffer from an unexpected problem, a keyboard issue that’s not easy to fix. Affected models include 2015 or later MacBook and 2016 or later MacBook Pro models. These laptops are thinner than ever, and Apple redesigned the mechanism under each key so that it could manufacture butterfly keyboards with an even slimmer profile.
Incredibly, it turns out that simple particles of dust can render individual keys on these machines useless, and dislodging them to fix them isn’t as easy as it was on older MacBook models."
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Monday, October 16, 2017
"Wi-Fi: it's a technology that most of use every day and it's now at serious risk of being hijacked.
Security researchers have discovered a flaw in the security protocol used by almost every modern Wi-Fi device, including computers, phones and routers, which puts them all at risk of attack, reported ZDNet on Monday.
A weakness in the WPA2 protocol, which is used to secure most wireless networks and devices, was discovered by computer security academic Mathy Vanhoef, and is being nicknamed "KRACK", short for Key Reinstallation Attack.
The bug ultimately could allow hackers to eavesdrop on network traffic -- bad news for anyone sending sensitive or private information over a Wi-Fi connection. These days, that's pretty much all of us, although this could hit businesses using wireless point-of-sale machines particularly hard.
Hackers would have to be within physical range of a vulnerable device to take advantage of the flaw, but could use it to decrypt network traffic, hijack connections and inject content into the traffic stream.
To do so would involve effectively impersonating a user who had already been granted access to the network so as to exploit a weakness in the secure four-way handshake that acts as its gatekeeper."
WPA2 security flaw puts every Wi-Fi device at risk of hijack - CNET
A military officer who teaches computer science at the Mangyongdae Revolutionary School, on the outskirts of Pyongyang, North Korea. Credit Alexander F. Yuan/Associated Press
Photo by: Alexander F. Yuan/Associated Press
When North Korean hackers tried to steal $1 billion from the New York Federal Reserve last year, only a spelling error stopped them. They were digitally looting an account of the Bangladesh Central Bank, when bankers grew suspicious about a withdrawal request that had misspelled “foundation” as “fandation.”
Even so, Kim Jong-un’s minions still got away with $81 million in that heist.
Then only sheer luck enabled a 22-year-old British hacker to defuse the biggest North Korean cyberattack to date, a ransomware attack last May that failed to generate much cash but brought down hundreds of thousands of computers across dozens of countries — and briefly crippled Britain’s National Health Service.
Their track record is mixed, but North Korea’s army of more than 6,000 hackers is undeniably persistent, and undeniably improving, according to American and British security officials who have traced these attacks and others back to the North.
Amid all the attention on Pyongyang’s progress in developing a nuclear weapon capable of striking the continental United States, the North Koreans have also quietly developed a cyberprogram that is stealing hundreds of millions of dollars and proving capable of unleashing global havoc.
The World Once Laughed at North Korean Cyberpower. No More. - The New York Times
Sunday, October 15, 2017
Saturday, October 14, 2017
"The house-size asteroid that just passed by Earth, almost as close as many satellites in orbit, will be back -- and a future visit might lead to it taking up permanent residency here.
On Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, Asteroid 2012 TC4 safely passed by our planet at an altitude of 27,300 miles (44,000 kilometers), just a few thousand miles above the level of satellites in geosychronous orbit. That's nearly twice as close as when it passed us almost exactly five years ago, about a week after it was first discovered in October 2012.
The most recent models of the space rock's future path, which can be altered by Earth's gravity each time it makes a close pass, have ruled out the possibility that it will impact Earth when it makes another close call in 2050.
But the same can't be said for its visit in 2079..."
Asteroid that just buzzed Earth may not miss on return visit - CNET
Thursday, October 12, 2017
"Humans might think that we have a pretty good handle on camouflage, but in the grand scheme of things we’re really just amateurs. A sniper in a ghillie suit might be able to blend into a bush, but when it comes to adapting your look on the fly, octopuses and cuttlefish absolutely put human efforts to shame. That’s why scientists have turned to nature in an attempt to create truly amazing robotic camo, and it’s already looking really, really amazing.
The new skin-like material mimics that of the cephalopods, which allow the aquatic creatures to raise or lower parts of their skin to create bumps and other shapes. In nature, the animals use this ability to mimic rocks and other features of the sea floor so that they can blend in for hunting or predator evasion purposes. Scientists believe this ability could be extremely useful for robots, and have set about making programmable skin that can take any shape that is needed..."
Scientists develop shape-shifting ‘skin’ that would give robots the ultimate camouflage – BGR
"Tech journalists covering Facebook had a duty to cover what was happening before, during, and after the election. Reporters tried to see past their often liberal political orientations and the unprecedented actions of Donald Trump to see how 2016 was playing out on the internet. Every component of the chaotic digital campaign has been reported on, here at The Atlantic, and elsewhere: Facebook’s enormous distribution power for political information, rapacious partisanship reinforced by distinct media information spheres, the increasing scourge of ‘viral’ hoaxes and other kinds of misinformation that could propagate through those networks, and the Russian information ops agency.
But no one delivered the synthesis that could have tied together all these disparate threads. It’s not that this hypothetical perfect story would have changed the outcome of the election. The real problem—for all political stripes—is understanding the set of conditions that led to Trump’s victory. The informational underpinnings of democracy have eroded, and no one has explained precisely how."
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
"On his blog, Chris Moore reveals that the Chinese electronics company has been collecting some very specific data from OnePlus users without their permission.
The hype around OnePlus is real: the next so-called flagship killer from the company is expected to feature a bigger display with a new aspect ratio and minimal bezels, and there are already multiple reports out there creating an online buzz. However, that’s not to say that all’s well in paradise. It’s no secret that OnePlus has faced heavy criticism from its users in the past year or two over its failure to provide adequate device support. More negative press ensued after the launch of the OnePlus 5 with reports of benchmark manipulation, wrongly-mounted displays, and more importantly, users being unable to dial 911 in emergency situations. Well, it seems the Chinese tech company is in trouble again, and in my opinion, OnePlus should really take the time to explain itself this time..."
OnePlus is collecting user data without permission, and that’s not okay
Latest Gartner & IDC data shows Mac sales start to slow, but other manufacturers are falling faster | 9to5Mac
"Gartner and IDC are today out with their latest releases concerning the state of the PC industry. Following the release of the new MacBook Pro models earlier this year, data showed Apple gain on other manufacturers and now Mac sales are again starting to flatline, though other vendors are falling at a faster rate…
Gartner’s data shows worldwide PC shipments decline by 4.3 percent during the second quarter of 2017. Shipments totaled 61.1 million units, which is down 4.3 percent year-over-year. This marks the 11th straight quarter of declining PC shipments and the lowest quarter volume since 2007. Gartner attributes the slowing numbers to higher prices driven by component shortages:
“Higher PC prices due to the impact of component shortages for DRAM, solid state drives (SSDs) and LCD panels had a pronounced negative impact on PC demand in the second quarter of 2017,” said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner.
“The approach to higher component costs varied by vendor. Some decided to absorb the component price hike without raising the final price of their devices, while other vendors transferred the costs to the end-user price.”
On a vendor by vendor basis worldwide, Gartner’s data shows HP reclaim the top position with 20.8 percent of the market, whereas Lenovo falls to second place with 19.9 percent. Then comes Dell with 15.6 percent and Apple with 6.9 percent. For Apple, that’s up slightly from 6.7 percent though shipments were down by around half a percent.
Zeroing in on just the United States, HP again claims the top spot, though this time followed by Dell and then Lenovo. Apple places fourth, capturing 11.8 percent of the United States market, down from 12.3 percent year-over-year. Shipments for Apple were down 9.6 percent in the United States, as well.
Moving on to the data from IDC, things look a bit better with a 3.3 percent year-over-year decline to 60.5 million units. That’s slightly better than the forecasted 3.9 percent decline, though shipments were again slightly hindered by component shortages. The worldwide market share numbers from IDC are similar to Gartner with HP atop the list, Lenovo in second, and Dell in third. Apple holds at fourth with 7.2 percent of the market, up from 6.8 percent with shipments rising 1.7 percent..."
Latest Gartner & IDC data shows Mac sales start to slow, but other manufacturers are falling faster | 9to5Mac
Google’s Home Mini needed a software patch to stop some of them from recording everything - The Verge
"Categorize this under “one of the worst possible PR nightmares for a Google smart speaker.” According to Artem Russakovskii at Android Police, the Google Home Mini he was reviewing was randomly and near-constantly recording sounds in his home and transmitting them to Google. The company acknowledged the problem and is issuing a software update to resolve the issue, which appears to boil down to a failure of the touch sensor on the top.
Smart speakers like the Google Home Mini are designed to only listen for a specific wake word — in this case it’s “Hey Google” or “Ok Google.” Only then do their microphones record what you’re saying it, transmit it to the cloud, and try to answer your question. But there is usually a way to just hit a button and ask the embedded assistant a question. On the Mini, it’s holding your finger down on the top of it.
That seems to be the rub (pardon the pun) with Russakovskii’s Mini: it thought that somebody was holding its finger down on the top and so was randomly activating and recording. The good news is that the lights turned on to indicate it was listening, but the bad news is that it didn’t make an audible tone, so it took a trip through the Home’s search history to discover the error..."
Google’s Home Mini needed a software patch to stop some of them from recording everything - The Verge
Monday, October 09, 2017
Saturday, October 07, 2017
"...There is a cottage industry of political journalists whose take on the state of Trump-America is simply, “Don’t talk about racism or it will anger ‘Middle America’ and lead to Donald Trump’s reelection.” This political take has long had a safe haven in centrist politics. Their answer to why Nixon, then Reagan, then the Bushes, and now Trump were elected boils down to movement activists’ wanting too much, too soon. Activists are responsible for scaring the American “middle” into the arms of reactionaries. These journalists never diagnose their defeats as a result of their own politics’ failure to offer a compelling agenda. Instead, we get scapegoating to muzzle and control people who dare to offer a compelling message of change outside the control of smoky back rooms.
This toxic analysis is now being used to attack NFL players—people whom no one a year ago would have confused with “movement activists”—for protesting during the anthem.
In USA Today, an editorial writer named Robert Robb has already staked out the ground, as if racing to secure a patent on the position that if this president wins reelection in 2020, you can blame these NFL players. Forget that by 2020 Trump might be impeached, in prison, or in a large hollowed-out volcano holding the world ransom with a giant laser. Instead, three years in advance of the election, Robb wants to plant the idea that it will be the players’ fault.
To understand the mendacity required to make this argument, read this one tortuous sentence: “You don’t have to be a racist to find galling the spectacle of pampered athletics, making millions of dollars playing a game, hosted in taxpayer-subsidized stadiums, benefiting from an antitrust exemption, ostentatiously exempting themselves from the traditional display of fidelity to our country.”
Let’s start with the strawman bullshit. Find me one NFL player who has called those who disagree with the protests “racist.” What they have said time and again is that they want this country to confront structural racism in the criminal-justice system and policing. They are protesting during the anthem to speak about the gap between what the flag means and what it represents. We have certainly seen some of these players call online trolls racists. Is that OK? Should they get written approval from Robb before they come back on people who call them “n——-“? Or would that just shove “Middle America” into Trump’s arms?
Then there is this idea that they are ”pampered”—a little class bait to justify the racial animus. There is nothing “pampered” about what they are doing. These players are using their platform to raise the profile of a critical issue that has long been ignored. Far from being selfish or “pampered,” they are sacrificing anonymity, endorsements, and personal peace to be a voice for those whose voices are often marginalized or altogether silenced. They also have been subjected to racist hate speech and death threats. Robb also ignores that, while these men are professional athletes, many of them are also black men who have dealt with police violence or racial profiling in their own lives.
But that’s not the sum of the awful. It’s NFL owners, not players, who have been “pampered” by being allowed to fleece billions from the public through “taxpayer-subsidized stadiums.” These owners have also hired an army of DC lobbyists to make sure their antitrust exemptions hold. Some of us have been writing about this outrage for years. Yet Robb is suddenly waking up to this injustice because it’s a way to bash players for talking about racism. It reminds one of the way Pat Robertson can look at a 64-year-old white man who massacres 59 people at a country-music concert and somehow blame, as Robertson said, “disrespect now for our national anthem.” Watch Colin Kaepernick, before the year is out, get blamed for Hurricane Maria, gout, and the germs that cause bad breath..."
Protesting NFL Players Aren’t Being Demonized Only by Trumpers | The Nation
"Available in light grey anodized aluminum with a carbon fiber interior or a rose gold finish with white woven glass, Dell is playing up the premium angle for the XPS 13. It even comes in its own leather sleeve. The notebook is slimmer and lighter than its predecessor, however, Dell won't say just how much until CES 2018...."
New Dell XPS 13 First Look: Just Plain Prettier
Friday, October 06, 2017
Thursday, October 05, 2017
The LG Watch Style and Watch Sport are still listed within the Android Wear page, but neither of the watches are in stock or available to purchase. If you click on "shop now" next to either one, you'll see a message saying "no longer available" for both..."
As the headphone jack disappears, the obvious replacement isn’t another wire with a proprietary connector like Apple’s Lightning or the many incompatible and strange flavors of USB-C audio. It’s Bluetooth. And Bluetooth continues to suck, for a variety of reasons. Newer phones like the iPhone 8, Galaxy S8, and the Pixel 2 have Bluetooth 5, which promises to be better, but 1) there are literally no Bluetooth 5 headphones out yet, and 2) we have definitely heard that promise before. So we’ll see.
WHAT’S FAIR AND RATIONAL FOR PLATFORM VENDORS ISN’T ALWAYS GREAT FOR CONSUMERS
To improve Bluetooth, platform vendors like Apple and Google are riffing on top of it, and that means they’re building custom solutions. And building custom solutions means they’re taking the opportunity to prioritize their own products, because that is a fair and rational thing for platform vendors to do.
Unfortunately, what is fair and rational for platform vendors isn’t always great for markets, competition, or consumers. And at the end of this road, we will have taken a simple, universal thing that enabled a vibrant market with tons of options for every consumer, and turned it into yet another limited market defined by ecosystem lock-in... "
"But make no mistake: With generation two of its Pixel phone line, unveiled Wednesday in San Francisco, Google really wants to deliver the Google Phone. And by that I mean Google wants you to buy this sleek, shiny phone, on presale now, because it's designed to do something even Apple and its Jesus phone can't: tap into everything Google does well.
'Smartphones might be reaching parity in terms of specs,' Rick Osterloh, Google's hardware chief, said Wednesday during a presentation in San Francisco. So, he said, Google is focused on integrating its software and artificial intelligence tech into the hardware. 'It all starts from reimagining hardware from the inside out.'
Wednesday's presentation also saw the introduction of several other devices, including a $250 standalone camera called the Google Clips and a $400 premium version of its smart speaker, called the Google Home Max.
But Google, at its heart, is in the software business. It's world famous for its iconic search engine. People rely on it every day for Google Maps. YouTube, which Google owns, is the largest video site on the planet. Seven of its products, including the three just mentioned, boast more than a billion users. The others are Android, its mobile operating system; Google Play, its marketplace for apps and entertainment; Chrome, its web browser; and Gmail, its web-based mail service.
The new Pixel phones -- the Pixel 2, priced starting at $650, and the Pixel 2 XL, starting at $850 -- try to tap into Google's 19 years in the search business. The most intriguing tie-in doesn't even have to do with the phones themselves. On Tuesday, Google introduced Pixel Buds, a $160 set of wireless (Bluetooth) earbuds with touch and voice controls. They work with any phone.
Though they'll inevitably draw comparisons to Apple's equally priced AirPods for the iPhone, the Pixel Buds offer one feature that's exclusive to the Pixel phone: a real-time translation mode that works with Google Translate. Tap the side of the right earbud to trigger the voice controls, and say 'Help me speak French,' -- or any of the 40 other supported languages, including Greek, Swahili or Vietnamese -- then speak a phrase you want to be translated. The translated sentence comes out of the Pixel's speaker. When the person replies in French, the English translation is piped directly into your ears.
It's a neat feature. I tried it last week at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, with simple phrases like, 'How are you doing today?' I used it only very briefly, but It worked well enough. The feature isn't earth-shattering; earbuds from a company called Waverly Labs promise something similar.
But the translation feature highlights the sorts of things Google can do to try to make its phone stand out, using all the data and machine learning it's collected from billions of users over time."
Wednesday, October 04, 2017
Tuesday, October 03, 2017
Welcome to the Age of Ultra-Premium Flagships. Excellent technology post. I agree with the commentator and that is why my current Galaxy 6 Edge Plus will be my last premium phone. From now on it will be phone in the Moto G5s category. As a senior citizen I can no-longer afford prestige.
Monday, October 02, 2017
Sunday, October 01, 2017
Saturday, September 30, 2017
"Responding to President Trump’s tweet this week that “Facebook was always anti-Trump,” Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, defended the company by noting that Mr. Trump’s opponents also criticize it — as having aided Mr. Trump. If everyone is upset with you, Mr. Zuckerberg suggested, you must be doing something right.
“Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don’t like,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “That’s what running a platform for all ideas looks like.”
This doesn’t hold water at all.
Are you bothered by fake news, systematic misinformation campaigns and Facebook “dark posts” — micro-targeted ads not visible to the public — aimed at African-Americans to discourage them from voting? You must be one of those people “upset about ideas” you disagree with.
Are you troubled when agents of a foreign power pose online as American Muslims and post incendiary content that right-wing commentators can cite as evidence that all American Muslims are sympathizers of terrorist groups like the Islamic State? Sounds like you can’t handle a healthy debate.
Does it bother you that Russian actors bought advertisements aimed at swing states to sow political discord during the 2016 presidential campaign, and that it took eight months after the election to uncover any of this? Well, the marketplace of ideas isn’t for everyone.
Mr. Zuckerberg’s preposterous defense of Facebook’s failure in the 2016 presidential campaign is a reminder of a structural asymmetry in American politics. It’s true that mainstream news outlets employ many liberals, and that this creates some systemic distortions in coverage (effects of trade policies on lower-income workers and the plight of rural America tend to be underreported, for example). But bias in the digital sphere is structurally different from that in mass media, and a lot more complicated than what programmers believe.
In a largely automated platform like Facebook, what matters most is not the political beliefs of the employees but the structures, algorithms and incentives they set up, as well as what oversight, if any, they employ to guard against deception, misinformation and illegitimate meddling. And the unfortunate truth is that by design, business model and algorithm, Facebook has made it easy for it to be weaponized to spread misinformation and fraudulent content. Sadly, this business model is also lucrative, especially during elections. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, called the 2016 election “a big deal in terms of ad spend” for the company, and it was. No wonder there has been increasing scrutiny of the platform.
However, at the slightest sign that Facebook might be pressured to institute at least some sensible oversight (as has happened recently in the German and French elections, when the platform mass-deleted fake accounts), right-wing groups and politicians can swiftly bring Facebook to its heels with charges of bias, because Facebook responds to such pressure as much of the traditional media do: by caving and hiding behind flimsy “there are two sides to everything” arguments.
This right-wing strategy has been used to pressure Facebook since before the presidential election. It was revealed in April 2016, for example, that Facebook was employing a small team of contractors to vet its “trending topics,” providing quality control such as weeding out blatant fake news. A single source from that team claimed it had censored right-wing content, and a conservative uproar ensued, led by organizations like Breitbart. Mr. Zuckerberg promptly convened an apologetic meeting with right-wing media personalities and other prominent conservatives to assure them the site was not biased against them.
Facebook got rid of those contractors, who were already too few for meaningful quality control. So what did it do to stem the obvious rise in the scale and scope of misinformation, fake news and even foreign state meddling on the site in the months leading up to the election? Clearly not enough — for fear, no doubt, that it would again be accused of bias.
Make no mistake: The flood of misinformation and fake news that went viral on the site was visible even to casual observers. A good chunk of such content featured outrageous claims about Hillary Clinton — that she had murdered F.B.I. agents, for example — as well as unfounded assertions that millions of undocumented immigrants were illegally voting.
Even the conservative pundit and wild-eyed conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck, of all people, has expressed befuddlement at the charge that Facebook censored conservative content. He has correctly pointed out that Facebook had been a boon for right-wing groups, especially of the alt-right and Breitbart variety. There has been no change in this state of affairs since the election. Last week, the best-performing post on Facebook was a Breitbart article that called African-American athletes protesting police misconduct “millionaire ingrates.”
While there are plenty of left-wing conspiracy theories, outright fake news and fraudulent sites are more prevalent on the right, especially the far right. Opportunist fake news producers who were creating such content purely to make money typically gave up trying to monetize left-leaning fake news because it didn’t go viral as easily on Facebook.
After the election, Mr. Zuckerberg characterized the suggestion that such misinformation campaigns played an important role in the election to be a “crazy idea.” This week, Mr. Zuckerberg reconsidered that comment, saying it was too dismissive. But his latest comments are still too dismissive, portraying those of us who are worried about misinformation campaigns and deception online as intolerant censors bothered by “ideas and content.”
A more astute observer of American politics than Mr. Zuckerberg might consider that Mr. Trump’s comments are part of an effort to depict Facebook as anti-conservative, lest outrage about the company’s role in the 2016 election prompt the site to adopt policies that would make a repeat of 2016 more difficult.
For those of us who are tolerant of a wide range of ideas and arguments, but would still like deception and misinformation to not have such an easy foothold in society, Mr. Zuckerberg’s comments do not inspire hope. Indeed, people across the political spectrum should be able to agree that not making it so easy, and so lucrative, for fake news to spread widely is better for all of us, since fake news isn’t necessarily a right-wing phenomenon. But since Facebook has no effective competition, we can look forward only to being lectured on being more tolerant of “ideas” we don’t like, and to smug talk of the false equivalency of “both sides.”
Zuckerberg’s Preposterous Defense of Facebook - The New York Times