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The Design of Our Future

September 26, 2016

An article at Co.Exist suggests we all pause to consider what we want our world to look like, in “We Need To Spend More Time Questioning Our Technology-Driven Future.” Along with the boundless potential of today’s fast-evolving technology come consequences, many of them unforeseen. Writer Ben Schiller cites futurist Gerd Leonhard, author of the book, Technology vs. Humanity. Far from a modern Luddite, Leonhard is a consultant for Google and a daily advocate for the wonders of advancing technology. His thorough understanding of the topic allows him to see potential pitfalls, as well.

The shape of technology today calls for society to update the way it approaches doing business, says Leonhard, and move past the “industrial-age paradigm of profit and growth at all costs, or some outmoded technological imperative that may have served us well in the 1980s.” He also points to the environmental problems created by fossil fuel companies as an example—if we aren’t careful, the AI and genetic engineering fields could develop their own “externalities,” or problems others will pay for, one way or another. Can we even imagine all the ways either of those fields could potentially cause harm?

Schiller writes of Leonhard:

The futurist outlines a philosophy he calls ‘exponential humanism’—the human equivalent of exponential technology. As a species we’re not developing the necessary skills and ethical frameworks to deal with technology that’s moving faster than we are, he says. We may be able to merge biology and technology, augment our minds and bodies, become superhuman, end disease, and even prolong life. But we’re yet to ask ourselves whether, for example, extending life is actually a good thing (as a society—there will always be individuals who for some reason want to live to 150). And, more to the point, will these incredible advances be available to everyone, or just a few people? To Leonhard, our current technological determinism—the view that technology itself is the purpose—is as dangerous as Luddism was 200-odd years ago. Without moral debate, we’re trusting in technology for its own sake, not because it actually improves our lives.

The write-up gives a few ideas on how to proactively shape our future. For example, Facebook could take responsibility for the content on its site instead of resting on its algorithm. Leonhard also suggests companies that replace workers with machines pay a tax  that would help soften the blow to society, perhaps even with a minimum guaranteed income. Far-fetched? Perhaps. But in a future with fewer jobs and more freely-available products, a market-driven economy might just be doomed. If that is the case, what would we prefer to see emerge in its place?

Cynthia Murrell, September 26, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph
There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden Web/Dark Web meet up on September 27, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233599645/

Gleaning Insights and Advantages from Semantic Tagging for Digital Content

September 22, 2016

The article titled Semantic Tagging Can Improve Digital Content Publishing on Aptara Corp. blog reveals the importance of indexing. The article waves the flag of semantic tagging at the publishing industry, which has been pushed into digital content kicking and screaming. The difficulties involved in compatibility across networks, operating systems, and a device are quite a headache. Semantic tagging could help, if only anyone understood what it is. The article enlightens us,

Put simply, semantic markups are used in the behind-the-scene operations. However, their importance cannot be understated; proprietary software is required to create the metadata and assign the appropriate tags, which influence the level of quality experienced when delivering, finding and interacting with the content… There have been many articles that have agreed the concept of intelligent content is best summarized by Ann Rockley’s definition, which is “content that’s structurally rich and semantically categorized and therefore automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable and adaptable.

The application to the publishing industry is obvious when put in terms of increasing searchability. Any student who has used JSTOR knows the frustrations of searching digital content. It is a complicated process that indexing, if administered correctly, will make much easier. The article points out that authors are competing not only with each other, but also with the endless stream of content being created on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Publishers need to take advantage of semantic markups and every other resource at their disposal to even the playing field.

Chelsea Kerwin, September 22, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph
There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden Web/Dark Web meet up on September 27, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233599645/

Elastic Links Search and Social Through Graph Capabilities

September 13, 2016

The article titled Confused About Relationships? Elasticsearch Gets Graphic on The Register communicates the latest offering from Elasticsearch, the open-source search server based on Apache’s Lucene. Graph capabilities are an exciting new twist on search that enables users to map out relationships through the search engine and the Kibana data visualization plug-in. The article explains,

By fusing graph with search, Elastic hopes to combine the power of social with that earlier great online revolution, the revolution that gave us Google: search. Graph in Elasticsearch establishes relevance by establishing the significance of each relationship versus the global average to return important results. That’s different to what Elastic called “traditional” relationship mapping, which is based on a count of the frequency of a given relationship.

Elasticsearch sees potential for their Graph capabilities in behavioral analysis, particularly in areas such as drug discovery, fraud detection, and customized medicine and recommendations. When it comes to identifying business opportunities, Graph databases have already proven their value. Discovering connections and trimming degrees of separation are all of vital importance in social media. Social networks like Twitter have been using them since the beginning of NoSQL. Indeed, Facebook is a customer of Elastic, the business version of Elasticsearch that was founded in 2012. Other users of Elasticsearch include Netflix, StumbleUpon, and Mozilla.

Chelsea Kerwin, September 13, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph
There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden Web/Dark Web meet up on September 27, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233599645/

A Snapchat Is Worth a Thousand Twitter Characters or More

September 8, 2016

The article titled Snapchat Passes Twitter in Daily Usage on Bloomberg Technology provides some insights into the most popular modes of communication. As the title suggests, that mode is not with words. Rather, 150 million people appear to prefer images to language, at least when it comes to engaging with other on social media. The article reveals,

Snapchat has made communicating more of a game by letting people send annotated selfies and short videos. It has allowed people to use its imaging software to swap faces in a photo, transform themselves into puppies, and barf rainbows… Snapchat encourages people to visit the app frequently with features such as the “Snapstreak,” which counts the number of consecutive days they’ve been communicating with their closest friends. Snapchat’s other content, such as news and Live Stories, disappear after 24 hours.

Other Silicon Valley players have taken note of this trend. Facebook recently purchased the company that built Masquerade, an app offering photo-manipulation akin to Snapchat’s. Are words on their way out? The trend of using abbreviations (“abbrevs”) and slang to streamline messaging would logically result in a replacement of language with images, which can say volumes with a single click. But this could also result in a lot of confusion and miscommunication. Words allow for a precision of meaning that images often can’t supply. Hence the crossbreed of a short note scrawled across an image.

Chelsea Kerwin, September 8, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph
There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden Web/Dark Web meet up on September 27, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233599645/

Social Media Snooping Site Emerges for Landlord and Employers

September 2, 2016

The promise of unlocking the insights in big data is one that many search and analytics companies make. CNet shares the scoop on a new company: Disturbing new site scrapes your private Facebook and informs landlords, employers. Their website is Score Assured and it provides a service as an intermediary between your social media accounts and your landlord. Through scanning every word you have typed on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or even Tinder, this service will then filter all the words through a neuro-linguistic programming tool to provide a report on your reputation. We learned,

There’s no reason to believe that Score Assured’s “analysis” will offer in any way an accurate portrayal of who you are or your financial wherewithal. States across the country are already preparing or enacting legislation to ensure that potential employers have no right to ask for your password to Facebook or other social media. In Washington, for example, it’s illegal for an employer to ask for your password. Score Assured offers landlords and employers (the employer service isn’t live yet) the chance to ask for such passwords slightly more indirectly. Psychologically, the company is preying on a weakness humans have been displaying for some time now: the willingness to give up their privacy to get something they think they really want.

Scraping and finding tools are not new, but could this application be any more 2016? The author of this piece is onto the zeitgeist of “I’ve got nothing to hide.” Consequently, data — even social data — becomes a commodity. Users’ willingness to consent is the sociologically interesting piece here. It remains to be seen whether the data mining technology is anything special.

Megan Feil, September 2, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Faster Text Classification from Facebook, the Social Outfit

August 29, 2016

I read “Faster, Better Text Classification.” Facebook’s artificial intelligence team has made available some of its whizzy code. The software may be a bit of a challenge to the vendors of proprietary text classification software, but Facebook wants to help everyone. Think of the billion plus Facebook users who need to train an artificially intelligent system with one billion words in 10 minutes. You may want to try this on your Chromebook, gentle reader.

I learned:

Automatic text processing forms a key part of the day-to-day interaction with your computer; it’s a critical component of everything from web search and content ranking to spam filtering, and when it works well, it’s completely invisible to you. With the growing amount of online data, there is a need for more flexible tools to better understand the content of very large datasets, in order to provide more accurate classification results. To address this need, the Facebook AI Research (FAIR) lab is open-sourcing fastText, a library designed to help build scalable solutions for text representation and classification.

What does the Facebook text classification code deliver as open sourciness? I learned:

FastText combines some of the most successful concepts introduced by the natural language processing and machine learning communities in the last few decades. These include representing sentences with bag of words and bag of n-grams, as well as using subword information, and sharing information across classes through a hidden representation. We also employ a hierarchical softmax that takes advantage of the unbalanced distribution of the classes to speed up computation. These different concepts are being used for two different tasks: efficient text classification and learning word vector representations.

The write up details some of the benefits of the code; for example, its multilingual capabilities and its accuracy.

What will other do gooders like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft do to respond to Facebook’s generosity? My thought is that more text processing software will find its way to open source green pastures.

What will the for fee vendors peddling proprietary classification systems do? Here’s a short list of ideas I had:

  1. Pivot to become predictive analytics companies and seek new rounds of financing
  2. Pretend that open source options are available but not good enough for real world tasks
  3. Generate white papers and commission mid tier consulting firms to extol the virtues of their innovative, unique, high speed, smart software
  4. Look for another line of work in search engine optimization, direct sales for a tool and die company, or check out Facebook.

Stephen E Arnold, August 29, 2016

Microsoft to Sunset China Search and News Services

August 22, 2016

Recent news has made clear that online content from the U.S. or any country foreign to China faces challenges in China. An article from CNN Money recently published Microsoft is giving up on its Chinese web portal. This piece informs us that Microsoft will sunset it’s MSN website in China on June 7. Through their company statement, Microsoft mentions their commitment to China remains and notes China is home to the largest R&D facility outside the U.S. An antitrust investigation on Microsoft in China has been underway since July 2014. The article shares an overview of the bigger picture,

The company’s search engine, Bing, also flopped in the country amid tough competition with homegrown rivals. It didn’t help that in Chinese, “Bing” sounds similar to the word for “sickness.

In September, Microsoft finally ditched Bing for users of its Edge browser in China, striking a deal with Chinese Internet giant Baidu (BIDU, Tech30) to use its search engine as the default.

Other Western tech firms have come under scrutiny in China before, including Qualcomm(QCOM, Tech30) and Apple (AAPL, Tech30). Social networks like Facebook (FB, Tech30) and Google (GOOG) remain blocked in the country.”

It looks like Bing will bite the dust soon, in China at least. Does this news mean anything for Microsoft as a company? While regulations China are notably stringent, the size of their population makes up a notably sized market. We will be watching to see how search plays out in China.

Megan Feil, August 22, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph     There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden /Dark Web meet up on August 23, 2016.                                                                                                                 Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233019199/

 

Improving Information for Everyone

August 14, 2016

I love it when Facebook and Google take steps to improve information quality for everyone.

I noted “Facebook’s News Feed to Show Fewer Clickbait Headlines.” I thought the Facebook news feed was 100 percent beef. I learned:

The company receives thousands of complaints a day about clickbait, headlines that intentionally withhold information or mislead users to get people to click on them…

Thousands. I am impressed. Facebook is going to do some filtering to help its many happy users avoid clickbait, a concept which puzzles me. I noted:

Facebook created a system that identifies and classifies such headlines. It can then determine which pages or web domains post large amounts of clickbait and rank them lower in News Feed. Facebook routinely updates its algorithm for News Feed, the place most people see postings on the site, to show users what they are most interested in and encourage them to spend even more time on the site.

Clustering methods are readily available. I ask myself, “Why did Facebook provide streams of clickbait in the first place?”

On a related note, the Google released exclusive information to Time Warner, which once owned AOL and now owns a chunk of Hula. Google’s wizards have identified bad bits, which it calls “unwanted software.” The Googlers converted the phrase into UwS and then into the snappy term “ooze.”

Fortune informed me:

people bump into 60 million browser warnings for download attempts of unwanted software at unsafe Web pages every week.

Quite a surprise I assume. Google will definitely talk about “a really big problem.” Alas, Fortune was not able to provide information about what Mother Google will do to protect its users. Obviously the “real” journalists at Fortune did not find the question, “What are you going to do about this?” germane.

It is reassuring to know that Facebook and Google are improving the quality of the information each provides. Analytics and user feedback are important.

Stephen E Arnold, August 13, 2016

No Dark Web Necessary

August 11, 2016

Do increased Facebook restrictions on hate speech and illegal activity send those users straight to the Dark Web? From The Atlantic comes and article entitled, American Neo-Nazis Are on Russia’s Facebook, which hints that is not always the case. This piece explains that location of an online group called “United Aryan Front” moved from Facebook to a Russia’s version of Facebook: VKontakte. The article describes a shift to cyber racism,

The move to VK is part of the growing tendency of white supremacists to interact in online forums, rather than through real-life groups like the KKK, according to Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s anti-terror Intelligence Project. Through the early 2000s, skinheads and other groups would host dozens of events per year with hundreds of attendees, she says, but now there are only a handful of those rallies each year. “People online are talking about the same kinds of things that used to happen at the rallies, but now they’re doing it completely through the web,” she said.

It is interesting to consider the spaces people choose, or are forced into, for conducting ill-intentioned activities. Even when Facebook cracks down on it, hate speech amongst other activities is not relegated solely to the Dark Web. While organized online hate speech analogous to rallies may be experiencing a surge in the online world, rallies are not the only avenue for real-world racism. At the core of this article, like many we cover on the Dark Web, is a question about the relationship between place and malicious activity.

 

Megan Feil, August 11, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden/Dark Web meet up on August 23, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233019199/

Facebook Algorithms: Doing What Users Expect Maybe

August 9, 2016

I read an AOL-Yahoo post titled “Inside Facebook Algorithms.” With the excitement of algorithms tingeing the air, explanations of smart software make the day so much better.

I learned:

if you understand the rules, you can play them by doing the same thing over and over again

Good point. But how many Facebook users are sufficiently attentive to correlate a particular action with an outcome which may not be visible to the user?

Censorship confusing? It doesn’t need to be. I learned:

Mr. Abbasi [a person whose Facebook post was censored] used several words which would likely flag his post as hate speech, which is against Facebook’s community guidelines. It is also possible that the number of the words flagged would rank it on a scale of “possibly offensive” to “inciting violence”, and the moderators reviewing these posts would allocate most of their resources to posts closer to the former, and automatically delete those in the latter category. So far, this tool continues to work as intended.

There is nothing like a word look up list containing words which will result in censorship. We love word lists. Non public words lists are not much fun for some.

Now what about algorithms? The examples in the write up are standard procedures for performing brute force actions. Algorithms, as presented in the AOL Yahoo article, seem to be collections of arbitrary rules. Straightforward for those who know the rules.

A “real” newspaper tackled the issue of algorithms and bias. The angle, which may be exciting to some, is “racism.” Navigate to “Is an Algorithms Any Less Racist Than a Human?” Since algorithms are often generated by humans, my hunch is that bias is indeed possible. The write up tells me:

any algorithm can – and often does – simply reproduce the biases inherent in its creator, in the data it’s using, or in society at large. For example, Google is more likely to advertise executive-level salaried positions to search engine users if it thinks the user is male, according to a Carnegie Mellon study. While Harvard researchers found that ads about arrest records were much more likely to appear alongside searches for names thought to belong to a black person versus a white person.

Don’t know the inside rules? Too bad, gentle reader. Perhaps you can search for an answer using Facebook’s search systems or the Wow.com service. Better yet. Ask a person who constructs algorithms for a living.

Stephen E Arnold, August 9, 2016

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