Definitely Not Zucking Up: Well, Maybe a Little Bit

November 9, 2023

green-dino_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb humanoid. No smart software required.

I don’t pay too much attention to the outputs from CNN. However, this morning I spotted a story called “Mark Zuckerberg Personally Rejected Meta’s Proposals to Improve Teen Mental Health, Court Documents Allege.” Keep in mind that the magic word is “allege,” which could mean fakeroo.

Here’s the passage I found thought provoking:

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has personally and repeatedly thwarted initiatives meant to improve the well-being of teens on Facebook and Instagram, at times directly overruling some of his most senior lieutenants

If I interpret this statement, it strikes me that [a] the Facebook service sparks some commentary about itself within the company and [b] what a horrible posture for a senior manager to display.


An unhappy young high school student contemplates a way to find happiness because she is, according to her social media “friends”, a loser. Nice work, Microsoft Bing.

I am setting aside possible downstream effects of self mutilation, suicide, depression, drug use, and excessive use of lip gloss.

The article states:

Zuckerberg’s rejection of opportunities to invest more heavily in well-being are reflective of his data-centric approach to management, said Arturo Bejar, the former Facebook engineering director and whistleblower who leveled his own allegations last week that Instagram has repeatedly ignored internal warnings about the app’s potential harms to teens.

Management via data — That’s a bit of the management grail for some outfits. I wonder what will happen when smart software is given the job of automating certain “features” of the Zuckbook.

With the Zuck’s increasing expertise in kinetic arts, I would not want to disagree with this estimable icon of social media. My prudent posture is that an individual capable of allowing harm to young people has the capacity to up his game. I am definitely not Zucking up to this outfit even if the allegations are proved false.

Stephen E Arnold, November 9, 2023



Recent Facebook Experiments Rely on Proprietary Meta Data

September 25, 2023

When one has proprietary data, researchers who want to study that data must work with you. That gives Meta the home court advantage in a series of recent studies, we learn from the Science‘s article, “Does Social Media Polarize Voters? Unprecedented Experiments on Facebook Users Reveal Surprises.” The 2020 Facebook and Instagram Election Study has produced four papers so far with 12 more on the way. The large-scale experiments confirm Facebook’s algorithm pushes misinformation and reinforces filter bubbles, especially on the right. However, they seem to indicate less influence on users’ views and behavior than many expected. Hmm, why might that be? Writer Kai Kupferschmidt states:

“But the way the research was done, in partnership with Meta, is getting as much scrutiny as the results themselves. Meta collaborated with 17 outside scientists who were not paid by the company, were free to decide what analyses to run, and were given final say over the content of the research papers. But to protect the privacy of Facebook and Instagram users, the outside researchers were not allowed to handle the raw data. This is not how research on the potential dangers of social media should be conducted, says Joe Bak-Coleman, a social scientist at the Columbia School of Journalism.”

We agree, but when companies maintain a stranglehold on data researchers’ hands are tied. Is it any wonder big tech balks at calls for transparency? The article also notes:

“Scientists studying social media may have to rely more on collaborations with companies like Meta in the future, says [participating researcher Deen] Freelon. Both Twitter and Reddit recently restricted researchers’ access to their application programming interfaces or APIs, he notes, which researchers could previously use to gather data. Similar collaborations have become more common in economics, political science, and other fields, says [participating researcher Brendan] Nyhan. ‘One of the most important frontiers of social science research is access to proprietary data of various sorts, which requires negotiating these one-off collaboration agreements,’ he says. That means dependence on someone to provide access and engage in good faith, and raises concerns about companies’ motivations, he acknowledges.”

See the article for more details on the experiments, their results so far, and their limitations. Social scientist Michael Wagner, who observed the study and wrote a commentary to accompany their publication, sees the project as a net good. However, he acknowledges, future research should not be based on this model where the company being studied holds all the data cards. But what is the alternative?

Cynthia Murrell, September 25, 2023

Meta Being Meta: Move Fast and Snap Threads

July 31, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_tNote: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

I want to admit that as a dinobaby I don’t care about [a] Barbie, [b] X [pronouced “ech” or “yech”], twit, or tweeter, [c] Zuckbook, meta-anything, or broken threads. Others seem to care deeply. The chief TWIT (Leo Laporte) — who is valiantly trying to replicate the success of the non-advertising “value for value” model for podcasting — cares about the Tweeter. He can be the one and only TWIT; the Twitter is now X [pronouced “ech” or “yech”], a delightful letter which evokes a number of interesting Web sites when auto-fill is relying on click popularity for relevance. Many of those younger than I care about the tweeter; for instance, with Twitter as a tailwind, some real journalists were able to tell their publisher employers, “I am out of here.” But with the tweeter in disarray does an opportunity exist for the Zuck to cause the tweeter to eXit?

7 30 x marks the spot 1

A modern god among mortals looks at the graffito on the pantheon. Anger rises. Blood lust enflames the almighty. Then digital divinity savagely snarls, “Attack now. And render the glands from every musky sheep-ox in my digital domain.  Move fast, or you will spend one full day with Cleggus Bombasticus. And you know that is sheer sheol.” [Ah, alliteration. But what is “sheol”?]

Plus, I can name one outfit interested in the Musky Zucky digital cage match, the Bezos bulldozer’s “real” news machine. I read “Move Fast and Beat Musk: The Inside Story of How Meta Built Threads,” which was ground out by the spinning wheels of “real” journalists. I would have preferred a different title; for instance my idea is in italics, Move fast and zuck up! but that’s just my addled view of the world.

The WaPo write up states:

Threads drew more than 100 million users in its first five days — making it, by some estimations, the most successful social media app launch of all time. Threads’ long-term success is not assured. Weeks after its July 5 launch, analytics firms estimated that the app’s usage dropped by more than half from its early peak. And Meta has a long history of copycat products or features that have failed to gain traction…

That’s the story. Take advantage of the Musker’s outstanding management to create a business opportunity for a blue belt in an arcane fighting method. Some allegedly accurate data suggest that  “Most of the 100 million people who signed up for Threads stopped using it.”

Why would usage allegedly drop?

The Bezos bulldozer “real” news system reports:

Meta’s [Seine] Kim responded, “Our industry leading integrity enforcement tools and human review are wired into Threads.”

Yes, a quote to note.

Several observations:

  1. Threads arrived with the baggage of Zuckbook. Early sign ups decided to not go back to pick up the big suitcases.
  2. The persistence of users to send IXXes (pronounced ech, a sound similar to the “etch” in retch) illustrates one of Arnold’s Rules of Online: Once an online habit is formed, changing behavior may be impossible without just pulling the plug. Digital addiction is a thing.
  3. Those surfing on the tweeter to build their brand are loath to admit that without the essentially free service their golden goose is queued to become one possibly poisonous Chicken McNugget.

Snapped threads? Yes, even those wrapped tightly around the Musker. Thus, I find one of my co-worker’s quips apt: “Move fast and zuck up.”

Stephen E Arnold, July 31, 2023

Adolescent Technology Mavens: From the Cage to the Court House

July 11, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_t[1]Note: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

Ladieees and gentlemennnnn, in this corner we have the King of Space and EVs. Weighing 187.3 pounds, the Musker brings a devastating attitude and a known world class skill in naming things. With a record of three and one, his only loss was a self-inflicted KO fighting a large blue bird. Annnnd in this corner, we have the regulator’s favorite wizard, Mark the Eloquent. Weighing in at 155.7 pounds, the Zuckster has a record of 3 and 3. His losses to Cambridge Analytica, the frightening Andrea Jelinek, chair of the European Data Protection Board, and his neighbor in Hawaii who won’t sell land to the social whirlwind.

Where are these young-at-heart wizards fighting? In Las Vegas for a big pile of money? Nope. These estimable wizards will duke it out in the court house. “Scared Musk Sends Legal Threat to Meta after Threads Lures 30 Million on Launch Day” states as fresh-from-the-playground news:

Musk supplemented his tweet [] with a legal threat against Meta that echoed despair and fear in the face of his potent adversary. The lawsuit alleges Meta of enticing Twitter’s former employees — many of whom Musk dismissed without honoring severance promises — to contribute to Threads, a move that Twitter asserts infringes upon its intellectual property rights.

One big time journalist took issue with my describing the senior managers of certain high technology firms as practicing “high school science club management methods.” I wish to suggest that rumored cage fight and the possible legal dust up illustrates the thought processes of high school science club members. Yeah, go all in with those 16-year-old decision processes.

The threads are indeed tangled.

Stephen E Arnold, July 11, 2023

Facebook: Alleged Management Methods to Improve the Firm

June 20, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_t[1]Note: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

I recall learning that some employees have been locked in their offices. The idea was that incarceration would improve productivity and reduce costs. Sounds like an adolescent or high school science club management method. I spotted a couple of other examples of 2023’s contributions to modern management principles. My sources, of course, are online, and I believe everything I read online. I try to emulate ChatGPT type systems because those constructs are just wonderful.

I have no idea if the information in these two articles I will cite is on the money. Just reading them made me giddy with new found knowledge. I did not think of implementing these management tactics when I worked in an old-fashioned, eat-your-meat raw company.

6 19 modern mgmt plan

MidJourney captures the essence of modern management brilliance. Like a chess master, the here-and-now move prepares for the brilliant win at the end of the game.

The first write up is “Silicon Valley’s Shocking Substance Abuse: Facebook Managers Turned Blind Eye If They Thought It Boosted Productivity, Insider Claims, As Killing of Cash App Founder Bob Lee Exposes Hardcore Drug-Taking.” The write up in the “real news” service says:

Facebook managers turned a blind eye to substance abuse if they felt it boosted productivity, an insider has claimed, as Bob Lee’s killing shines a light on hardcore drug culture in Silicon Valley. Dave Marlon, who founded one of the largest addiction recovery centers in the US and has worked with several Facebook employees, alleges that managers at the tech giant knew about workers taking drugs in the office but accepted it as part of the culture. He told that what he would describe as ‘severe substance abuse’ was referred to in the industry as the ‘quirks of being a tech employee’.

Facebook? Interesting.

The second write up points out that the payoff for management is what I call RIF’ing or reduction in force methods. This is a variation of you don’t belong here or Let them go. The write up is titled “Meta Lost a Third of Its AI Researchers Over the Last Year. Now It’s Struggling to Keep Up” reports:

Zuckerberg dubbed 2023 the “year of efficiency” in a February earnings release. Meta laid off over 11,000 employees in November, and continued to shut down projects in the months that followed.

The efficiency tactic has worked. There are fewer people working on smart software. The downside? Nothing significant other than watching other companies zoom farther ahead on the Information Superhighway.

To recap: Facebook allegedly combined “looking the other way” with “efficiency.” Quite a management one-two. As a dinobaby, these innovative techniques are difficult for me to comprehend. I hope that neither write up captures the essence of the Facebook way. Well, sort of hope.

Stephen E Arnold, June 20, 2023

Is It Lights Out on the Information Superhighway?

April 26, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumbNote: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

We just completed a lecture about the shadow web. This is our way of describing a number of technologies specifically designed to prevent law enforcement, tax authorities, and other entities charged with enforcing applicable laws in the dark.

Among the tools available are roulette services. These can be applied to domain proxies so it is very difficult to figure out where a particular service is at a particular point in time. Tor has uttered noises about supporting the Mullvad browser and baking in a virtual private network. But there are other VPNs available, and one of the largest infrastructure service providers is under what appears to be “new” ownership. Change may create a problem for some enforcement entities. Other developers work overtime to provide services primarily to those who want to deploy what we call “traditional Dark Web sites.” Some of these obfuscation software components are available on Microsoft’s GitHub.

I want to point to “Global Law Enforcement Coalition Urges Tech Companies to Rethink Encryption Plans That Put Children in Danger from Online Abusers.” The main idea behind the joint statement (the one to which I point is from the UK’s National Crime Agency) is:

The announced implementation of E2EE on META platforms Instagram and Facebook is an example of a purposeful design choice that degrades safety systems and weakens the ability to keep child users safe. META is currently the leading reporter of detected child sexual abuse to NCMEC. The VGT has not yet seen any indication from META that any new safety systems implemented post-E2EE will effectively match or improve their current detection methods.

From my point of view, a questionable “player” has an opportunity to make it possible to enforce laws related to human trafficking, child safety, and related crimes like child pornography. The “player” seems interested in implementing encryption that would make government enforcement more difficult, if not impossible in some circumstances.

The actions of this “player” illustrate what’s part of a fundamental change in the Internet. What was underground is now moving above ground. The implementation of encryption in messaging applications is a big step toward making the “regular” Internet or what some called the Clear Web into a new version of the Dark Web. Not surprisingly, the Dark Web will not go away, but why develop Dark Web sites when Clear Web services provide communications, secrecy, the ability to transmit images and videos, and perform financial transactions related to these data. Thus the Clear Web is falling into the shadows.

My team and I are not pleased with ignoring appropriate and what we call “ethical” behavior with specific actions to increase risks to average Internet users. In fact, some of the “player’s actions” are specifically designed to make the player’s service more desirable to a market segment once largely focused on the Dark Web.

More than suggestions are needed in my opinion. Direct action is required.

Stephen E Arnold, April 26, 2023

The Chivalric Ideal: Social Media Companies as Jousters or Is It Jesters?

April 12, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumbNote: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

As a dinobaby, my grade school education included some biased, incorrect, yet colorful information about the chivalric idea. The basic idea was that knights were governed by the chivalric social codes. And what are these, pray tell, squire? As I recall Miss Soapes, my seventh grade teacher, the guts included honor, honesty, valor, and loyalty. Scraping away the glittering generalities from the disease-riddled, classist, and violent Middle Ages – the knights followed the precepts of the much-beloved Church, opened doors for ladies, and embodied the characters of Sir Gawain, Lancelot, King Arthur, and a heaping dose of Hector of Troy, Alexander the Great (who by the way figured out pretty quickly that what is today Afghanistan would be tough to conquer), and baloney gathered by Ramon Llull were the way to succeed.

Flash forward to 2023, and it appears that the chivalric ideals are back in vogue. “Google, Meta, Other Social Media Platforms Propose Alliance to Combat Misinformation” explains that social media companies have written a five page “proposal.” The recipient is the Indian Ministry of Electronics and IT. (India is a juicy market for social media outfits not owned by Chinese interests… in theory.)

The article explains that a proposed alliance of outfits like Meta and Google:

will act as a “certification body” that will verify who a “trusted” fact-checker is.

Obviously these social media companies will embrace the chivalric ideals to slay the evils of weaponized, inaccurate, false, and impure information. These companies mount their bejeweled hobby horses and gallop across the digital landscape. The actions evidence honor, loyalty, justice, generosity, prowess, and good manners. Thrilling. Cinematic in scope.

The article says:

Social media platforms already rely on a number of fact checkers. For instance, Meta works with fact-checkers certified by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), which was established in 2015 at the US-based Poynter Institute. Members of IFCN review and rate the accuracy of stories through original reporting, which may include interviewing primary sources, consulting public data and conducting analyses of media, including photos and video. Even though a number of Indian outlets are part of the IFCN network, the government, it is learnt, does not want a network based elsewhere in the world to act on content emanating in the country. It instead wants to build a homegrown network of fact-checkers.

Will these white knights defeat the blackguards who would distort information? But what if the companies slaying the inaccurate factoids are implementing a hidden agenda? What if the companies are themselves manipulating information to gain an unfair advantage over any entity not part of the alliance?

Impossible. These are outfits which uphold the chivalric ideals. Truth, honor, etc., etc.

The historical reality is that chivalry was cooked up by nervous “rulers” in order to control the knights. Remember the phrase “knight errant”?

My hunch is that the alliance may manifest some of the less desirable characteristics of the knights of old; namely, weapons, big horses, and a desire to do what was necessary to win.

Knights, mount your steeds. To battle in a far off land redolent with exotic spices and revenue opportunities. Toot toot.

Stephen E Arnold, April 2023

Does a LLamA Bite? No, But It Can Be Snarky

February 28, 2023

Everyone in Harrod’s Creek knows the name Yann LeCun. The general view is that when it comes to smart software, this wizard wrote or helped write the book. I spotted a tweet thread “LLaMA Is a New *Open-Source*, High-Performance Large Language Model from Meta AI – FAIR.” The link to the Facebook research paper “LLaMA: Open and Efficient Foundation Language Models” explains the innovation for smart software enthusiasts. In a nutshell, the Zuck approach is bigger, faster, and trained without using data not available to everyone. Also, it does not require Googzilla scale hardware for some applications.

That’s the first tip off that the technical paper has a snarky sparkle. Exactly what data have been used to train Google and other large language models. The implicit idea is that the legal eagles flock to sue for copyright violating actions, the Zuckers are alleged flying in clean air.

Here are a few other snarkifications I spotted:

  1. Use small models trained on more data. The idea is that others train big Googzilla sized models trained on data, some of which is not public available
  2. The Zuck approach an “efficient implementation of the causal multi-head attention operator.” The idea is that the Zuck method is more efficient; therefore, better
  3. In testing performance, the results are all over the place. The reason? The method for determining performance is not very good. Okay, still Meta is better. The implication is that one should trust Facebook. Okay. That’s scientific.
  4. And cheaper? Sure. There will be fewer legal fees to deal with pesky legal challenges about fair use.

What’s my take? Another open source tool will lead to applications built on top of the Zuckbook’s approach.

Now the developers and users will have to decide if the LLamA can bite? Does Facebook have its wizardly head in the Azure clouds? Will the Sages of Amazon take note?

Tough questions. At first glance, llamas have other means of defending themselves. Teeth may not be needed. Yes, that’s snarky.

Stephen E Arnold, February 28, 2023

More on the AI Betamax Versus VHS Dust Up

February 2, 2023

24 Seriously Embarrassing Hours for AI” gathers four smart software stumbles. The examples are highly suggestive that some butchers have been putting their fingers on the scales. The examples include the stage set approach to Tesla’s self driving and OpenAI’s reliance on humans to beaver away out of sight to make outputs better. In general I agree with the points in the write up.

However, there is one statement which attracted my yellow high light pen like a sci-fi movie tractor beam. Here it is:

Sometimes the slower road is the better road.

It may be that the AI TGV has already left the station and is hurtling down the rails from Paris to Nimes. Microsoft announced that the lovable Teams video chat and Swiss Army knife of widgets will be helping users lickity split. Other infusions are almost certain to follow. Even airlines are thinking smart software. Airlines! These outfits lose luggage with bar codes. Perhaps AI will help, but I remain skeptical. How does one lose a bag with a bar code in our post 9/11 world?

The challenge for Google, Facebook (which wants to be a leader in AI), and the other organizations betting their investors’ money on AI going to take a “slower road”?

My TGV high speed train reference is not poetical; it is a reflection of the momentum of information. The OpenAI machine — with or without legerdemain — is rolling along. OpenAI has momentum. With foresight or dumb luck, Microsoft is riding along.

The “slower road” echoes Google’s conservative approach. Remember that Google sacrificed credibility in AI with the Dr. Timnit Gebru affair. Like a jockey with a high value horse, the beast is now carrying lead pads. Combine that with bureaucratic bloat and concern for ad revenues, I am not sure Google and some other outfits can become the high twitch muscled creature needed to cope with market momentum.

Betamax was better. Well, it did not dominate the market. VHS was pushed into the ditch, but that required time and technological innovation. The AI race is not over but the “slow” angle is late from the gate.

Stephen E Arnold, February 2, 2023

Does Google Have the Sony Betamax of Smart Software?

January 30, 2023

Does Google have the Sony Betamax of smart software? If you cannot answer this question as well as ChatGPT, you can take a look at “VHS or Beta? A Look Back at Betamax, and How Sony Lost the VCR Format War to VHS Recorders.” Boiling down the problem Sony faced, let me suggest better did not win. Maybe adult content outfits tipped the scales? Maybe not? The best technology does not automatically dominate the market.

googzilla betamax fixed

Flash forward from the anguish of Sony in the 1970s and the even more excruciating early 1980s to today. Facebook dismisses ChatGPT as not too sophisticated. I heard one of the big wizards at the Zuckbook say this to a Sillycon Alley journalist on a podcast called Big Technology. The name says it all. Big technology, just not great technology. That’s what the Zuckbooker suggested everyone’s favorite social media company has.

The Google has emitted a number of marketing statements about more than a dozen amazing smart software apps. These, please, note, will be forthcoming. The most recent application of the Google’s advanced, protein folding, Go winning system is explained in words—presumably output by a real journalist—in “Google AI Can Create Music in Any Genre from a Text Description.” One can visualize the three exclamation points that a human wanted to insert in this headline. Amazing, right. That too is forthcoming. The article quickly asserts something that could have been crafted by one of Googzilla’s non-terminated executives believes:

MusicLM is surprisingly talented.

The GOOG has talent for sure.

What the Google does not have is the momentum of consumer craziness. Whether it the buzz among some high school and college students that ChatGPT can write or help write term papers or the in-touch outfit Buzzfeed which will use ChatGPT to create listicles — the indomitable Alphabet is not in the information flow.

But the Google technology is better.  That sounds like a statement I heard from a former wizard at RCA who was interviewing for a job at the blue chip consulting firm for which I worked when I was a wee lad. That fellow invented some type of disc storage system, maybe a laser-centric system. I don’t know. His statement still resonates with me today:

The Sony technology was better.

The flaw is that the better technology can win. The inventors of the better technology or the cobblers who glue together other innovations to create a “better” technology never give up their convictions. How can a low resolution, cheaper recording solution win? The champions of Sony’s technology complained about fairness a superior resolution for the recorded information.

I jotted down this morning (January28, 2023), why Googzilla may be facing, like the Zuckbook, a Sony Betamax moment:

  1. The demonstrations of the excellence of the Google smart capabilities are esoteric and mean essentially zero outside of the Ivory Tower worlds of specialists. Yes, I am including the fans of Go and whatever other game DeepMind can win. Fan frenzy is not broad consumer uptake and excitement.
  2. Applications which ordinary Google search users can examine are essentially vaporware. The Dall-E and ChatGPT apps are coming fast and furious. I saw a database of AI apps based on these here-and-now systems, and I had no idea so many clever people were embracing the meh-approach of OpenAI. “Meh,” obviously may not square with what consumers perceive or experience. Remember those baffled professors or the Luddite lawyers who find smart software a bit of a threat.
  3. OpenAI has hit a marketing home run. Forget the Sillycon Alley journalists. Think about the buzz among the artists about their potential customers typing into a search box and getting an okay image. Take a look at Googzilla trying to comprehend the Betamax device.

Toss in the fact that Google’s ad business is going to have some opportunities to explain why owning the bar, the stuff on the shelves, the real estate, and the payment system is a net gain for humanity. Yeah, that will be a slam dunk, won’t it?

Perhaps more significantly, in the post-Covid crazy world in which those who use computers reside, the ChatGPT and OpenAI have caught a big wave. That wave can swamp some very sophisticated, cutting edge boats in a short time.

Here’s a question for you (the last one in this essay I promise): Can the Google swim?

Stephen E Arnold, January 30, 2023

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