Technology posts

Thursday March 16, 2023

Check, Please

For years Twitter had a blue checkmark system to verify “name” accounts. Basically it was Twitter telling us that this famous person—Barack Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Meryl Streep—is who they say they are. It's not some parody account or scammer. They're verified. That's why they have a blue checkmark next to their name. 

When Elon Musk took over Twitter, he decided this vertification system smacked of elitism rather than common sense and announced that he was charging for the service. His original offer of $20 per month was lowered (during a hilarious real-time Twitter exchange with Stephen King) to $8 a month, but here's the thing: Anybody could buy itAnybody could be verified. Anybody. Elon's Twitter did zero due diligence on the accounts, just took the money and ran. The checkmark verified nothing. That wasn't the reason I left Twitter but it was happening around the time I left Twitter.

Today, at work, I got the message below from Twitter about our work account.

You've turned off two-factor authentication for [account]
This means you'll no longer have this added protection when you log in to Twitter. Your account will be more vulnerable to compromise. You can turn on two-factor authentication any time in the Account > Security section of your Twitter settings.

I forwarded the message to our social media liasion, who informed me that it relates to the blue checkmark. Now, if you don't pay for the checkmark, you lose this extra layer of security that Twitter's own team put in place (pre-Elon) to protect us all from hackers.

What an absolute shithead this guy is. What a turd. First, he makes the verification system useless while simultaneously charging for it. Then, when not enough people jump, he says if you don't pay for my now-useless verification system we'll make your account “more vulnerable to compromise.” It's penny-ante extortion is what it is. The dude is just begging to be regulated. I hope it happens soon. I hope it leads more people to jump—off the platform. Permanently.

For what it's worth, you can find me on these platforms:

I'm a little bored with both, to be honest, since not enough people I know are on them. It feels like I arrived too early to a party and I'm just standing there with a drink wondering what the fuck. But at least I don't have to deal with the whims of that little turd anymore.

Posted at 06:59 PM on Thursday March 16, 2023 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Sunday December 18, 2022

Shore Leave, 1969

In my internet wanderings I came across this film on Amazon Prime. And then I noticed something off. Can you spot it?

Doesn't the poster look like it's from the silent era rather than—as stated—1969? And isn't Richard Barthelmess an actor from the '20s and '30s? Of course he is. Of course it's a silent film. It's from 1925, not 1969.

Here's the fun part. I've spent the last week trying to get Amazon to correct this error. There's a “feedback” link on each page, so every day for the past week I sent them a note. Some version of: “The year for the movie 'Shore Leave' is incorrectly listed as 1969. It's a silent movie from 1925. Both the director and its director were dead by 1969.” Sometimes I included the link to the page in case they couldn't figure out what I was talking about. They've corrected nothing. Like all of the other mistakes they won't correct. Poor Jeff Bezos must be rolling over in his grave.

UPDATE, JAN. 5, 2023: Still not fixed. And yes, adding the year is indicative of my confidence in Amazon's QA.

Posted at 09:52 AM on Sunday December 18, 2022 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Sunday December 11, 2022

What is Domenick Lombardozzi 'Known For'?

IMDb has a new website design but not a new “Known For” algorithm. They fixed what wasn't broken and kind of broke it. The broken thing they didn't bother with.

Do you know Domenick Lombardozzi? I'll always think of him as Herc in “The Wire” because that's where I saw him most often and most memorably. I was about to say it's where I first saw him but based on his CV that's not true. But it's where I began to go, “Hey, that guy.” It's where I began to know his name. 

Not everybody has the trajectory I do, of course. I remember an old girlfriend viewed Ed Hermann differently. I was eight years older, so I saw him and went “Hey, FDR!” (“Eleanor and Frankllin,” 1976-77). She saw him and went “Hey, Head Vampire!” (“The Lost Boys,” 1987). What someone is known for to us often depends on when and in what manner we jumped on board. 

That said, I can't imagine many people see Domenick Lombardozzi and go, “Hey, it's the tow-truck driver from 'For Love of the Game'!”

No “Wire,” no “Boardwalk Empire, no ”Rosewood." I know IMDb's algorithm underplays TV series but maybe it should count the number of episodes someone was on? Feels like it might be relevant.

Anyway, thanks for the new shitty website design, guys. 

Posted at 10:23 AM on Sunday December 11, 2022 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Thursday December 08, 2022

What Kinda Stinks about Mastodon

From David Chen's SubStack piece “How Every Twitter Alternative Kinda Stinks (So Far)”:

The number one thing that stinks about Mastodon is that you have to choose a server to sign up for the service and the process of doing so right now is hopelessly broken. When you go to the page to choose a server, many of them force you to apply for an account and barely any of them seem like they align with general interests. (There are 2 servers for “Furries” but 0 servers for “Film” or “TV”). For this reason alone, I don't think Mastodon will ever be adopted by the masses unless/until a large institutional or corporate backer comes in to bring order to this chaos.

The highlighted is exactly what I found confusing and frustrating when I set up my Mastodon account last month. No film, no baseball, no ... whatevs. What server did I wind up with? I forget. (It wasn't “Furries.”) In fact, I thought I begged off at the last moment, but, no, I do have an email from Mastodon so ...

That's right, it's the CIM one. Or C.IM. Creation Innovation Masturbation or something.

Anyway, I'm there, at this name, if anyone's interested.

Posted at 05:51 PM on Thursday December 08, 2022 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Sunday December 04, 2022

Olive Gardenia Hussey

Here's another example, like the Amazon Echo thing, of companies basically saying, “No need to think, human. Our algorithm knows all.” And of course it doesn't know anything.

This time it's Google's search-bar “autocomplete prediction.” Not the autocomplete suggestion based on your past usage. This appears to be: 1) automatic, or autocompleted, without your say-so; and  2) based on nothing to do with you. It's what it thinks you're about to ask.

Here's an example. The other day I got an email from SIFF, our local festival/theater company, that highlighted movies playing this month, including something called “Black Christmas,” with a photo of a woman making a phone call. “Is that Olivia Hussey?” I wondered. So I googled “Olivia Hussey,” but this is what I saw in the search bar when I was done:

Olive Gardenia Hussey

“Sounds like a drag queen,” a friend said when I told him the story.

Essentially I'd gotten as far as “O-L-I-V” and Google assumed I wanted Olive Garden. Even though I've never googled “Olive Garden” in my life. But between the “v” and the “i” Google just went “Here.” 

There's supposedly a way to turn off autocomplete predictions, but the steps I followed led to a dead-end for me.

The bigger point is: I don't get why companies think we want them to think for us. Particularly when they're so bad at it.

Oh, and it was Olivia Hussey. “Black Christmas,” 1974, directed by Bob Clark, and starrring Hussey, Margot Kidder, Keir Dullea, John Saxon, and Andrea Martin(!): “During their Christmas break, a group of sorority girls are stalked by a stranger.”

See, was that so hard, Google?

Posted at 11:10 AM on Sunday December 04, 2022 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Thursday December 01, 2022

'…And Similar Songs': The New Effed-Up Amazon Echo Programming

I don't think I've ever used the Amazon Echo correctly or efficiently. My wife wanted it, we got it, it sits in the kitchen. Mostly I just ask it to play music or the local NPR station. And if I'm in the kitchen for a short chore—feeding the cat, for example—I might ask it to play a specific song. That way I can walk away and it'll stop on its own.

I did this at the beginning of November but instead of doing so, per normal, Alexa, the voice of Echo, responded, “Shuffling [whatever song I requested], and similar songs.”

And similar songs?

But I was busy getting ready for a trip to New York so I didn't investigate. And then I got COVID in New York. And now it's a month later.

And Echo is still doing this.

I searched online for a way out but there doesn't appear to be a way out. This product no longer plays the music you ask it to play; it plays the music it wants you to listen to.

And someone at Amazon—enough someones at Amazon—thought this was a good idea.

So what are those similar songs? How good is Amazon's algorithm? I decided to test it out. I went with a fairly obscure song by a not-at-all obscure band: “Why Don't We Do It in the Road?” by the Beatles. And Alexa said: “Shuffling 'Why Don't We Do It in the Road?,' remastered 2009, and similar songs.”

These are those similar songs, in order:

  • “Oh, Darling!” by the Beatles (Sure)
  • “Don't Stop Believin'” by Journey (Really?)
  • “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor (Oh, come on!)
  • “Livin' on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi (What's with the '80s playlist?)
  • “We Will Rock You” by Queen (Without Freddie's vocals?)
  • “Free Fallin'” by Tom Petty (Why all the g-dropping titles?)
  • “All By Myself” by Eric Carmen (OMG)
  • “Africa” but Toto (OMFG!)

And that's where I ended the experiment. Not because I wasn't curious if it could get worse than Toto, but because I ran into yet another change to Echo's programming. After saying “Alexa, next,” Alexa told me, or admonished me, thus:

“Only six skips are allowed every 60 minutes.”

And then it went back to playing the song I didn't ask it to play.

Just think what Amazon has done here. They've decided that the user should no longer be in charge of deciding what music they listen to; and if you don't like the choices it gives you, well, too bad.

I suppose I should count my blessings. When the Amazon Echo wouldn't let me skip Toto, at least it let me turn off the Amazon Echo.

For now.

Posted at 03:31 PM on Thursday December 01, 2022 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Monday November 28, 2022

Jelani and Me

It's been tough quitting Twitter. Several times a day, I have to quell the itch to put aside what I'm doing, particularly if it's difficult or boring or both, to see what's going on elsewhere, anywhere. To see what's going down. That's what Twitter did for me. It temporarily sated that insatiable emptiness—the thing that keeps saying “Feed me, feed me,” all of our inner Audrey IIs. Last week I described this to my older brother and he said it was classic addict behavior. Yep.

So it's been a little tough. But I feel better about quitting Twitter learning Jelani Cobb has done the same. He cites many of the same reasons I laid out: How it was fun for a while watching Elon Musk screw over his $44 billion investment, as he made one boneheaded decision after another; but reinstating Trump was just beyond the pale.

I like this line:

The singular virtue of the fiasco over which Musk has presided is the possibility that the outcome will sever, at least temporarily, the American conflation of wealth with intellect.

I've thought about that, too, and certainly hoped it might nudge us in that directon. At the same time, our capacity to buy into the strong man/rich man bullshit seems neverending. Gabbo? He'll tell us what to do.

Posted at 08:56 AM on Monday November 28, 2022 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Sunday November 20, 2022

My Last Tweet

I left Twitter last night. I deactivated my account. I'll have to find something else to fill my fidgety soul.

I was enjoying it, how much Elon Musk was screwing over the site he paid $44 billion for, our daily reminder of what an idiot this supposed genius is; but when he put out a poll about reinstating Donald Trump, and then took the results of that poll as gospel, tweeting pompously, “Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” or the voice of the people is the voice of God, I don't know, it just wasn't funny anymore. People who chide Musk can get booted off the platform. But the man who attempted to violently overthrow American democracy? Who shattered our shaky democratic norms? Who has made it OK for racism and anti-Semitism to creep back into the town square? And is trying to do it all over again? Sure, let's welcome him back.

That's how Musk came in, as a self-professed “free-speech absolutist” and card. He thought he was forthright and he thought he was funny. This was one of his first tweets as owner of the site:

One assumes he was alluding to “political correctness” and “wokeness.” But to give you an idea of his comedy chops, he also posted a video of himself bringing a sink into Twitter headquarters so he could tweet “Let that sink in.” I think he thought he was the cool teacher coming into the classroom whom all the kids would dig; instead he was pelted with spitballs and erasers from day one. It was glorious to watch.

Every move was wrong. Twitter has long used blue checkmarks to verify famous people are who they say they are. I.e., That's really Stephen King, not someone pretending to be Stephen King. Well, Musk thought this smacked of elitism and he wanted to charge for the service: $20 a month. When the real Stephen King balked, Musk responded, “How about $8?” I have to give Musk credit here. He's not funny, but that's the funniest thing he's ever tweeted. It's inept negotation in real time from the World's Richest Man. My favorite take on the fiasco came from Michael Schur, who said that Musk already had a platform in which the Taylor Swifts and Stephen Kings of the world gave him content for free ... and now he thought he could charge them for giving him content for free.

Worse, nothing was being verified. You just paid $8 for the blue checkmark but you could by anybody pretending to be anybody. Which, of course, is exactly what happened. Someone pretending to be George W. Bush tweeted how he missed killing Iraqis. Someone pretending to be a drug company said insulin was now free. Someone pretending to be Pepsi Co. said Coke was better. 

And tens of thousands pretended to be Elon Musk. 

And what did this self-professed free-speech abolutist do with all this? He reversed course without saying he was reversing course. He said anybody pretending to be anybody would be permanently kicked off his site. He also fired top executives, particularly those who had objected to him taking over the company, fired half the staff, then sent out SOSes for some of them to return since the company could no longer perform certain necessary functions. Meanwhile, according to James Surowiecki (“Why Elon Musk Is Blowing Up Twitter's Business”), he sought to assure big-name advertisers that his platform was a good, safe space in which to advertise.

There was also the less-funny stuff: tweeting conspiracy theories about the attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of the Speaker of the House; urging people to vote Republican to “balance things out”; blaming advertisers leaving Twitter on left-wing activist groups rather than his own ineptitude.

Then Trump. And that's where I draw the line. This was my last tweet. 

OK, so not exactly Fran Lebowitz. 

I know I'll miss it. I'll miss the real-timeness of it. I'll miss the top-notch lawyers that I followed whose legal opinions were way more straightforward and helpful than the slow, cautious, often confusing reports from the likes of the Times and Post. I'll miss thinking “I should share this” and then immediately sharing it—usually into a void. I'll miss the baseball cards and baseball talk. 

I also know I'll be better for being away from it. When I feel that need—“Is there anything now? Is there anything now? Feed me feed me feed me”—I'll just have to deal.


Posted at 09:26 AM on Sunday November 20, 2022 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Sunday October 30, 2022

Remember Menus?

I met some friends at a Wallingford bar the other night and we wanted food with our drinks. And they served food; they had a kitchen. The problem was ordering it.

The bartender told me I couldn't order through him, that I had to scan the QR code on the bar and do it that way. I looked at the thing. “What if somebody doesn't have a phone?” I asked. “Doesn't have a phone?” he said, then made a face. I told him, “Last week I went to the Chris Rock concert where they made you put your phone into one of those locked bags, so I just didn't bring it. But at the restaurant beforehand, it was a QR code for the menu so I was SOL.” The bartender told me some girl recently claimed she didn't have her phone, but she did; he saw her using it later.

Anyway, that's where we are now. Menus have apparently been around since 1100 A.D. but in less than 15 years the smartphone has all but wiped them away. At the pre-Chris Rock dinner, when I said I had no phone, they didn't bring me a menu; they brought me an iPad.

Still a few bugs in the system, too. QR stands for Quick Response but sometimes it's not quick nor a response. At the Wallingford bar, my friend tried to order for our table via the QR code but after he inputted all the orders it kept asking for our table. He would respond and it would ask again. He's the calmest person in the world but after 10 minutes he began to curse a blue streak. One of the people who worked there owned up: “Yeah, it's not you. It doesn't work right sometimes.”

In the end, we downed our drinks and walked over to Chutneys Bistro, which still has physical menus, and where I had some of the best Indian food I've had in years.

Posted at 08:48 AM on Sunday October 30, 2022 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Friday September 23, 2022

Dreaming of a High-Tech Retirement Home ... Or Is it????

I had moved into the new modern highrise where Patricia was living. It may or may not have been a senior living facility—that might have come later—but it was totally teched up. Patricia was able to come and go because of a chip they'd placed inside her, while I still had to sign in at security checkpoints and use a keycard at specific locales that she could just breeze past. There were also helpful roomba-like robots gliding around, being helpful, answering questions. 

One night we were returning to her/our place, and there was a key in the door. “Did you leave this in here when you left this afternoon?” I said, annoyed. “I must have,” she said, guiltily. (I know: key, high-tech. Anyway.) The door was unlocked but inside we could hear some voices, and in another room, a spare bedroom, my sister Karen and her husband Eric were setting things up. That's right, they were staying for a week or whatever, and we'd sent them the key. “You know, the key was still in the door,” I said. I was addressing Eric more than Karen, but his reaction was more of a shrug than a mea culpa. I tried to make them understand the import. “Patricia has all her stuff here, you know,” I said. “You can't ... It's just ... It could be dangerous ...” but I was getting nowhere. Blank stares. So I gave up. I thought about going to a neighborhood bar for a drink but remembered I was trying to drink less.

For a high-tech highrise, the place had a lot of byzantine hallways, and I was on the first floor, I guess near the kitchen, and was trying to get up to our room. An elevator door opened and I went inside and one of the roombas followed me in. But it was tiny, and as I turned to punch in our floor I saw there was only one floor you could go to. Like floor 28. I figured it was a service elevator. “Sorry, wrong one,” I said and tried to get off. But the roomba got in my way, and said, “No, this is the right one,” and the doors closed. And the roomba suddenly grew in size and grabbed me and told me all of these things I was going to do. It was in the middle of this list when it realized: “It doesn't have the chip in it.” And that's when I realized I didn't have to do all the stuff it was telling me, I had free will. So I began to punch it and punch it to let me go. It was tough, because it was metal, but I damaged it. Then I tried to figure out how not to go to floor 28. The roomba, damaged, could still be helpful. “Press the down arrow,” it said. 

In the hallways again I realized what was going on. The implants allowed them to take control of the residents, who would then sign over their wealth; and then they'd be killed or commit suicide and more rooms would open up. Did it begin as a way of dealing with a growing, aging population? And then it became this money-making enterprise? I was running through the hallways trying to find Patricia, who had a chip in her and was in danger. And now I was in danger. They knew that I didn't have the chip. And that I knew

I like how cinematic this dream is. That clues are mentioned early—me not having a chip—but in a way that made it seem like “Get with it, Erik,” rather than “This could be dangerous.” The most vivid part was the elevator scene, so cramped, and with the floor buttons, or button, around the left corner of the elevator, where it never is in real life, but where I expected it to be in this dream. I also liked how the movie went from horror (the roomba growing) to a kind of Will Smith action-adventure (me running through the hallways trying to find Patricia). Plus the grand lesson: I thought I was going to have to do all the things the roomba was telling me, but I didn't, because I still had free will. 

This was a middle-of-the-night dream—I think I woke up about 2:30, then went back to sleep—but still remembered it later. It didn't fade, as middle-of-the-night dreams often do. Possibly because, in subsequent dreams, I think I was telling people about this one. I think I was dreaming telling people about my dream.

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Posted at 07:39 AM on Friday September 23, 2022 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Tuesday August 02, 2022

Public Enemy

I did a quick search on IMDb the other day and got this:

Where was my guy? Where was my movie? I took personal umbrage.

I'll give them the rap band, particularly since I left off the definite article. It's the titles below I wonder over. How can a search for the 1931 James Cagney classic lead to: 1) a 1996 straight-to-video “Ma Barker” biopic; 2) a Belgian TV show; 3) a Korean movie.

Just crunch the numbers:


IMDb Rating

# of IMDb Ratings Awards
Public Enemies (1996) 4.4 1.2k 0
Public Enemy (TV) (2016) 7.5 1.0k 0
Public Enemy (2002) 7.1 2.3k Best Actor, Blue Dragon (S. Korea)
The Public Enemy (1931) 7.6 21.0k

AA nomination for screenplay; National Film Preservation Board

Even better is an area of IMDb called “Connections,” where users have tabulated which other movies or TV shows you might've seen a reference to this movie (or TV show). It indicates both cultural cachet and user engagement. The 1931 Cagney movie, for example, has been referenced in 85 other movies, featured in 44, spoofed in 14. The Ma Barker? Zero, zero, and zero. Same with the others. Goose eggs. Because they don't matter.

So is it all about the definite article? Does IMDb do this if you leave off the “The” in other titles? I tried “Godfather” instead of “The Godfather,” and the first result was for the '72 Coppola movie, thank god; and I tried “Exorcist” rather than “The Exorcist” and the first result was for the '73 Friedkin movie, thank god. So sometimes it works. Particularly if your title is the definite article plus one noun.

But if there's more than one word following the definite article, IMDb can't seem to fathom what you're talking about.

This is what you get with “Dark Knight” (which, not for nothing, is No. 3 on the IMDb Top 250 Movies list):

And here's my absolute favorite:

Imagine that's a conversation you're having with an actual person:

You: So the other day Jim and I were talking about that the scene in “Wizard of Oz” when the flying monkeys—
Actual Person: “Wizard of Oz”? You mean the 1985 video game? Or maybe the episode of “30-Second Bunny Theater” from 2004?
You: What?
Actual Person: How about that episode of the 1990s news program “Time & Again” with Jane Pauley?
You: Dude, I'm talking about the movie. With Judy Garland? Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion? “Over the Rainbow”? 
Actual Person: Sorry. Nothing.
You: You don't know “The Wizard of Oz.”
Actual Person: Ohhhhh, “THE Wizard of Oz.” Well, that's completely different then. I gotcha now. Please continue.

It's a conversation with a crazy person. And you'd think that a website as important as IMDb wouldn't want its search results to seem like a conversation with a crazy person.

Posted at 07:04 AM on Tuesday August 02, 2022 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Thursday February 03, 2022

What is Brad Pitt 'Known For'?

From IMDb's page on Brad Pitt:

Me: Um ... So what is it with you guys and producers anyway?

IMDb: What do you mean?

Me: Brad Pitt is one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, yet your website, the biggest, most important movie website in the world, says he's best known for producing “Ad Astra” in 2019.

IMDb: Yes.

Me: How do you figure?

IMDb: We don't. It does.

Me: The algorithm.

IMDb: Yes. You see, the “Known For” titles are automatically chosen through a complex weighting system. Some of the factors of this complex weighting system include what the job is—a credit as director will have more weight, for example, than a credit as production assistant—as well as the frequency of the credit in the context of the person's filmography.

Me: But ... Brad Pitt has 84 acting credits and 65 producing credits. He's more frequently an actor.

IMDb: Yes.

Me: And you have producing first.

IMDb: Yes.

Me: So ... [shakes head] ... does that mean a credit as a producer is given more weight than a credit as an actor?

IMDb: That's proprietary information.

Me: Because you also suggest that Tom Hanks is mostly known as a producer (of “Cast Away”) and Steven Spielberg is mostly known as a producer (of “Schindler's List”).

IMDb: Yes.

Me: Tom Hanks. The most popular actor of his generation. And Steven Spielberg. The most successful director in movie history. They're “known for” producing. 

IMDb: Yes. 

Me: How?

IMDb: It says.

Me: Where?

IMDb: On their page.

Me: That's your page.

IMDb: But users create the results.

Me: Via your algorithm!!!!

[Long pause]

[Longer pause]

Me: [Heavy sigh] So let's get at “Ad Astra” then. Why is Brad Pitt's role producing “Ad Astra” at No. 1 rather than some other movie he produced? Like “Moonlight” or “World War Z” or “12 Years a Slave”?

IMDb: Several other factors in our complex weighting system include the popularity of the title, the average user rating, and any awards won by the title.

Me: So how does that explain “Ad Astra”? Among Brad Pitt's credits, on your own website, “Ad Astra” ranks 68th by IMDb user rating, 29th by IMDb number of votes, and 19th by IMDb “popularity.” And it won no Oscars. So how do 68, 29, 19 and zero add up to 1? 

IMDb: We rely on other indicators.

Me: Which are?

IMDb: Proprietary.

[Long pause]

[Longer pause]

Me: I know this is a small thing, given all the problems in the world, but IMDb is such a trove of information about the history of cinema. It's important. You're important. But the stuff you're churning out, this stuff, is less information than misinformation. And right now we have way too much misinformation. Don't you want to try to fix it?

IMDb: That's up to yooooooouuuuuuu.

[And with that, IMDb, the biggest, most important movie website in the world, retreats back into a realm where Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are best known as producers, Peter Bogdanovich is best known as an actor, and Bo Derek, the original “10,” isn't known for “10” at all.]

Posted at 06:55 AM on Thursday February 03, 2022 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Wednesday October 06, 2021

Personalized Algorithmic Amplification and Its Discontents

“Our social media feeds are full of unbidden and fringe content, thanks to social media's embrace of two key technological developments: personalization, spurred by mass collection of user data through web cookies and Big Data systems, and algorithmic amplification, the use of powerful artificial intelligence to select the content shown to users. ...

”When data scientists and software engineers blend content personalization and algorithmic amplification — as they do to produce Facebook's News Feed, TikTok's For You tab and YouTube's recommendation engine — they create uncontrollable, attention-sucking beasts. ... They perpetuate biases and affect society in ways that are barely understood by their creators, much less users or regulators. ... Social media platforms [also] have a fundamental economic incentive to keep users engaged. This ensures that these feeds will continue promoting the most titillating, inflammatory content.

“The solution is straightforward: Companies that deploy personalized algorithmic amplification should be liable for the content these algorithms promote. This can be done through a narrow change to Section 230, the 1996 law that lets social media companies host user-generated content without fear of lawsuits for libelous speech and illegal content posted by those users.

”As [Facebook whistleblower Frances] Haugen testified, 'If we reformed 230 to make Facebook responsible for the consequences of their intentional ranking decisions, I think they would get rid of engagement-based ranking.'“

-- Roddy Lindsay, ”I Designed Algorithms at Facebook. Here's How to Regulate Them," a guest editorial in The New York Times 

Posted at 07:46 AM on Wednesday October 06, 2021 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Tuesday August 10, 2021

The Stupid Giant

My research on screenwriters Robert Lord and Wilson Mizner for “The Mind Reader” made me want to see more of their work, so I was checking out the 1933 Edward G. Robinson movie “The Little Giant” on Amazon Prime. (Review here.) First I noticed the description had a bit of wit for a change, though it's a little sloppy: “...don't let the door smack your backside on way out.” Then I noticed the three credited actors and thought, “Huh, there was an actor named Ewan McGregor back then?”

No. It's the same Ewan McGregor. Amazon Prime just has him listed in a 1933 Edward G. Robinson movie. Because Amazon.

I noticed this last week, told them about it via Twitter, it still hasn't been fixed. And yes, they, or IMDb (the same parent company), still haven't fixed the “Monster” and “Millionaire” glitches from earlier this year and last year

I know there are way worse problems in the world. But to paraphrase Hal Holbrook in “All the President's Men,” I hate inexactitude.

Posted at 08:09 AM on Tuesday August 10, 2021 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Friday February 26, 2021

Sacha Baron Cohen: 'This handful of people has the power of emperors'

“When I did bump into people from Silicon Valley at Hollywood parties—because, yeah, billionaires want to go to Hollywood parties and meet celebrities—I would try to get them in a corner and say, 'Listen, this is going on, and it's going to lead to the end of democracy.' I'd give them my whole schpiel, and they were ultimately, 'Oh, I thought you were going to be a bit funnier.'

”So at one point I had quite a heated discussion with one of them at an art gallery thing in San Francisco about Holocaust deniers, just asking why they were allowing Holocaust denying, and he said, 'No, we're not, we've sorted all that out.' And I pulled up their website and said 'What about this?' And it was a [link to a] website saying that six million was a lie; it was a Holocaust denial site. And he said, 'No, that just really shows both sides of the argument.' And I said, 'What — what argument??? There's an argument about whether the Holocaust existed?'

“You have this fundamental realization that a lot of these people, they're incredibly smart in a tiny area, but they should not be given the reins of power. I mean, it's so mad that this handful of people has the power of emperors. This period will be looked on as absurd: that government did not intervene earlier; that these people are allowed to profit off of spreading lies that lead to mass death.

”When Mark Zuckerberg says he is a defender of free speech, he is lying. The U.S. Constitution says that Congress—not companies, Congress—shall make no law abridging free speech. So that does not apply to private businesses like Twitter and Facebook. If they want to ban violent rhetoric and harassment, they have every right to do so. And the analogy I made at the ADL [speech in 2019] was that if a neo-Nazi comes goose-stepping into a restaurant and starts threatening customers and says he wants to kill Jews, the resturant owner has every legal right, and actually a moral obligation, to kick that Nazi out. And so do the internet companies. The idea that they were the defenders of free speech is ludicrous. I mean, they make editorial decisions continually. They don't allow nipples but they did allow Nazis.

“It's a lie. It's a lie that they're using to make money.”

-- Sacha Baron Cohen, “Sacha Baron Cohen Has a Message for Mark Zuckerberg,” on The New York Times website. Worth listening to.

Posted at 07:49 AM on Friday February 26, 2021 in category Technology   |   Permalink  
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