The Confluence: Big Tech, Lobbyists, and the US Government

March 13, 2023

I read “Biden Admin’s Cloud Security Problem: It Could Take Down the Internet Like a Stack of Dominos.” I was thinking that the take down might be more like the collapses of outfits like Silicon Valley Bank.

I noted this statement about the US government, which is

embarking on the nation’s first comprehensive plan to regulate the security practices of cloud providers like Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Oracle, whose servers provide data storage and computing power for customers ranging from mom-and-pop businesses to the Pentagon and CIA.

Several observations:

  1. Lobbyists have worked to make it easy for cloud providers and big technology companies to generate revenue is an unregulated environment.
  2. Government officials have responded with inaction and spins through the revolving door. A regulator or elected official today becomes tomorrow’s technology decision maker and then back again.
  3. The companies themselves have figured out how to use their money and armies of attorneys to do what is best for the companies paying them.

What’s the consequence? Wonderful wordsmithing is one consequence. The problem is that now there are Mauna Loas burbling in different places.

Three of them are evident: The fragility of Silicon Valley approach to innovation. That’s reactive and imitative at this time. The second issue is the complexity of the three body problem resulting from lobbyists, government methods, and monopolistic behaviors. Commercial enterprises have become familiar with the practice of putting their thumbs on the scale. Who will notice?

What will happen? The possible answers are not comforting. Waving a magic wand and changing what are now institutional behaviors established over decades of handcrafting will be difficult.

I touch on a few of the consequences in an upcoming lecture for the attendees at the 2023 National Cyber Crime Conference.

Stephen E Arnold, March 13, 2023

Is Intelware Square Dancing in Israel?

March 10, 2023

It is a hoe down. Allemande Left. Do Si Do. Circle Left.  Now Promenade. I can hear the tune in “NSO Group Co-Founder Emerges As New Majority Owner.” My toe was tapping when I read:

Omri Lavie – the “O” in NSO Group … appears to have emerged as the company’s new majority owner. Luxembourg filings show that Lavie’s investment firm, Dufresne Holding, is – for now – the sole owner of a Luxembourg-based holding company that ultimately owns NSO Group.

What’s the company’s technology enable? The Guardian says:

Pegasus can hack into any phone without leaving an obvious trace, enabling users to gain access to a person’s encrypted calls and chats, photographs, emails, and any other information held on a phone. It can also be used to turn a phone into a remote listening device by controlling its recorder.

Is the Guardian certain that this statement embraces the scope of the NSO Group’s capabilities? I don’t know. But the real newspaper sounds sure that it has its facts lined up.

Was the transition smooth? Well, there may have been some choppy water as the new owner boarded. The article reports:

[The] move follows in the wake of multiple legal fights between NSO and a US-based financial company that is now known as Treo, which controls the equity fund that owns a majority stake in NSO. A person familiar with the matter said Treo had been alerted to the change in ownership of the company’s shares in a recent letter by Lavie, which appears to have caught the financial group by surprise. The person said Treo was still trying to figure out the financial mechanism that Lavie had used to assume control of the shares, but that it believed the company’s financial lenders had, in effect, ceded control of the group to the Israeli founder.

I find it interesting when the milieu of intelligence professionals intersects with go-go money people. Is Treo surprised.

Allemande Right. Do Si Do. Promenade home.

Stephen E Arnold, March 10, 2023

Google: Code Redder Because … Microsoft Markets AI Gooder

March 6, 2023

Don’t misunderstand. I think the Chat GPT search wars are more marketing than useful functionality for my work. You may have a different viewpoint. That’s great. Just keep in mind that Google’s marvelous Code Red alarm was a response to Microsoft marketing. Yep, if you want to see the Sundar and Prabhakar Duo do some fancy dancing, just get your Microsoft rep to mash the Goose Google button.

Someone took this advice and added “AI” to the truly wonderful Windows 11 software. I read “Microsoft Adds “AI” to Taskbar Search Field” and learned that either ChatGPT or a human said:

In the last three weeks, we also launched the new AI-powered Bing into preview for more than 1 million people in 169 countries, and expanded the new Bing to the Bing and Edge mobile apps as well as introduced it into Skype. It is a new era in Search, Chat and Creation and with the new Bing and Edge you now have your own copilot for the web. Today, we take the next major step forward adding to the incredible breadth and ease of use of the Windows PC by implementing a typable Windows search box and the amazing capability of the new AI-powered Bing directly into the taskbar. Putting all your search needs for Windows in one easy to find location.

Exciting because lousy search will become milk, honey, sunshine, roses, and French bulldog puppies. Nope. Search is still the Bing with a smaller index than the Google sports. But that “AI” in the search box evokes good thoughts for some users.

For Google, the AI in the search box mashes the Code Red button. I think that if that button gets pressed five times in quick succession, the Google goes from Code Red to Code Super Red with LED sparkles.

Remember this AI search is marketing at this time in my frame of reference.

Microsoft is showing that Google is not too good at marketing. I am now mashing the Code Red button five times. Mash. Mash. Mash. Mash. Mash. Now I can watch Googzilla twitch and hop. Perhaps the creature will be the opening act in the Sundar and Prabhakar Emergency Output Emission Explanation Tour. Did you hear the joke about Microsoft walks into a vegan restaurant and says, “Did you hear the joke about Google marketing?” The server says, “No.” The Softie replies, “Google searched for marketing in its search engine and couldn’t get a relevant answer.”

Ho, ho

Stephen E Arnold, March 6, 2023

Bard Is More Than You and I Know

March 6, 2023

I have to hand it to the real news outfit CNBC, the reporters have a way of getting interesting information about the innards of Googzilla. A case in point is “Google Execs Tell Employees in Testy All Hands Meeting That Bard A.I. Isn’t Just about Search.” Who knew? I thought Google was about online advertising and increasing revenue. Therefore, my dinobaby mind says, Bard is part of the Google; it follows that Bard is about advertising and maybe – just maybe – will have an impact of search. Nope.

I learned from CNBC:

In an all-hands meeting on Thursday (March 2, 2023), executives answered questions from Dory, the company’s internal forum, with most of the top-rated issues related to the priorities around Bard… [emphasis added]

Gee, I wonder why?

The write up pointed out:

employees criticized leadership, most notably CEO Sundar Pichai, for the way it handled the announcement of Bard

Oh, the Code Red, the Paris three star which delivered a froid McDo. (Goodness, I almost type “faux”.)

CNBC’s article added:

Staffers called Google’s initial public presentation [in Paris] “rushed,” “botched” and “un-Googley.”

Yeah, maybe faux is the better word, but I like the metaphor of a half cooked corporatized burger as well.

And the guru of Google Search, Prabhakar Raghavan, stepped out of the spotlight. A Googler named Jack Krawczyk, the product lead for Bard, filled in for the crowd favorite from Verity and Yahoo

. Mr. Krawczyk included in his stand up routine with one liners like this:

Bard is not search.

Mr. Krawczyk must have concluded that his audience was filled with IQ 100 types from assorted countries with lousy educational systems. I thought Googlers were exceptional. Surely Googlers could figure out what Bard could do. (Perhaps that is the reason for the employees’ interest in smart software:

Mr. Krawczyk quipped:

“It’s an experiment that’s a collaborative AI service that we talked about … “The magic that we’re finding in using the product is really around being this creative companion to helping you be the sparkplug for imagination, explore your curiosity, etc.”

CNBC pointed out that Mr. Krawczyk suggested the Google had “built a new feature for internal use called ‘Search It.’” That phrase reminded me of universal search which, of course, means separate queries for Google News, Google Scholar, Google Maps, et al. Yeah, universal search was a snappy marketing phrase but search has been a quite fragmented, relevance blind, information retrieval system.

The high value question in my opinion, is: Will “Search It” have the same cachet as ChatGPT?

Microsoft seems to be an effective marketer of to-be smart applications and services. Google, on the other hand, hopes I remember Mum or Ernie (not the cartoon character)?

Google, the Code Red outfit, is paddling its very expensive canoe with what appears to be desperation.

Net net: Google has not solved death and I am not sure the company will resolve the Microsoft / ChatGPT mindshare juggernaut. Here’s my contribution to the script of the next Sundar and Prabhakar Comedy Show: “We used to think Google was indecisive. But now we’re not so sure.”

Stephen E Arnold, March 6, 2023

Another Xoogler, Another Repetitive, Sad, Dispiriting Story

March 2, 2023

I will keep this brief. I read “The Maze Is in the Mouse.” The essay is Xoogler’s lament. The main point is that Google has four issues. The write up identifies these from a first person point of view:

The way I see it, Google has four core cultural problems. They are all the natural consequences of having a money-printing machine called “Ads” that has kept growing relentlessly every year, hiding all other sins. (1) no mission, (2) no urgency, (3) delusions of exceptionalism, (4) mismanagement.

I agree that “ads” are a big part of the Google challenge. I am not sure about the “mouse” or the “maze.”

Googzilla emerged from an incredible sequence of actions. Taken as a group, Google became the poster child for what smart Silicon Valley brainiacs could accomplish. From the git-go, Google emerged from the Backrub service. Useful research like the CLEVER method was kicking around at some conferences as a breakthrough for determining relevance. The competition was busy trying to become “portals” because the Web indexing thing was expensive and presented what seemed to be an infinite series of programming hoops. Google had zero ways to make money. As I recall, the mom and dad of Googzilla tried to sell the company to those who would listen; for example, the super brainiacs at Yahoo. Then the aha moment. GoTo.com had caused a stir in the Web indexing community by selling traffic. GoTo.com became Overture.com. Yahoo.com (run by super brainiacs, remember) bought Overture. But Yahoo did have the will, the machinery, or the guts to go big. Yahoo went home. Google went big.

What makes Google the interesting outfit it is are these points in my opinion:

  • The company was seemingly not above receiving inspiration from the GoTo.com, Overture.com, and ultimately Yahoo.com “pay to play” model. Some people don’t know that Google was built on appropriated innovation and paid money and shares to make Yahoo’s legal eagles fly away. For me, Google embodied intellectual “flexibility” and an ethical compass sensitive to expediency. I may be wrong, but the Google does not strike me as being infused with higher spirits of truth, justice, and the American way Superman does. Google’s innovation boils down to borrowing. That’s okay. I borrow, but I try to footnote, not wait until the legal eagles gnaw at my liver.
  • Google management, in my experience, were clueless about the broader context of their blend of search and advertising. I don’t think it was a failure of brainiac thinking. The brainiacs did not have context into which to fit their actions. Larry Page argued with me in 1999 about the value of truncation. He said, “No truncation needed at Google.” Baloney. Google truncates. Google informed a US government agency that Google would not conform to the specifications of the Statement of Work for a major US government search project. A failure to meet the criteria of the Statement of Work made Google ineligible to win that project. What did Google do? Google explained to the government team that the Statement of Work did not apply to Google technology. Well, Statements of Works and procurement works one way. Google did not like that way, so Google complained. Zero context. What Google should have done is address each requirement in a positive manner and turn in the bid. Nope, operating independent of procurement rules, Google just wanted to make up the rules. Period. That’s the way it is now and that’s the way Google has operated for nearly 25 years.
  • Google is not mismanaged from Google’s point of view. Google is just right by definition. The management problems were inherent and obvious from the beginning. Let me give one example: Vendors struggled with the Google accounting system 20 or more years ago. Google blamed the Oracle database. Why? The senior management did not know what they did not know and they lacked the mental characteristic of understanding that fact. By assuming Googlers were brainiacs and the dorky Google intelligence test, Googlers could solve any problem. Wrong. Google has and continues to make decisions like a high school science club planning an experiment. Nice group, just not athletes, cheerleaders, class officers, or non nerd advisors. What do you get? You get crazy decisions like dumping Dr. Timnit Gebru and creating the Stochastic Parrot conference as well as Microsoft making Bing and Clippy on steroids look like a big deal.

Net net: Ads are important. But Google is Google because of its original and fundamental mental approach to problems: We know better. One thing is sure in my mind: Google does not know itself any better now than it did when it emerged from the Backrub “borrowed” computers and grousing about using too much Stanford bandwidth. Advertising is a symptom of a deeper malady, a mental issue in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold,March 2, 2023

Subscription Thinking: More Risky Than 20-Somethings Think

March 2, 2023

I am delighted I don’t have to sit in meetings with GenX, GenY, and GenZ MBAs any longer. Now I talk to other dinobabies. Why am I not comfortable with the younger bright as a button humanoids? Here’s one reason: “Volkswagen Briefly Refused to Track Car with Abducted Child Inside until It Received Payment.”

I can visualize the group figuring out to generate revenue instead of working to explain and remediate the fuel emission scam allegedly perpetrated by Volkswagen. The reasoning probably ran along the lines, “Hey let’s charge people for monitoring a VW.” Another adds: “Wow, easy money and we avoid the blow back BMW got when it wanted money for heated seats.”

Did the VW young wizards consider downsides of the problem? Did the super bright money spinning ask, “What contingencies are needed for a legitimate law enforcement request?” My hunch is that someone mentioned these and other issues, but the team was thinking about organic pizza for lunch or why the coffee pods were plain old regular coffee.

The cited article states:

The Sheriff’s Office of Lake County, Illinois, has reported on Facebook about a car theft and child abduction incident that took place last week. Notably, it said that a Volkswagen Atlas with tracking technology built in was stolen from a woman and when the police tried asking VW to track the vehicle, it refused until it received payment.

The company floundered and then assisted. The child was unharmed.

Good work VW. Now about software in your electric vehicles and the emission engineering issue? What do I hear?

The sweet notes of Simon & Garfunkel “Sound of Silence”? So relaxing and stress free: Just like the chatter of those who were trying to rescue the child.

No, I never worry about how the snow plow driver gets to work, thank you. I worry about incomplete thinking and specious methods of getting money from a customer.

Stephen E Arnold, March 2, 2023

Apple and Google: Money Buys Happiness

February 20, 2023

I read a story published by something called NBC Bay Area. My hunch it is the NBCUniversal, which is a property of the fantastic Comcast outfit. The article is “A Student Used ChatGPT to Cheat in an AI Ethics Class.” My first thought is that whoever pulled off the cheat is an ideal candidate for the super trustworthy pair of Apple and Google.

Why trust?

Consider the allegedly accurate information in “Report: Apple Gets a Cut of Search Revenue from Chrome As Part of Secret Google Deal.” No, this is not the money Google pays Apple to be the search engine in Safari. This “secret” is the alleged kickback from searches “made through some of Google’s own app.” Who cares? My hunch is that the European Union will show an interest in this type of deal if the report is accurate.

Next consider “Google Continued to Ramp Up Federal Lobbying Spending before DOJ Filed Second Antitrust Lawsuit.” Am I surprised? Not really. The write up says:

In the last two years, Google’s parent company ramped up annual lobbying expenditures by nearly 50% — spending more than $13 million on federal lobbying in 2022 alone.

I wonder if Google is trying to exert some influence? I don’t know but with Google cutting costs and telling people in Europe that ChatGPT is not thinking clearly, I wonder if the lobbying money might be put into other projects.

Now back to the ethics of using smart software to cheat in an ethics course about smart software.

Perfect for work at Apple and Google. A few may become lobbyists.

Stephen E Arnold, February 20, 2023

Video: The Path to Non Understanding?

February 17, 2023

I try to believe “everything” I read on the Internet. I have learned that software can hallucinate because a Google wizard says so. I understand that Sam Bankman Fried tried to do “good” as he steered his company to business school case study fame.  I embrace the idea that movie stars find synthetic versions of themselves scary. Plus, I really believe the information in “Study: TikTok Increasingly Popular among Kids.” But do we need a study to “prove” what can be observed in a pizza joint, at the gym, or sitting at an interminable traffic light?

Here are some startling findings which are interesting and deeply concerning to me:

  1. From all app categories, children spent the most time on social media daily, averaging 56 mins/day, followed by online video apps (45 mins/day), and gaming (38 mins/day). [That adds up to the same amount of time spent exercising, reading books about nuclear physics, and working on calculations about Hopf fibrations or about two and one half hours per day.]
  2. While children increasingly spent more time on social media and video streaming apps, time on communications apps fell, with time on Zoom dipping by 21 per cent, and Skype by 37 per cent. [Who needs to interact when there are injections of content which can be consumed passively. Will consumers of digital media develop sheep-like characteristics and move away from a yapping Blue Heeler?]
  3. 70 per cent of parents assert that screens and technology are now a distraction from family time, and device use causes weekly or daily arguments in over 49 per cent of households. [Togetherness updated to 2023 norms is essential for a smoothly functioning society of thumbtypers.]

The numbers seem to understate the problem; for example, people of any age can be observed magnetized to their digital devices in these settings:

  1. Standing on line anywhere
  2. Sitting on an exercise machine at 7 am absorbing magnetizing digital content
  3. Attending a Super Bowl party, a bar, or in a lecture hall
  4. Lying on a gurney waiting for a medical procedure
  5. Watching a live performance.

What do the data suggest? A fast track to non comprehension. Why understand when one can watch a video about cutting shuffle dance shapes? Who controls what target sees specific content? Is framing an issue important? What if an entity or an AI routine controls content injection directly into an individual’s brain? Control of content suggests control of certain behaviors in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, February 17, 2023

Google Pushback: Malik Aforethought?

February 16, 2023

High school reunions will be interesting this year — particularly in a country where youthful relationships persist for life. I read “A Well Known Tech Blogger and Venture Capitalist Says It Might Be Time for Google to Find a New CEO.” The write up includes a sentence I found intriguing about Sundar Pichai, the Google digital leader:

“Google’s board, including the founders, must ask: is Pichai the right guy to run the company, or is it time for Sundar to go? Does the company need a more offense minded CEO? Someone who is not satisfied with status quo, and willing to break some eggs?”

The Microsoft ChatGPT marketing thunderbolt may well put asunder Sundar.

The write up quotes the pundit Om Malik again:

“Google seems to have dragged its feet. The botched demo and lack of action around AI are symptoms of a bigger disease — a company entrapped in its past, inaction, and missed opportunities.”

Imagine. Attending a high school graduation hoe down in Mumbai and having to explain:

  1. Microsoft’s smart software scorched earth method
  2. Missing an “opportunity”
  3. Criticism from one of Silicon Valley’s most loved insiders.

Yep, long evening.

Stephen E Arnold, February 16, 2023

Prabhakar in Paris: An Expensive Google Trip

February 13, 2023

Paris has good restaurants, and it has quite a few alert, well-educated people. So why did Google take the Prabhakar Smart Search Show to the City of Light? “Google Employees Criticize CEO Sundar Pichai for Rushed, Botched Announcement of GPT Competitor Bard” does not have an answer for me or for others either.

The write up states:

Staffers took to the popular internal forum Memegen [an in house Google thing] to express their thoughts on the Bard announcement, referring to it as “rushed,” “botched” and “un-Googley,” according to messages and memes viewed by CNBC.

But here’s the killer comment:

During Google’s Wednesday event, search boss Prabhakar Raghavan briefly shared some slides with examples of Bard’s capabilities. People tuning in expected to hear more, and some employees weren’t even aware of the event. One presenter forgot to bring a phone that was required for the demo. Meanwhile, people on Twitter began pointing out that an ad for Bard offered an incorrect description of a telescope used to take the first pictures of a planet outside our solar system.

Is Prabhakar the Red Skelton of smart software infused search? By the way, the turning point for Googzilla was the interaction between the company and Dr. Timnit Gebru. If you have not read the stochastic parrot, you may find it interesting.

Polly want Google management to be organized? Squawk:

Dear Sundar, the Bard launch and the layoffs were rushed, botched, and myopic…. [now make parrot sounds]

The next high school reunion for Sundar and Prabhakar will be interesting indeed.

Stephen E Arnold, February 13, 2023

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