Ethicists Revealed

March 31, 2019

I did not want to release this item on April Fool’s Day. The story which caught my attention was “A Study of Ethicists Finds They’re No More Ethical Than the Rest of Us (and No Better at Calling Their Mothers).” I assume this article contains “real” facts and is “real” news. Here’s what I circled with my True Blue marker, the same one I used to annotate Kritik der Urteilskraft:

A study of 417 professors published last week in Philosophical Psychology found that, though the 151 ethics professors expressed stricter moral views, they were no better at behaving ethically.

Here’s an example of one finding:

Most people agreed that not calling one’s mother was poor form: 75% of non-philosophers, 70% of non-ethicists and 65% of ethicists thought that not doing so was immoral. And, when it came to following through, the majority did manage to contact their mothers at least twice a month: 87% of ethicists did so, alongside 81% of non-ethicist philosophers, and 89% of non-philosophers. As with most moral acts, the researchers found no clear link between ethical expertise and ethical behavior.

Remarkable information. Is it ethical to say that?

Stephen E Arnold, March 31, 2019

A Statistics Rebellion? One Can Only Hope

March 21, 2019

Yesterday I mentioned to a reporter than most smart software is “right” somewhere between 50 to 80 percent of the time. The reporter asked, “Does that mean results are incorrect half to one third of the time?”

My answer, “Probably worse.”

The reporter changed the subject. My hunch is that the hyperbole about the accuracy of smart software suggests that the systems are better than a human. Some may be better at some specific tasks.

In many cases, the number crunching chops down what a human must examine. In an age of data, chopping down what one has to examine is a very important task. For applications like online advertising, 70 percent accuracy is close enough to keep the advertiser semi happy and spending money to reach a target. For other applications like where will a bad actor commit a crime, the game is “close enough for horseshoes.”

Why talk about numbers? My observations, with which you are invited to disagree, are a prelude to my recommending that you read “Scientists Rise Up Against Statistical Significance.” Here a passage I underlined:

In 2016, the American Statistical Association released a statement in The American Statistician warning against the misuse of statistical significance and P values. The issue also included many commentaries on the subject. This month, a special issue in the same journal attempts to push these reforms further. It presents more than 40 papers on ‘Statistical inference in the 21st century: a world beyond P < 0.05’. The editors introduce the collection with the caution “don’t say ‘statistically significant’”. Another article with dozens of signatories also calls on authors and journal editors to disavow those terms. We agree, and call for the entire concept of statistical significance to be abandoned.

What if one is using a system which bakes in statistical procedures and locks them away from users? What if those procedures are introducing errors?

Tough questions for vendors of smart software.

Stephen E Arnold, March 21, 2019

Factualities for January 30, 2019

January 30, 2019

Numbers are everywhere. Believe these outputs or not.

  • One. The number of autonomous vehicles required to output the same amount of data as 3,000 non autonomous humans. Source: The New York Times
  • $21.2 million. The amount spent by Google on its DC centric lobbying in 2018. Source: Thomson Reuters
  • 57 percent. The percentage of the population trusting non governmental organizations. Source ZDNet
  • 90 percent. The percentage of VPN applications compromising user security and privacy. Source: Trusted Reviews which we trust, right?
  • $3.1 million. Funding Google has provided to Wikipedia. Google’s total funding of Wikipedia in the last 10 years has reached $75. million tax deductible dollars. Source: Wired
  • 81 percent. The percentage of Amazon’s facial recognition systems’ accuracy. Source The New York Times
  • Number five. The rank of Apple among smartphone vendors in China. Source: Macrumors
  • 50 percent. The number of fake Facebook users. Source: Zerohedge
  • $1.27 billion. amount spent by mobile users for the top 10 video streaming apps in 2018, a 62 percent increase. Source: Sensor Tower
  • Four percent. The percentage of Monero mined by bots in 2018. Source: ZDNet
  • 57 percent. The percentage of Netflix subscribers who would quit the service if Netflix ran commercials. Source: Net Imperative
  • $60 billion. Amount of money Apple spent with American manufacturers in 2018. Source: Apple Insider

Stephen E Arnold, January 30, 2019

Factualities for January 23, 2019

January 23, 2019

Statistics, statistics—More plentiful than snowflakes. Believe these or not.

  • 8,600. The number of molly tabs a drug dealer in Tacoma, Washington, had in his possession. Source: The News Tribune
  • 16 million. The number of US households receiving over-the-air TV. Source: TechCrunch
  • $56 million. The amount of “dark net market” transactions in a single month. Source: Reuters
  • 77 million. The number of Americans who talk to their vehicles. Source: Recode
  • $500 million. The amount Microsoft is “providing” to address housing issues in Seattle. Source: Quartz
  • 773,000,000. Number of email addresses offered for sale. Source: Wired
  • $1 billion. The amount Disney lost in 12 months with its video streaming endeavors. Source: CNBC
  • 20 to 40 percent. The percentage price increase for Tesla recharges. Source: The Verge
  • 74 percent. The percentage of Facebook users in a Pew sample who did not know that Facebook keeps track of user interest and clicks in order to sell ads. Source: TechCrunch

Stephen E Arnold, January 23, 2019



Facebook User Awareness: Two Views

January 17, 2019

What happens when Silicon Valley centric “real” journalists contemplate the question, “How much do Americans know about data slurping, reusing, and monetizing.

For one view, navigate to “Most Facebook Users Still in the Dark about Its Creepy Ad Practices, Pew Finds.” The headline tells the story. I learned:

Pew found three-quarters (74%) of Facebook users did not know the social networking behemoth maintains a list of their interests and traits to target them with ads, only discovering this when researchers directed them to view their Facebook ad preferences page.

Now for another view. Navigate to “Don’t Underestimate Americans’ Knowledge of Facebook’s Business Model.” I learned from this write up:

But let’s take another look at the numbers. According to Pew, 26 percent of Americans are aware that Facebook records a list of their interests and uses it to target ads at them. There are roughly 214 million Americans with Facebook profiles. If that’s the case, then over the past decade, 55.6 million people have educated themselves about how ad targeting works. Facebook itself has played no small role in this effort, regularly describing their ad targeting system in software and marketing materials, and recently even started building pop-up events around it.

And to add beef to the argument:

Pew surveyed more than 3,400 U.S. Facebook users in May and June, and found that a whopping 44 percent of those ages 18 to 29 say they’ve deleted the app from their phone in the last year. Some of them may have reinstalled it later. Overall, 26 percent of survey respondents say they deleted the app, while 42 percent have “taken a break” for several weeks or more, and 54 percent have adjusted their privacy settings.

Nothing like interpreting data from a survey from the left coast.

Stephen E Arnold, January 17, 2019

We Have Said It Many Times, “Old People Are Stupid”

January 10, 2019

Yep, get old, get stupid. Not only am I old, I am stupid. Many people, but mostly younger folks, have told me I was indeed stupid. I was stupid when Linda Rosen and I wrote “Managing the New Electronic Products” and pointed out that control was darned near impossible. Yep, stupid, but she got hired by Microsoft. Go figure.

I was stupid when I published “The Google Legacy” in 2004. How could a five or six year old company put a legacy in place. Yep, stupid even though Google technology is pervasive today. How is that Android phone data slurping working out for you. Yep, stupid.

I was stupid when I pointed out that Amazon’s policeware would destabilize the cozy world of law enforcement and intelligence software. I began explaining this in 2017 and one conference organizer told me, “You are stupid. Quantum computers are more important.” How is that JEDI procurement doing? Oracle? Microsoft? Any thoughts. Yep, stupid. But that individual can buy an IBM Q computer for his home I suppose. Stupid? Meh.

Quite a track record of being told I am stupid.

I read “People Older Than 65 Share the Most Fake News, a New Study Finds.” See I just shared this write up. Stupid, right?

Stephen E Arnold, January 10, 2019

False Positives: The New Normal

January 1, 2019

And this is why so many people are wary of handing too much power to algorithms. TechDirt reports, “School Security Software Decided Innocent Parent Is Actually a Registered Sex Offender.” That said, it seems some common sense on the part of the humans involved would have prevented the unwarranted humiliation. The mismatch took place at an Aurora, Colorado, middle school event, where parent Larry Mitchell presumably just wanted to support his son. When office staff scanned his license, however, the Raptor system flagged him as a potential offender. Reporter Tim Cushing writes:

“Not only did these stats [exact name and date of birth] not match, but the photos of registered sex offenders with the same name looked nothing like Larry Mitchell. The journalists covering the story ran Mitchell’s info through the same databases — including Mitchell’s birth name (he was adopted) — and found zero matches. What it did find was a 62-year-old white sex offender who also sported the alias ‘Jesus Christ,’ and a black man roughly the same age as the Mitchell, who is white. School administration has little to say about this botched security effort, other than policies and protocols were followed. But if so, school personnel need better training… or maybe at least an eye check. Raptor, which provides the security system used to misidentify Mitchell, says photo-matching is a key step in the vetting process….

We also noted:

“Even if you move past the glaring mismatch in photos (the photos returned in the Sentinel’s search of Raptor’s system are embedded in the article), neither the school nor Raptor can explain how Raptor’s system returned results that can’t be duplicated by journalists.”

This looks like a mobile version of the PEBCAK error, and such mistakes will only increase as these verification systems continue to be implemented at schools and other facilities across the country. Cushing rightly points to this problem as “an indictment of the security-over-sanity thinking.” Raptor, a private company, is happy to tout its great success at keeping registered offenders out of schools, but they do not reveal how often their false positives have ruined an innocent family’s evening, or worse. How much control is our society willing to hand over to AIs (and those who program them)?

Cynthia Murrell, January 1, 2018

Factualities for December 26, 2018

December 26, 2018

Accurate data are everywhere on the Interwebs. Here’s a selection of rock solid factoids for your consideration. Believe ‘em or not.

1,700. Number of voice recording Amazon sent to a random person. Source: Threat Post

31. Number of major scandals in which Facebook was involved. Source: Buzzfeed

1. The number of requests from Slovakia’s government to Apple for help unlocking an Apple device. Source: Apple

1. Number of Microsoft products in wide use among Googlers. What’s the product? Visual Studio Code. Source: CNBC

11. Number of shirt buttons equipped as spying devices requested by the US embassy in Frankfurt, Germany. Source: Russia Today

1,000 dollars. The amount one would have to pay a Facebook user to quit the service. BoingBoing

Stephen E Arnold, December 26, 2018

Factualities for November 21, 2018

November 21, 2018

Believe ‘em or not.

  • $1.17 million. Russian bank cash losses due to cyber attacks at Russian banks in the first eight months of 2018. Losses were down from $16.46 million in the same period in 2017. Source: Reuters
  • 4,300. Number of blockchain start ups in the world. More than 200 are in Israel. Source: No Camels
  • 35 million. Allegedly the number of US voter records for sale on the Dark Web. Source: TechRadar
  • One. The number of Google pop up hardware stories in Bucktown, Illinois. Source: ABC 7 Chicago
  • $2.2 billion. Size of the quantum computing market in 2025. Source: Site Pro News
  • 33 percent. The percentage of university historians from ethnic minorities who experience discrimination. Source: Independent

Stephen E Arnold, November 21, 2018

Factualities for November 14, 2018

November 14, 2018

Believe ‘em or not. I am not the least suspicious of round numbers.

  • 50 percent. Percent of WhatsApp users who do not know that Facebook owns the messaging application. Source: The Next Web
  • $100 million amount PwC (a consulting firm) will spend on training employees who are self starters. Source: Techcrunch
  • Less than one second. Time required to destroy a low end drone with a 50 kilowatt laser. (Your PowerPoint laser will be less than five milliwatts.) Source: Gizmodo
  • One. Rank of the US in economic competitiveness. Source: Next Big Future
  • Three years. How long an Apple iPhone will last. Source: Cult of Mac
  • Six percent. Growth in global Internet access growth, which was down from 19 percent in 2017. Source: Technology Review

Stephen E Arnold, November 14, 2018

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