Objectivity in ALGOs: ALL GONE?

April 21, 2022

Objective algorithms? Nope. Four examples.

Each of these examples signal the industrious folks who want to find, believe they have discovered, or have found ways to fiddle with objective algorithms.

Envision a world in which algorithms do more and more light and heavy lifting. Who are the winners? My thought is that it will be the clever people and their software agents. Am I looking forward to be an algo loser?

Sure, sounds like heaven. Oh, what about individuals who cannot manipulate algorithms or hire the people who can? A T shirt which says “Objectivity is ALGOne.” There’s a hoodie available. It says, “Manipulate me.”

Stephen E Arnold, April 18, 2022

Useful TikTok History: An Honest Mirror

April 21, 2022

I rejected an example of TikTok psychological nudging for my upcoming National Cyber Crime Conference. The example focuses on what is called “wlw.” If you are not familiar with this three letter designation, you can test it in a number of apps popular with young people. One interesting application of the designator is YouTube. A young person can enter “wlw” and quickly be offered a playlist of “women loving women” videos. YouTube repackaging TikTok videos? No big deal.

The write up explains the logic of TikTok too:

“Chinese tech culture is not the enemy. Chinese tech culture is an honest mirror.”

The write up “TikTok’s Parent, ByteDance, Made Fake Accounts with Content Scraped from Instagram and Snapchat, Former Employees Say.” The essay does not talk about “wlw” or related videos. What it does explain is the building blocks of the TikTok mechanism for identifying magnetic content and how that magnetic content can be used to keep users engaged.

I spotted several interesting statements in the write up; to wit:

How to train for maximum American user appeal: “the scraped content was used to train ByteDance’s powerful “For You” personalization algorithm on US-based content so that it would better reflect the preferences of US users.”

The role of the mimic tactic: “an employee lays out the reasons that the company used “fake accounts” and scraped content; among them were that the accounts could be used to test which content performed best on the platform, and that current users could mimic the scraped content to improve their own popularity.”

Jazzing creators: “…the company manipulated like and video view counts displayed in the app to make creators believe they were more popular than they were.”

The influence of the US tech cowboy culture: “”The US public and US media often attribute unethical growth strategies practiced by Chinese tech companies to ‘Chinese tech culture,’ when very often those tactics are directly copied from FAANG companies…”

TikTok’s current posture: “While we disagree with the assertions, rather than go through lengthy litigation, we’d like to focus our efforts on building a safe and joyful experience for the TikTok community.”

Interesting insight into TikTok, an online service which some in Sillycon Valley think is innocuous, good clean fun, and not set up to nudge young people’s behavior. “Wlw”? No big deal, right? YouTube emulates TikTok; TikTok emulates American models. Synergistic indeed.

Stephen E Arnold, April 21, 2022

TransUnion: Squeezing Juice from a 20-Year Regulatory Drought

April 21, 2022

I believe everything I read on the Internet. Some things I believe a whole lot, even though the information may be shaded. Navigate to “Feds sue TransUnion, Calling It Unwilling or Incapable of Operating Lawfully.” I noted this passage:

TransUnion tricked people into recurring payments after previously being fined for the activity, the consumer watchdog agency said…

The company’s position echoes the emissions from some high-technology firms:

TransUnion dismissed the claims as “meritless,” saying the allegations “in no way reflect the consumer-first approach we take to managing of our businesses.”

Let’s not regulate or let the financial information sector self regulate. Both are great ideas.

Now let’s think about a government which can manage a large firm operating within its borders. The allegation is that the estimable TransUnion ignored guidelines, suggestions, and rules. Why? Maybe too expensive or just annoying bureaucratic clap trap?

Several observations:

  1. What other firms have adopted the TransUnion approach to treating their customers in a fair and ethical way?
  2. Does the US government see the irony of a commercial enterprise doing what it wants and then having the government sue the company so that it modifies its behavior?
  3. Will TransUnion modify its executive incentive program and make obeying the guidelines, suggestions, and rules of a federal agency important?

I can answer all three questions. My answer: Nope.

Stephen E Arnold, April 21, 2022

Google Web Search Quality

April 20, 2022

The cat is out of the bag. The Reddit threat “Does Anyone Else Think Google Search Quality Has Gone Downhill Fast?” provides an interesting series of comments about “quality.”

The notion of “search quality” in the good old days involved gathering a corpus of text. The text was indexed using a system; for example, Smart or maybe Personal Bibliographic software. Test queries would be created in order to determine how the system displayed search results. The research minded person would then examine the corpus and determine if the result set returned the best matches. There are tricks those skilled in the art could use to make the test queries perform. One would calculate precision and recall. Bingo metrics. Now here’s the good part. Another search system would be used to index the content; for example, something interesting like the “old” Sagemaker, the mainframe fave IBM STAIRS III, or Excalibur. The performance of the second system would be compared to the first system. One would do this over time and generate precision and recall scores which could be compared. We used to use a corpus of Google patents, and I remember that Perfect Search (remember that one, gentle reader) outperformed a number of higher profile and allegedly more advanced systems.

I am not sure Reddit posts are into precision and recall, but the responses to the question about degradation of Google search quality is fascinating. Those posting are not too happy with what Google delivers and how the present day Googley search and retrieval system works. Thank you, Prabhakar Raghavan, former search wizard executive at Verity (wow, that was outstanding) and the individual who argued with a Bear Stearns’ managing director and me about how much better Yahoo’s semantic technology was that Google’s. Raghavan was at Yahooooo then and we know how wonderful Yahoo search was!)

Hewer’s a rundown of some of the issues identified in the Reddit thread:

  • From PizzaInteraction: “always laugh when I enter like 4 search terms and all the results focus on just one of the terms.”
  • Healthy-Contest-1605: “Every algorithm is being gamed to have their trash come out in top.”
  • Cl0udSurfer: “the usual tricks like adding quotes around required words, or putting a dash in front of words that should be excluded don’t work anymore.”

Net net: This is the Verity-Yahoo trajectory. Precision and recall? Ho ho ho. What about disclosing when a source was indexed and updated? What about Boolean operators? What about making as much money as possible so one can go to a high school reunion and explain the wonderfulness one’s cleverness? What happened to Louis Monier, Sanjay Ghemawat, and the Backrub crowd?

Stephen E Arnold, April 20, 2022

Google Responds to Amazon Product Search Growth

April 20, 2022

Here is a new feature from Google, dubbed Lens, we suspect was designed to win back product-search share from Amazon. TechCrunch reveals, “Google’s New ‘Multisearch’ Feature Lets You Search Using Text and Images at the Same Time.” The mobile-app feature, now running as a beta in the US, is available on Android and iOS. As one would expect, it allows one to ask questions or refine search results for a photo or other image. Writer Aisha Malik reports:

“Google told TechCrunch that the new feature currently has the best results for shopping searches, with more use cases to come in the future. With this initial beta launch, you can also do things beyond shopping, but it won’t be perfect for every search. In practice, this is how the new feature could work. Say you found a dress that you like but aren’t a fan of the color it’s available in. You could pull up a photo of the dress and then add the text ‘green’ in your search query to find it in your desired color. In another example, you’re looking for new furniture, but want to make sure it complements your current furniture. You can take a photo of your dining set and add the text ‘coffee table’ in your search query to find a matching table. Or, say you got a new plant and aren’t sure how to properly take care of it. You could take a picture of the plant and add the text ‘care instructions’ in your search to learn more about it.”

Malik notes this feature is great for times when neither an image nor words by themselves produce great Google results—a problem the platform has wrestled with. Lens employs the company’s latest ready-for-prime-time AI tech, but the developers hope to go further and incorporate their budding Multitask Unified Model (MUM). See the write up for more information, including a few screenshots of Lens at work.

Cynthia Murrell, April 20, 2022

MBAs and Security Professionals: A New Opportunity?

April 18, 2022

I am not sure how quickly this information will diffuse into MBA programs and venture firms enjoying their stakes in cyber security firms. But the info will arrive, and it will add brio to PowerPoint sales decks.

A Centralized Surveillance System That Keeps Up with Your Business Growth” states:

A robust surveillance system is undoubtedly an essential component to safeguarding businesses’ securities and assets.

These data come from a research firm of which I have never heard. Never mind that. The key point is that there will be 50 percent growth going forward.

What new planning, equipment, and software are needed? Check out this shopping list:

  1. Cameras
  2. Storage
  3. Maintenance

One may want to add additional legal fees unless one is running a business in an environment in which total surveillance is already a requirement.

Exciting stuff for consultants too, if the research is accurate. And the sponsor? Synology. Interesting marketing angle for storage. Just capture everything?

Stephen E Arnold, April 18, 2022

Online Advertising: A Yesterday Business? What?

April 12, 2022

Heresy, sour grapes, truth? It is often difficult to tell even with experts explaining disinformation without stumbling over baloney in college textbooks, news in esteemed entities’ publications, and outputs from Facebook’s chief truth stater.

I read “I Stopped Advertising Everywhere and Nothing Happened.” I thought some of the information was pretty close to dead center; for example, the title of the article. The key phrase was “nothing happened.”

Now things did happen; these events were not visible to the author of the write up. The sales professional handling the account had to report a downturn in spend. That person had to explain the downturn. Maybe the sales professional found him- her- them-self invited to find his her them future elsewhere? (I do struggle with New Speak.)

The write up points out:

Some multi-national organizations have turned off hundreds of millions of pounds of advertising, and seen, no discernible change in sales or conversion.

I underlined this passage:

be aware that in the direct to consumer market, instant conversions are hard.

Do the vendors of online advertising opportunities explain that online advertising may not work as the advertisers’ believe? Nope. The reason in my opinion is that online advertising like full page print ads in a Wall Street Journal type of publication is an artifact from the ruins of Madison Avenue. The chatter about data and hard numbers disguises a simple shift: TikTok-type influencers, athletes wearing stuff after the game, and nudges from YouTube-type outputs are carrying the water. Online advertising has to look as if it is objective and influencer approved to work. Your mileage may vary, particularly if you are the 20 something charged with buying online advertising run by old managers who are living in a world described in a brain filled with accounting tricks and MBA baloney.

Here’s a test: Name the SUV model advertised on YouTube when you searched for “suv.” Give up?

Stephen E Arnold, April12, 2022

What about the Alphabet Google DeepMind Personnel Zeitgeist? The What?

April 5, 2022

Ah, has, do you remember that zeitgeist (a popular word among some college student embroiled in German philosophy)? Zeitgeist apparently means “to a form of supraindividual mind at work in the world and developed in the cultural world view which pervades the ideas, outlooks, and emotions of a specific culture in a particular historical period.” But you knew that, right? Supraindividual. Cultural world. Pervasive in a specific culture. Let’s accept this Psychology Dictionary definition and move forward, shall we?

Google AI Unit’s High Ideals Are Tainted With Secrecy” captures the spirit of Alphabet Google DeepMind implicit systems and methods for personnel management. (You may have to pay to view this story. The collection of money befits the cowboy-hatted Big Dog who has an interest in the real news outputs of the Washington Post.) The main idea in the write up is less that Google is secretive and more that Google makes situational decisions and refused to talk about the thought process behind them. Surprise? Nope.

The write up states:

The former DeepMind employee wrote that she was threatened with disciplinary action if she spoke about her complaint with her manager or other colleagues. And the process of the company’s sending her notes and responding to her allegations took several months, during which time the person she reported was promoted and received a company award. DeepMind said in a statement that while it “could have communicated better throughout the grievance process,” a number of factors including the Covid pandemic and the availability of the parties involved contributed to delays.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda — perfect in grade school explanations about a failure, less impressive from a very large, super sophisticated outfit with smart software and wizards occupying hip workspaces. (What about those cubbies for people which allow a door to be closed? Privacy, please!)

The write up includes another of those “we don’t want to remember that” moments. This is the Mustafa Suleyman lateral arabesque. You can visit the real news source for the apparently interesting details. I must admit this incident is cut from the same fabric as the baby making in Google legal and the hooker/drug matter on a yacht called Escape. For some color around this matter, see this CBS report.

I loved this passage about one allegedly harassed Googler’s alleged interactions with co workers:

DeepMind said it is “digesting” its former employee’s open letter to understand what further action it should take. A bold and positive step would be to remove the confidentiality clauses in harassment settlements.

Consequences? Presumably authorities are letting the information work through their bureaucratic intestines. The good news: No attempted suicide, no heroin, no divorces and fatherless children, and no death — this time. Alphabet Google DeepMind want to benefit humanity. That’s great. But the Googley zeitgeist reveals the spirit of the firm in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, April 5, 2022

Facebook Defines Excellence: Also Participated?

April 5, 2022

Slick AI and content moderation functions are not all they are cracked up to be, sometimes with devastating results. SFGate provides one distressing example in, “‘Kill More’: Facebook Fails to Detect Hate Against Rohingya.” Rights group Global Witness recently put Facebook’s hate speech algorithms to the test. The AI failed spectacularly. The hate-filled ads submitted by the group were never posted, of course, though all eight received Facebook’s seal of approval. However, ads with similar language targeting Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority have made it onto the platform in the past. Those posts were found to have contributed to a vicious campaign of genocide against the group. Associated Press reporters Victoria Milko and Barbara Ortutay write:

“The army conducted what it called a clearance campaign in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2017 after an attack by a Rohingya insurgent group. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled into neighboring Bangladesh and security forces were accused of mass rapes, killings and torching thousands of homes. … On Feb. 1 of last year, Myanmar’s military forcibly took control of the country, jailing democratically elected government officials. Rohingya refugees have condemned the military takeover and said it makes them more afraid to return to Myanmar. Experts say such ads have continued to appear and that despite its promises to do better and assurances that it has taken its role in the genocide seriously, Facebook still fails even the simplest of tests — ensuring that paid ads that run on its site do not contain hate speech calling for the killing of Rohingya Muslims.”

The language in these ads is not subtle—any hate-detection algorithm that understands Burmese should have flagged it. Yet Meta (now Facebook’s “parent” company) swears it is doing its best to contain the problem. According to a recent statement sent to the AP, a company rep claims:

“We’ve built a dedicated team of Burmese speakers, banned the Tatmadaw, disrupted networks manipulating public debate and taken action on harmful misinformation to help keep people safe. We’ve also invested in Burmese-language technology to reduce the prevalence of violating content.”

Despite such assurances, Facebook has a history of failing to allocate enough resources to block propaganda with disastrous consequences for foreign populations. Perhaps taking more responsibility for their product’s impact in the world is too dull a topic for Zuck and company. They would much prefer to focus on the Metaverse, their latest shiny object, though that path is also fraught with collateral damage. Is Meta too big for anyone to hold it accountable?

Cynthia Murrell, April 5, 2022

Ommmm. The Former Tweeter Guy Says Sorry

April 3, 2022

I read an interesting Silicon Valley real news report called “Twitter Founder Jack Dorsey Said He’s Partially to Blame for Centralizing the Internet and That He Regrets It.” Gee, mea culpa. Rough wool cassock, a bit of sharp wire donned as a T shirt, and starving one in a stone cell until a certain wall decoration speaks to him? Nah, hey, regret. Cue the music:

Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption

Fade out.

The write up is an interview with the inscrutable Silicon Valley thought leader and dual CEO capable Jack Dorsey. Mr. Dorsey allegedly said:

“Centralizing discovery and identity into corporations really damaged the internet.” “I realize I’m partially to blame, and regret it,” Dorsey continued.

Cue the music:

I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh no, no, not me
I did it my way

And consequences? For some investors, payday. For Geofeedia, a bit of a downturn for sure. For some techno pundits? Win. For those who output “alternative” information? Free nudging which can be automated?

Yes, damage. Regrets. For sure.

Stephen E Arnold, April 3, 2022

« Previous PageNext Page »

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta