Information Overload: Get Used to It

September 30, 2020

Modern humans have access to more information than any other generation before them. Better and more access to information is directly proportional to humanity’s technological progress. Scientific American’s article, “Unlimited Information Is Transforming Society” explores the correlation between technology and information.

Scientific and technological progress did not advance in the past as it does today. Any revelation was developed through craft traditions that contributed to humanity’s survival or daily tasks easier. Technology as we know it came about:

“In the late 1800s matters changed: craft traditions were reconstructed as “technology” that bore an important relation to science, and scientists began to take a deeper interest in applying theories to practical problems.”

Technology and science still did not work in tandem for years despite the parallels. For example, aviation was pioneered before scientists understand aeronautical science. The common belief was that machines weighing more than air could not fly.

What advanced science and technology the most in the past 175 years was the manipulation of energy and matter. The movement of energy and matter thus moved information and ideas. The best example of this is electricity, which led to then event of telecommunications devices, familiarly known as televisions, telegraphs, radios, and televisions. Electricity also changed manufacturing (moving factories away from water powered systems) and people’s daily lives from traveling to entertainment.

Computing would be the next big information mover and spreader. Nuclear energy and space travel were predicted to be the next big shake-ups, but the Cold War, a few nuclear meltdowns, and lack of funding for more space-related projects/earthly concerns were a few reasons they did not.

Everything is related (not in a conspiracy related way), but in how one sector of life affects another, such as electricity leading to television’s invention:

“That said, one change that is already underway in the movement of information is the blurring of boundaries between consumers and producers. In the past the flow of information was almost entirely one-way, from the newspaper, radio or television to the reader, listener or viewer. Today that flow is increasingly two-way—which was one of Tim Berners-Lee’s primary goals when he created the World Wide Web in 1990. We “consumers” can reach one another via Skype, Zoom and FaceTime; post information through Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat; and use software to publish our own books, music and videos—without leaving our couches.”

There is more information and access to it and this has also led to a more convenient way of life brought on by technological advances. Technology that also used to be available to a limited number of people, such as computers (remember big old monstrosities that took up entire building floors and processed 30 MB), are in the hands of children. Lines are blurring between the experts and the amateurs, public and private, male and female, etc. What does that mean for the future? One thing we do know is that we cannot predict that.

Whitney Grace, September 30, 2020

Modern Behavior

July 17, 2020

I read “The Modern Day Mind Killer.” The write up contained an interesting factoid. In a Rona world, the good old buffet line may become problematic. Nevertheless, here’s the item:

I recently came across a study of the behavior of people in a buffet line. The results blew me away. At the average breakfast buffet, the first item was taken by 75% of the diners (even when the order of the items was reversed). Two-thirds of all the food taken came from the first three items, regardless of how long the buffet was.

The author points out:

We are less in control of our actions and decisions than we think we are.

This seems like a useful observation.

Stephen E Arnold, July 17, 2020

Google and Social: Peanut Butter and Jelly?

July 10, 2020

We read with interest “Google+ Rebranded as Google Currents: Check New App Features.” Google’s Orkut was a fascinating service. Certain interesting users in Brazil made it a semi-hit, particularly among law enforcement officers. Then there were other social services, most notably Google + or Plus. Searching for symbols was clever. Close enough but I wrote out the plus. A word. Easy to search.

Google Plus bit the dust, but the write up points out that Google Plus is now Currents. Either electric chair type or flowing water. Maybe berries?

We noted this statement in the article:

Google+, although never exactly a successful platform, was marred by two major data leaks, potentially exposing data of tens of millions of users to outside developers. One leak that was kept secret for months, and the other one, which leaked the data of 52.5 million people, prompted Google to prepone [sic] the shutdown by four months.

“Prepone” caught our eye, but the write up does remind one about Google’s security capabilities.

The killer factoid in the write up warranted a blue circle with a pen and one exclamation point:

Google has, on multiple occasions, acknowledged that Google+ has not been able to meet the expectations. In a blog post in October, Google’s Ben Smith wrote that 90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds long.

Five seconds. Interesting. Definitely not sticky.

Stephen E Arnold, July 10, 2020

Will Insurance Companies Tie Rates to Rage?

July 7, 2020

The community-driven navigation app Waze, owned by Google, has refreshed its design. The company changed up the color scheme, logos, icons, and typeface—the sort of tweaks one would expect to keep users engaged. One particular change, however, is more intriguing. Engadget reveals, “Waze Lets Drivers Display their Moods in the App.” That could prove to be very useful information for some advertisers, individuals, and government entities. Writer Christine Fisher reports:

“Waze is also adding something called Moods, a feature that will ‘capture users’ emotions.’ ‘Celebrating the passion and authenticity of its users, Waze hopes that the update will harness the “humanness” that can often be lost within inhumane traffic conditions,’ the company wrote in a press release. It’s unclear if Moods will be shared with nearby Waze users. Letting other drivers know how you feel doesn’t necessarily sound like a great idea, but for the most part the Mood icons look too cute to induce serious road rage. ‘Hopefully our new look reminds users of the magic of our community and the way we work together for better,’ said Jake Shaw, head of creative at Waze.”

The icons are indeed very cute, we’ll give them that, and touting the “magic of community” sounds delightful. But giving away even more personal data seems like a bad idea to those of us who understand how various entities can use seemingly benign personal details. Founded in 2007, Waze is based in the San Francisco Bay area. Google bought the company for $966 million in 2013.

Cynthia Murrell, July 7, 2020

Bloomberg on Trump and Twitter: News or Advice from Left Field?

June 1, 2020

I read “Twitter-Trump Spat Signals New Chapter for Social Media.” News, Dear Abby, or a wanna be consultant CxO memo? The write up has a news hook: “Twitter Inc. added a fact-check warning label to two of president’s posts about mail-in voting.  In response, Trump threatened in a set of tweets Wednesday to “strongly regulate or close” down social-media platforms.”

What’s interesting about the write up is that the “news” story shoots into an interesting direction: Consulting and legal advice combined in one “real news” story:

Now, with another presidential election just months away, they made a calculated gamble that it was time to take a stand. It will be hard to retreat from here. When the dust settles, Trump’s threats will likely be seen as political theater without any lasting ramifications for Twitter’s business. Technology companies will challenge the president’s executive order in court on the grounds he can’t unilaterally change precedent without Congressional approval.

Is this Bloomberg’s official position? Nah, that would imply accountability for using news as a platform for a well written blog type commentary. The “author” has an email address, but Bloomberg adds:

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Fascinating. “Real news” with advice, a slightly “annoyed parent” tone, and a disclaimer. Hey, we published this, but we are not really backing up the writer or the content. Are we on the “Verge” of a new type of “real news”?

There you go.

Stephen E Arnold, June 1, 2020

Biased? You Betcha

March 11, 2020

Fact checkers probably have one of the hardest jobs, especially with today’s 24/7 access news stream. Determining what the facts are is difficult and requires proper research. Fact checkers, however, have a tougher nut to crack with confirmation bias a.k.a. this article from Nieman Lab: “The Fact-Checker’s Dilemma: Humans Are Hardwired To Dismiss Facts That Don’t Fit Their Worldview.”

The article opens with a poignant statement about polarized, insulated ideological communities ratified by their own beliefs. Some examples of these communities are autism is caused by vaccines, global warming is a hoax, and different political mish mash.

Refuting false information should be simple, especially with cold, hard facts, but that is not the case. Political, religion, ethnicity, nationality, and other factors influence how and what people believe. What is the cause behind this behavior?

“The interdisciplinary study of this phenomenon has exploded over just the past six or seven years. One thing has become clear: The failure of various groups to acknowledge the truth about, say, climate change, isn’t explained by a lack of information about the scientific consensus on the subject. Instead, what strongly predicts denial of expertise on many controversial topics is simply one’s political persuasion.”

What is astonishing is this:

“A 2015 metastudy showed that ideological polarization over the reality of climate change actually increases with respondents’ knowledge of politics, science, and/or energy policy. The chances that a conservative is a climate change denier is significantly higher if he or she is college-educated. Conservatives scoring highest on tests for cognitive sophistication or quantitative reasoning skills are most susceptible to motivated reasoning about climate science.”

While the above example is about conservatives, liberals also have their own confirmation bias dilemmas. This behavior is also linked to primal human behaviors, where, in order to join a social group, humans had to assimilate the group’s beliefs and habits. Personally held prejudices do affect factual beliefs and these can be anything from politics, religion, etc.

Unwelcome information also increases people to cling to wrong information. Anything that threatens an established system encourages close minded thinking. This also gives rise to deniers and conspiracy theories that can also be regarded as fact, when there is not any information to support it.

It is basic human behavior to reject anything that threatens strongly held interests, dogmas, or creeds giving way to denial. Politicians manipulate that behavior to their benefit and the average individual does not realize it. “Waking up “ or becoming aware how the human brain works in relation to confirmation bias is key to overcoming false facts.

Whitney Grace, March 11, 202

China Develops Suicide Detecting AI Bot

December 10, 2019

Most AI bots are used for customer support, massive online postings, downloading stuff, and criminal mischief. China has found another use for AI bots: detecting potential suicides. The South China Morning Post shared the article, “This AI Bot Finds Suicidal Messages On China’s Weibo, Helping Volunteer Psychologists Save Lives.” Asian countries have some of the world’s highest suicide rates. In order to combat death, Huang Zhisheng created the Tree Hole bot in 2018 to detect suicidal messages on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. Tree Hole bot finds potential suicide victims posting on Weibo, then connects them with volunteers to discuss their troubles. Huang has prevented more than one thousand suicides.

In 2016, 136,000 people committed suicide in China, which was 17% of world’s suicides that year. The World Health Organization states that suicide is the second leading cause of death in people ages 15-29. Other companies like Google, Facebook, and Pinterest have used AI to detect potential suicidal or self-harmers, but one of the biggest roadblocks are privacy concerns. Huang notes that saving lives is more important than privacy.

The Tree Hole bot works differently from other companies to find alarming notes:

“The Tree Hole bot automatically scans Weibo every four hours, pulling up posts containing words and phrases like “death”, “release from life”, or “end of the world”. The bot draws on a knowledge graph of suicide notions and concepts, applying semantic analysis programming so it understands that “not want to” and “live” in one sentence may indicate suicidal tendency.

In contrast, Facebook trains its AI suicide prevention algorithm by using millions of real world cases. From April to June, the social media platform handled more than 1.5 million cases of suicide and self-injury content, more than 95 per cent of which were detected before being reported by a user. For the 800,000 examples of such content on Instagram during the same period, 77 per cent were first flagged by the AI system first, according to Facebook, which owns both platforms.”

Assisting potential suicide victims is time consuming and Huang is developing a chatbot that can hopefully take the place of Tree Hole volunteers. Mental health professionals argue that an AI bot cannot take the place of a real human and developers point out there is not enough data to make an effective therapy bot.

Suicide prevention AI bots are terrific, but instead of making them volunteer only would it be possible, at least outside of China to make a non-profit organization staffed by professionals and volunteers?

Whitney Grace, December 10, 2019

Who Owns the Future? Leonardos That Is Who

November 25, 2019

I found “The Future Belongs to Polymaths” oddly disturbing. The message is that people who are really smart and have mastered many field will own the future. People like Leonardo Da Vinci were identified to me in grade school as really smart people. I think one of my teachers, maybe Miss Soapes introduced the concept of Renaissance man to me in the fourth grade. This was good because I had missed two or three years of regular grade school because my family lived in Brazil. My local school had no provisions for an English speaker beyond “Yankee, go home.” My Calvert Course teacher died from an insect bite with complication from some obscure disease. Renaissance anything I wasn’t.

But the write up states:

Still, it’s clear that whenever we have had giants like Aristotle, Galileo, and Da Vinci, the contributions they made even in specialized fields may not have been made in the same way if they hadn’t attacked a problem with a diverse inventory of mental knowledge and understanding. Polymaths see the world differently. They make connections that are otherwise ignored, and they have the advantage of a unique perspective.

I think Facebook, Google, and the other members of the FAANG hire polymaths.

What’s the result?

Perhaps the reality created by polymaths is not so good for the other 99.8 percent of the population?

Here are some reassuring thoughts:

Now, in a world where Artificial Narrow Intelligence systems are going to displace most routine, specialized work, it isn’t too much of stretch to assume that this skill of learning to learn across disciplines may just be the difference between those who reinvent themselves and those who don’t. In fact, chances are that our current distinctions between disciplines will start to fade away and new ones will arise. Many of them will likely reside between areas that aren’t currently covered by specialization.

And the point of the write up is?

Stephen E Arnold, November 25, 2019

Thin is In: Just Not for Software

October 20, 2019

Editor’s Note: This item is neither search nor cyber crime. DarkCyber found it interesting.

Scientific studies and research cannot be trusted depending on who conducts the study and who sponsors it, such as a big pharmaceutical company. Some organizations, however, do release unbiased studies that are simply the facts and research observations. The Guardian reports on a study that proves exercise does help older humans, “Older Adults Can Boost Longevity ‘With Just A Little Exercise.’”

According to the study, even a little activity such as washing the dishes, moving from one part oft house to another, and even walking to the water closet fends off death. Sedentary lifestyles have been proven through multiple studies to increase the chance for many diseases, including heart failure. A Norwegian study backs up the previous confirmed research, but this specific study concentrates on the elderly.

“It is important for elderly people, who might not be able to do much moderate-intensity activity, that just moving around and doing light-intensity [activity] [will have] strong effects and is beneficial,” said Ulf Ekelund, a professor and first author of the study at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences. However, the study finds that there is more “bang for your buck” if you engage in intense activity compared with light activity. A short stint of intense activity is viewed as beneficial as much longer periods of lesser activity.”

The Norwegian study released by the BMJ followed 36,000 people for five to six years with an average age of sixty-three years. During the study there were a total of 2,149 deaths. Participants were divided into four groups based on their active time, risk of death, with other factors taken into consideration such as sex, body-mass, socioeconomic status, and BMI. Participants who had the most intense physical activity, about 380 minutes a day, were 62% lower death rate than other groups.

The death rate increased for less physical activity in the other test groups. It is better to be physical than sitting around all day. No one messed with this study, including governments and big pharmaceutical companies. We need more tests conducted in this manner.

Now about that 65 megabyte download for Google Lens?

Whitney Grace, October 20, 2019

Understanding Social Engineering

September 6, 2019

“Quiet desperation”? Nope, just surfing on psychological predispositions. Social engineering leads to a number of fascinating security lapses. For a useful analysis of how pushing buttons can trigger some interesting responses, navigate to “Do You Love Me? Psychological Characteristics of Romance Scam Victims.” The write up provides some useful insights. We noted this statement from the article:

a susceptibility to persuasion scale has been developed with the intention to predict likelihood of becoming scammed. This scale includes the following items: premeditation, consistency, sensation seeking, self-control, social influence, similarity, risk preferences, attitudes toward advertising, need for cognition, and uniqueness. The current work, therefore, suggests some merit in considering personal dispositions might predict likelihood of becoming scammed.

Cyberpsychology at work.

Stephen E Arnold, September 6, 2019

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