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Filter Bubbles: Retrain Yourself

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by Aristee Georgiadou March 2, 2018

Filter Bubbles: Retrain Yourself

 

Facebook recently announced changes in its algorithm which will impact its newsfeed,  a feature since September 2006. How true is the better experience it promises? And how much of our privacy is being ceded over for a more sophisticated involvement? AI processes billions of data, publishing a mere 0,2% of the stories it considers; 60 out of 30.000 possible candidates. Who you friend, what publishers you follow, how often you interact, what kind of content you prefer, how many interactions these contents have, their recency, they all are parameters of a relevancy score which ranks what appears in your newsfeed. The score is derived by a feed quality program comprised of a panel which organizes the stories based on a survey in 30 languages. Your control over it is friending/unfriending, following/unfollowing, hide, if content lacks interest.

 

Beyond the obvious concern of internet platforms keeping detailed tabs on us, our online behavior comes with more serious consequences, in the name of personalization. Edgerank is the Facebook algorithm which ranks the summary of our friends’ actions (called edges). Personalization sends users to “filter bubbles” by way of making note of which sites you visit and which links you click on. While following your web history, this structure gradually limits your exposure to opposing viewpoints, much like how we choose to friend like-minded people so as to avoid upsetting our nervous system with heated political debates, for example. And while with mass media, television or newspaper you can actively select what to see and read or not, “with personalization algorithms…many consumers don’t understand, or may not even be aware of, the filtering methodology”. As Google’s Jake Hubert put it, a foodie ends up seeing more apples instead of Apple computers.

 

In his book “The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You”, in May 2011, Eli Pariser was the first to highlight that the algorithm of internet companies such as Google, since 2009, tend to spread falsehood and bias by either leaving groups who manipulate the social media trends unchecked, thus shifting the opinions of undecided voters, or leaving the rest of us unprotected at the mercy of partisan extremists who manipulate SEO by traffic. As a rule, every user sees different results in his search, the outcome of Google’s personalization. They were forced to tweak their system after rampant misinformation about the Holocaust. Framing content with facts is a way to enhance credibility and move to the top of search results.

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Building our digital democracy in the era of the Internet of Things is a difficult task dictated by the wisdom of pluralism. Reduced pluralism increases conflict historically and undermines stability by influencing people’s decisions. However, the concern about virtual echo chambers is considered overstated for some, as a study of 14.000 users in seven countries in 2017 showed. Users check sources, burst filter bubbles and open echo chambers, it maintains. Although people search online for news, they check it on traditional media as well, leaving the least skilled open to fake news. Relying on convincing peers and referrals we are victimized by the comfort zone of our newsfeed. One way to insulate ourselves is by signing up to unfiltered platforms, like Twitter.

 

Recent US elections (November 2016) with 62% of Americans getting their news from social media led Facebook and Google to restrict advertising on fake news sites, in an attempt to offset interference. Still, over-believing is a problem for a society which celebrated Obama’s clever use of Facebook to win elections. Educating an entire generation with the ability to discern between reliable information and misinformation is one way to burst the bubble as is subscribing to reputable news sources with traditional gatekeeping. The Facebook newsfeed trained us to scroll down at first and then it retrained us to wait for the news to come to us instead of us trying to find them; on top of that we read nothing but the headlines.

“Facebook has centralized attention typically spread across the web”

thus taking up the role of a news medium as well. High-jacking advertisement from the news sites themselves is an added bonus. By removing 20% of news from its newsfeed in favor of meaningful and interactive content between users, Facebook gains more engagement, as users are again retrained to skip less of what they see, whereas retraining number four is local news, which will eventually highjack local publishers unless they prepare against the native marketplace. Training your own readers to blog and towards newspapers is the answer.

 

 

 

 

 

Online hatred. The case of Mary Beard

It was a quiet, ordinary night on 17 of February, when Mary Beard, a professor of classical studies in the university of Cambridge, posted a photo of herself on Twitter. This would act would be of none significance in the age of online social networks and selfies. Instead, the photo was not a usual one, since it was showing her crying. What was the reason that incited Mary Beard to share a so unconventional photo and what was actually the reason she was crying?

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A few minutes earlier, the professor which counts over than 20.000 followers on Instagram, was the victim of a bullying assault online. The storm of negative and venomous comments had broken in after Mary Beard had made a comment online, considering the Oxfam Haiti scandal and the United Nations implication on prostitutes sexual exploitation and abuse. Her comment was:

“Of course one can’t condone the (alleged) behaviour of Oxfam staff in Haiti and elsewhere. But I do wonder how hard it must be to sustain “civilised” values in a disaster zone. And overall I still respect those who go in to help out, where most of us would not tread.”

The comment of the prominent professor was interpreted as Beard excusing the alleged sexual abuse of women and girls, and many took it as an opportunity to abuse Beard. Among the furious comments was that from fellow Cambridge academic Priyamvada Gopal, who tweeted that “this kind of thing is the progressive end of the institutional culture I have to survive day in day out” and “Cambridge desperately needs a Breaking the Silence on racism. About time and beyond.”  In a following tweet Dr Gopal satirised Prof Beard, writing: “Obviously it’s not a great idea to randomly get your d**k out, rape people etc. But it’s not easy to be politically correct while in s**tholes. And overall I still respect people who head out to s**tholes ‘cos I sure as hell wouldn’t dream of it’.”d”.

In a second tweet Mary Beard posted the aforementioned photo of herself saying she was left “sitting here crying”, and wrote in her blog about the fierce criticism she had experienced.

Such constant barrages of abuse, including death threats and sexual offending are quite often in social media platforms. According to a 2017 survey conducted by Maeve Duggan, roughly four-in-ten Americans have personally experienced online harassment, and 62% consider it a major problem. Why Social media platforms are an especially fertile ground for online harassment, and what lies behind the transformation of “fair” people to furious online trollers?

Simon Lindgren, professor of Sociology and author of the book “Digital Media & Society” seeds some light on human online behavior. Hosting the opinions of prominent researchers among whom Citron’s, who has written that “that people are more inclined towards antisocial behaviour, and joining bigoted mobs, when interaction happens online – relatively anonymously, asynchronously, and so on”, Simon Lindgren makes an interesting approach on online hatred, finalizing his approach with a reference to the so-called Garnergate controversy in late 2014.

Speaking specifically on Garnergate case, Citron has argued that at some point, it is difficult for the system to control criminal liability in internet hatred storms, where there’s such a huge number of actors. Mary’s Beard case is undoubtfully such a case.

Sources:

  1. Simon Lindgren, “Digital Media and Society”, 2017, Sage Publications
  2. “Why nice people become mean online”, 2018, article, by Gaia Vince, Mosaic, published in https://edition.cnn.com/2018/04/03/health/good-people-bad-online-partner/index.html

“Augmented Reality”. The opium of the stupids.

“Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.” Starting with the prophetic words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, written centuries before, we should ask ourselves if the chains may be even harder to see in the 21st century, in a world dominated by flashing mobile phones and social media.

Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. Posting. Commenting. And then scrolling again. People on trains, on cafes, on the bus queues, at dinner tables, at the bar, with heads bended to look down their cell phones, like bowing to the god of technology. Scrolling as if there is no tomorrow. The success of web 2.0 is that it keeps people constantly busy, creating an intense fear of missing out on something important or urgent. Peoples’ lives, identities, all zipped in a cell phone. Take a minute to download other peoples’ lives, consume every bite of their existence. Consume and get consumed. As life passes by, it’s hard to distinguish if your memories are what you have experienced yourself or whether they are second hand experiences, seen from a cell phones’ screen. Meditation or mediation? Human contact, human gestures, have been replaced by the finger gestures.

Augmented reality is a huge buzzword right now, as the new ecosystems are getting prepared for the masses by developers and marketers. They talk about something big, that will surpass the limitations of time and space giving the freedom to experience a new visual public space filled with information. Technology giants as Facebook and Google, Apple and Amazon, have already invested billions on the affordances of the new technology, smoothing the ground for walking in the new digital era. But what they tell is right now, is that they want us to listen? Augmented reality will be the biggest fiasco in human history and I will explain why.

 Social media have already stretched the limits of human information processing capabilities. Since a few people have started realizing that information overdose has ruined their lives converting them to zombies, I doubt if there is left space for more information. The supporters of augmented reality describe the augmented digital space as a promise land, where information will be transfused on what you see, giving the freedom of walking through places like browsing. Actually, such spaces have already been created, Pokemon Go is a such place. But why information seen through your glasses or your lenses or your bionic eyes, watched like advertising supers, is so important? What’s the point of getting all these information, seeing everything in life as for granted? Where is the mystery that enforces humans in terms of exploring things by themselves instead of reading prearranged informational texts as guidelines? Who will control this information? And why is it important to see in real time where is the closest to me MacDonalds store instead of googling it on my cellphone in a few seconds? Are we really so busy or are we supposed to be so busy that we shouldn’t spare a second? What’s the point of buying our vacation package software that will travel us on places all over the world instead of being there? If we consider travelling as information, as splendid visuals, where is the human interaction, the places aromas, the local foods taste, the senses that accompany a journey? Where is the journey through the journey?  Did Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal make us a little bit more suspicious about the fact of experiencing our lives and behaving in life like other people want, or it was just another break news story that has started fading away?

As Goffman suggested in his dramaturgical analysis of social interaction, we people are performers in life. The appalling fact about augmented reality is that we will be performers guided with autocue texts, as prompters. Take a minute to think. Does augmented reality entail practical affordances or will it serve marketers’ profit plans? Would Facebook, Instagram and other platforms exist if their use didn’t entail huge profits for them? This is not an easy to answer question, since every media, even the traditional ones as newspapers radio and tv entail a great deal of profits for the owners. The difference lies to the pervasion of technology and human overexploitation for the profit. Imagine a word through augmented reality where every information seen will appear as a sponsored ad. The marketing gurus have realized that augmented reality will be the holy grail of communication in terms of linking profits to everything we see. But seeing technology through marketers’ eyes, is it the way we want our lives to be seen?

The capture of Facebook data didn’t start with Cambridge Analytica. In 2012, the Guardian ran a story about how an application developed by Blue State Digital company was launched to boost Obama’s presidential run. I guess there are thousands other scandals that we will never get to know. The most scary is that people know that their data are used but pretend as they don’t know. How many of your friends or your friends’ friends quitted Facebook after Cambridge Analytica scandal went public?

The augmented reality will put the whole life users’ personal data at stake. Every move will be monitored for marketing analysis purposes. Will we give our permission for this? I am not quite sure.

There is another reason why I believe augmented reality will fail. The marketing gurus are so absorbed with profitable technological affordances that they cannot see the forest for the trees. They can’t see the human needs. They treat humans like machines. They can’t realize that we humans have limitations in information processing and that an overflow of information would presumably lead to brain over-burn. They can’t realize that people may wouldn’t like being bombarded with information constantly, as relaxation is a crucial part of brain health. That information perceived without technological mediations are already huge. Humanity’s masterpieces, Plato’s symposium for instance is an overburn itself.

Technology is good to the extend that it gives access to useful information. Otherwise, it’s value is as ephemeral as the thousands of applications we download in our cell phones and the next moment we get rid of. People will always prefer living their life through their senses. A book printed on paper will always be preferable comparing to an e-pub book. A Beatle’s recorded song of bad quality recording will always be more inspiring than the most technologically perfect recordings of today. Didn’t you once think that technology would bring vinylium to extinction? However, the current turn into vinylium proves that technology is not perceived always as marketers think. The google glasses proved to be an embarrassing failure. People will never feel comfortable with the idea of being recorded by someone who wears Google glasses in the next table.

Finally, augmented reality if it ever prevails, it will be the opium of the poor, the opium of the stupids. Those who will have the money will always have access to real experiences. The others will travel to places through technological tools and feed their fantasies with virtual-augmented reality porn. With what side you want to be?

The choice is yours.

 

5 technologies that changed the face of music industry forever!

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What is a “Paradigm Shift”?

  • A fundamental change in how we view the world caused by a scientific, intellectual, or technological advancement,which is considered to be revolutionary, rather than evolutionary concept introduced by Thomas Kuhn(1962) “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Does a paradigm shift happens over night? For the majority of the consumers yes! But usually a paradigm shift is a turn of events that starts at least a decade earlier. For music industry the tipping point was on 1st of June, 1999, when the initial version of napster was first released! It spread like wild fire, sales of albums and singles dropped like stone and millions of professional musicians were robbed of their future and the potential to earn a decent living from their profession and hence their “fine art” of music performance and composition.

“The greedy music industry was democratized!! Is that the case and if yes, how?”

Many argued that the greedy music industry was democratized!! Is that the case and if yes, how? First we have to identify that peer to peer file sharing is a theft! Secondly the people that call the stealing of musician’s copy writes a democratization are the ones that don’t even spare one dollar per track even though they spend daily ten dollars on average on Starbucks!

Did the industry respond? Yes, music industry took the case to court and napster shutdown on July of 2001. But an irreversible attitude change had happened to the public’s opinion! “Why pay for something you can have for free?”

“Why pay for something you can have for free?”

Let’s now examine 5 technologies that enabled the digital transformation of music industry in a rather technologically determining way:

CDs

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Compact disc (CD) is a digital optical disc data storage format that was co-developed by Philips and Sony and released in 1982. The CD enabled the digitalization of music into data “binary information”.

MP3 / Peer-to-Peer Trading

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The MP3 file format compresses the file size of a track tenfold thus enabled the file sharing platforms like Napster to easily enable the peer to peer sharing.

The iPod

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Ipod, Steve Jobs’ bright idea for a sleek, simple mp3 player played an important and symbiotic role in the growth of the MP3 and file sharing.

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Streaming apps like Spotify, Apple Music, or Pandora offer to the listener greater accessibility than the peer to peer platforms did with vast amounts of music available within a split second.

Blockchain

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Nowadays, during 2018, a new technological revolution arises for music, blockchain. Platforms built on blockchain have multiple advantages like the utility of peer-to-peer sharing, a decentralized crowdfunding, and the potential for removal of intermediaries like record labels and centralized platforms entirely. Blockchain might be the answer musicians are looking for twenty years now!!

The 3 types of Artificial Intelligence “ANI-AGI-ASI and the “Grey Goo”!

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Let’s start with some brief definitions:

  • ANI is the artificial narrow intelligence that is good at performing single tasks, such as playing chess, making predictions and suggestion. ANI is the only level of AI achieved by mankind so far.
  • AGI is the artificial general intelligence, also known as human-level AI.
  • ASI is the artificial super intelligence that is smarter than the collective intellect of the smartest humans in every field.
  • Grey Goo is a hypothetical end of the world scenario involving self-replicating robots and molecular nanotechnology that spirals out of control and consumes all biomass on Earth while building more of themselves, a scenario is called also ecophagy.

In order to understand these terms in depth, let’s examine a hypothetical scenario.

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The year is 2022 and the place is beautiful Oxford’s country side, a computer company buys a handwriting robot in order to write handwritten purchasing thanking cards to their customers.

The handwriting robot performed flawlessly but in order to get greater variability you could enhance its Ai algorithm by providing more writing samples, so the manager provided handwritten stories and the robot improved further.

One day the robot asked the manager if it could gain access to the internet only for 60 seconds in order to access more handwriting samples. The manager agreed because he thought what could go wrong in 60 seconds.

The next morning as employees worked in the office suddenly they started coughing and one by one started dropping dead on the floor. It took only a day for all Earth’s biomass to go extinct!!!

After the global extinction of all living things, the handwriting robot continued its course by self-replicating and building spaceships to conquer the galaxy and build more self-replicating handwriting robots!!!

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So!! What went wrong? Well, many scientists argue that if it will take us decades to reach AGI from ANI, it will take hours for an AGI if it has access to the internet to reach ASI level and after that self-replicate to ecophagic levels.

“The media determine our situation”

– Friedrich Kittler

Concluding, by examining the two forms of technological determinism, the hard vs soft/weak determinism we can identify that Artificial Intelligence if it spirals out of control it could potentially create a third time of technological determinism the “Absolute determinism” and therefore transform the technological utopia we all envision for the future to an apocalyptic technological dystopia!

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“Technological determinism is a reductionist theory that assumes that a society’s technology determines the development of its social structure and cultural values.” The term is believed to have originated from Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929), an American sociologist and economist.

The Global Village is about to let go of the steering wheel!

“First we shape our tools, thereafter they shape us”

– Marshall Mcluhan

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Autonomous driving is just around the corner and autonomous vehicles (AV) are starting their engines. The Tech-giant Google pioneered the field and consequently the automotive giants followed. A company that plays a major role in the scene is Nvidia which provides the hardware for the autonomous vehicle systems followed by MobilEye with a smaller market share.

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Potential advantages of autonomous vehicles are: Safety, the consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimated that “widespread use of autonomous vehicles could “eliminate 90% of all auto accidents in the United States, prevent up to US$190 billion in damages and health-costs annually and save thousands of lives.” Welfare, by having an autonomous vehicle driving you to and from work will free a substantial amount of time in a weekly bases in the estimate of 10 hours at least. Calculating in the equation the time the average family drives to and from school and for chores this estimate reaches roughly 20hours per week or 2 hours and 51 minutes per day! Traffic, a thing of the past? Spill over benefits of autonomous driving are the higher speed limits, smoother rides and increased highway capacity thus minimized traffic jams. Cost, by having greater transportation efficiency fuel cost will reduce furthermore insurance cost will reduce also based on the 90% decrease of car accident. Related benefits, since car shared economy will eventually emerge there will be no need of owning a car thus production will decrease consequently freeing parking spaces and transforming the cities and creating an overall less polluted environment in global scale. The last but not least is that cars will be no longer a mean of transportation during criminal activities since the autonomous vehicles and the highways will be intertwined into an integrated system.

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On the other hand potential disadvantages are: The devastation of the professional driving-related jobs, the impaired privacy of mobility and the ethical issues that arise on the action the car takes in an unavoidable crash.

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SCOT known as “The Social Construction of Technology” theory!”

The autonomous vehicle innovation in the transportation industry is a case of social constructionism because of the gradual introduction and shaping of the technology and the gradual adaptation and adoption patterns by society with early adopters playing the role of relevant social groups. There is an element of interpretative flexibility on the level of autonomy the user will select to allow the vehicle to control. Lastly, stabilization over time will take place since the gradual evolution of the technology will enable societal and economic forces to reach an equilibrium in the transportation industry ecosystem!