Learning Means Effort, Attention, and Discipline. No, We Have AI, or AI Has Us

July 4, 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.

My newsfeed of headlines produced a three-year young essay titled “How to Learn Better in the Digital Age.” The date on the document is November 2020. (Have you noticed how rare a specific date on a document appears?)

7 4 student doing homework

MidJourney provided this illustration of me doing math homework with both hands in 1952. I was fatter and definitely uglier than the representation in the picture. I want to point out: [a] no mobile phone, [b] no calculator, [c] no radio or TV, [d] no computer, and [e] no mathy father breathing down my neck. (He was busy handling the finances of a weapons manufacturer which dabbled in metal coat hangers.) Was homework hard? Nope, just part of the routine in Campinas, Brazil, and the thrilling Calvert Course.

The write up contains a simile which does not speak to me; namely, the functioning of the human brain is emulated to some degree in smart software. I am not in that dog fight. I don’t care because I am a dinobaby.

For me the important statement in the essay, in my opinion, is this one:

… we need to engage with what we encounter if we wish to absorb it long term. In a smartphone-driven society, real engagement, beyond the share or like or retweet, got fundamentally difficult – or, put another way, not engaging got fundamentally easier. Passive browsing is addictive: the whole information supply chain is optimized for time spent in-app, not for retention and proactivity.

I marvel at the examples of a failure to learn. United Airlines strands people. The CEO has a fix: Take a private jet. Clerks in convenience stores cannot make change even when the cash register displays the amount to return to the customer. Yeah, figuring out pennies, dimes, and quarters is a tough one. New and expensive autos near where I live sit on the side of the road awaiting a tow truck from the Land Rover- or Maserati-type dealer. The local hospital has been unable to verify appointments and allegedly find some X-ray images eight weeks after a cyber attack on an insecure system. Hip, HIPPA hooray, Hip HIPPA hooray. I have a basket of other examples, and I would wager $1.00US you may have one or two to contribute. But why? The impact of poor thinking, reading, math, and writing skills are abundant.


  1. AI will take over routine functions because humans are less intelligent and diligent than when I was a fat, slow learning student. AI is fast and good enough.
  2. People today will not be able to identify or find information to validate or invalidate an output from a smart system; therefore, those who are intellectually elite will have their hands on machines that direct behavior, money, and power.
  3. Institutions — staffed by employees who look forward to a coffee break more than working hard — will gladly license smart workflow revolution.

Exciting times coming. I am delighted I a dinobaby and not a third-grade student juggling a mobile, an Xbox, an iPad, and a new M2 Air. I was okay with a paper and pencil. I just wanted to finish my homework and get the best grade I could.

Stephen E Arnold, July

Old School Book Reviewers, BookTok Is Eating Your Lunch Now

June 7, 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.

Perhaps to counter recent aspersions on its character, TikTok seems eager to transfer prestige from one of its popular forums to itself. Mashable reports, “TikTok Is Launching its Own Book Awards.” The BookTok community has grown so influential it apparently boosts book sales and inspires TV and movie producers. Writer Meera Navlakha reports:

“TikTok knows the power of this community, and is expanding on it. First, a TikTok Book Club was launched on the platform in July 2022; a partnership with Penguin Random House followed in September. Now, the app is officially launching the TikTok Book Awards: a first-of-its-kind celebration of the BookTok community, specifically in the UK and Ireland. The 2023 TikTok Book Awards will honour favourite authors, books, and creators across nine categories. These range ‘Creator of the Year’ to ‘Best BookTok Revival’ to ‘Best Book I Wish I Could Read Again For The First Time’. Those within the BookTok ecosystem, including creators and fans, will help curate the nominees, using the hashtag #TikTokBookAwards. The long-list will then be judged by experts, including author Candice Brathwaite, creators Coco and Ben, and Trâm-Anh Doan, the head of social media at Bloomsbury Publishing. Finally, the TikTok community within the UK and Ireland will vote on the short-list in July, through an in-app hub.”

What an efficient plan. This single, geographically limited initiative may not be enough to outweigh concerns about TikTok’s security. But if the platform can appropriate more of its communities’ deliberations, perhaps it can gain the prestige of a digital newspaper of record. All with nearly no effort on its part.

Cynthia Murrell, June 7, 2023

Digital Addiction Game Plan: Get Those Kiddies When Young

April 6, 2023

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

I enjoy research which provides roadmaps for confused digital Hummer drivers. The Hummer weighs more than four tons and costs about the same as one GMLRS rocket. Digital weapons are more effective and less expensive. One does give up a bit of shock and awe, however. Life is full of trade offs.

The information in “Teens on Screens: Life Online for Children and Young Adults Revealed” is interesting. The analytics wizards have figure out how to hook a young person on zippy new media. I noted this insight:

Children are gravitating to ‘dramatic’ online videos which appear designed to maximize stimulation but require minimal effort and focus…

How does one craft a magnetic video:

Gossip, conflict, controversy, extreme challenges and high stakes – often involving large sums of money – are recurring themes. ‘Commentary’ and ‘reaction’ video formats, particularly those stirring up rivalry between influencers while encouraging viewers to pick sides, were also appealing to participants. These videos, popularized by the likes of Mr Beast, Infinite and JackSucksAtStuff, are often short-form, with a distinct, stimulating, editing style, designed to create maximum dramatic effect. This involves heavy use of choppy, ‘jump-cut’ edits, rapidly changing camera angles, special effects, animations and fast-paced speech.

One interesting item in the article’s summary of the research concerned “split screening.” The term means that one watches more than one short-form video at the same time. (As a dinobaby, I have to work hard to get one thing done. Two things simultaneously. Ho ho ho.)

What can an enterprising person interested in weaponizing information do? Here are some ideas:

  • Undermine certain values
  • Present shaped information
  • Take time from less exciting pursuits like homework and reading books
  • Having self-esteem building experiences.

Who cares? Advertisers, those hostile to the interests of the US, groomers, and probably several other cohorts.

I have to stop now. I need to watch multiple TikToks.

Stephen E Arnold, April 6, 2023

Junkee Asks a Good Question. Pause, Please.

March 3, 2023

I had never before heard of the Web site junkee.com. I spotted a link with the title “Why Are People Talking About The Millennial Pause?” and wanted to know the answer to the question.

The article addresses the topic of millennials growing up or maturing. In the article’s lingo, this idea was stated this way about millennial behavior:

Specifically, mannerisms displayed by millennials on TikTok that Gen Z TikTokers make fun of. These tics include random zoom-ins to emphasize talking points, a way of talking termed the “BuzzFeed accent,” using random filters, using phrases popularized on Twitter and Instagram like “doggo” and “I can’t even” and “adulting” and the latest crime… the millennial pause.

I think the reasoning is that one should not or no longer displays “tics.” I am not sure what a “random zoom-in” is, but it sounds dreadful. The Buzzfeed accent is a mystery to me. And, “adulting”? I love this word because many of those younger than I act as if there were high school students at a chaotic science club meeting when the teacher supervisory stepped out of the room. The millennial pause is similar to my using a fax machine. The pause indicates an oldie habit design to deal with ancient video technology. [Pause] Sigh.

The write up added:

University of Sydney Associate Professor of Online and Convergent Media Discipline, Fiona Martin, says, “some millennials who use social media for comms work will follow cultural trends, and those that don’t won’t. Mocking them for being dated is a social differentiation tactic”.

I like being mocked. I try to be mockable. I engage in mocking certain actions of large Sillycon Valley outfits. I am into mocking.

I know I am out of step. The article offered:

As an example of how different ethnic groups within the same generation use social media, Martin pointed to the research in Bronwyn Carlson and Ryan Frazer’s book, Indigenous Digital Life. “Many Indigenous Australians are aware of being surveilled online, and so tend to circulate positive inspiring content in response,” she explains.

Yep, that’s me. inspiring content.

Who knew a pause conveyed so much. [Pause] Sigh.

Stephen E Arnold, March 3, 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

Becoming Sort of Invisible

January 13, 2023

When it comes to spying on one’s citizens, China is second to none. But at least some surveillance tech can be thwarted with enough time, effort, and creativity, we learn from Vice in, “Chinese Students Invent Coat that Makes People Invisible to AI Security Cameras.” Reporter Koh Ewe describes China’s current surveillance situation:

“China boasts a notorious state-of-the-art state surveillance system that is known to infringe on the privacy of its citizens and target the regime’s political opponents. In 2019, the country was home to eight of the ten most surveilled cities in the world. Today, AI identification technologies are used by the government and companies alike, from identifying ‘suspicious’ Muslims in Xinjiang to discouraging children from late-night gaming.”

Yet four graduate students at China’s Wuhan University found a way to slip past one type of surveillance with their InvisDefense coat. Resembling any other fashion camouflage jacket, the garment includes thermal devices that emit different temperatures to skew cameras’ infrared thermal imaging. In tests using campus security cameras, the team reduced the AI’s accuracy by 57%. That number could have been higher if they did not also have to keep the coat from looking suspicious to human eyes. Nevertheless, it was enough to capture first prize at the Huwei Cup cybersecurity contest.

But wait, if the students were working to subvert state security, why compete in a high-profile competition? The team asserts it was actually working to help its beneficent rulers by identifying a weakness so it could be addressed. According to researcher Wei Hui, who designed the core algorithm:

“The fact that security cameras cannot detect the InvisDefense coat means that they are flawed. We are also working on this project to stimulate the development of existing machine vision technology, because we’re basically finding loophole.”

And yet, Wei also stated,

“Security cameras using AI technology are everywhere. They pervade our lives. Our privacy is exposed under machine vision. We designed this product to counter malicious detection, to protect people’s privacy and safety in certain circumstances.”

Hmm. We learn the coat will be for sale to the tune of ¥500 (about $71). We are sure al list of those who purchase such a garment will be helpful, particularly to the Chinese government.

Cynthia Murrell, January 13, 2023

Hey, TikTok, You Are the Problem

January 4, 2023

Chinese-owned TikTok has taken the world by storm, and the US is no exception. Especially among the youngest cohorts. That is a problem for several reasons, but it is the risk to privacy and data security that has officials finally taking action. First to move were several states, as CNN‘s Brian Fung reports in “Why a Growing Number of States Are Cracking Down on TikTok.” We learn:

“At least seven states have said they will bar public employees from using the app on government devices, including Alabama, Maryland, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and Texas. (Another state, Nebraska, banned TikTok from state devices in 2020.) Last week, the state of Indiana announced two lawsuits against TikTok accusing the Chinese-owned platform of misrepresenting its approach to age-appropriate content and data security.”

We note this quote by the Berkeley Research Group’s Harry Broadman:

“I’m a little bit mystified why it’s taking so long for CFIUS [the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] to deal with this problem. There must be some issue that’s going on.”

The Arnold IT team is mystified as well. Maybe lobbying and political contributions are the issue? Or cluelessness about the immense value of children’s and young people’s data? These overdue actions on the state level were followed by proposed federal legislation. Fung discusses the bipartisan effort in, “US Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Ban TikTok:”

“The proposed legislation would ‘block and prohibit all transactions’ in the United States by social media companies with at least one million monthly users that are based in, or under the ‘substantial influence’ of, countries that are considered foreign adversaries, including China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela. The bill specifically names TikTok and its parent, ByteDance, as social media companies for the purposes of the legislation. … TikTok has previously said it doesn’t share information with the Chinese government and that a US-based security team decides who can access US user data from China. TikTok has also previously acknowledged that employees based in China can currently access user data.”

But we should totally trust them with it, right? Not willing to take ByteDance at its word, the US military, State Department, Department of Homeland Security, and other security-conscious federal agencies long since banned the app on devices under their control. Will the prohibition soon extend to the rest of the country, to both public and private entities? If so, prepare for the rage of Gen Z.

Cynthia Murrell, January 4, 2023

Surprise: TikTok Reveals Its Employees Can View European User Data

December 28, 2022

What a surprise. The Tech Times reports, “TikTok Says Chinese Employees Can Access Data from European Users.” This includes workers not just within China, but also in Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States. According to The Guardian, TikTok revealed the detail in an update to its privacy policy. We are to believe it is all in the interest of improving the users’ experience. Writer Joseph Henry states:

“According to ByteDance, TikTok’s parent firm, accessing the user data can help in improving the algorithm performance on the platform. This would mean that it could help the app to detect bots and malicious accounts. Additionally, this could also give recommendations for content that users want to consume online. Back in July, Shou Zi Chew, a TikTok chief executive clarified via a letter that the data being accessed by foreign staff is a ‘narrow set of non-sensitive’ user data. In short, if the TikTok security team in the US gives a green light for data access, then there’s no problem viewing the data coming from American users. Chew added that the Chinese government officials do not have access to these data so it won’t be a big deal to every consumer.”

Sure they don’t. Despite assurances, some are skeptical. For example, we learn:

“US FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr told Reuters that TikTok should be immediately banned in the US. He added that he was suspicious as to how ByteDance handles all of the US-based data on the app.”

Now just why might he doubt ByteDance’s sincerity? What about consequences? As some Sillycon Valley experts say, “No big deal. Move on.” Dismissive naïveté is helpful, even charming.

Cynthia Murrell, December 28, 2022

Want Clicks? Put War Videos on TikTok

December 20, 2022

Here is another story about the importance of click-throughs to social media companies, repercussions be damned. BBC News reports, “Russian Mercenary Videos ‘Top 1 Bn Views’ on TikTok.” The mercenary band in these videos, known as the Wagner Group, is helping Russia fight its war against Ukraine. Writer Alexandra Fouché cites a recent report from NewsGuard as she reveals:

“NewsGuard said it had identified 160 videos on the short-video platform that ‘allude to, show, or glorify acts of violence’ by the mercenary group, founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin. Fourteen of those videos showed full or partial footage of the apparent killing of former Russian mercenary Yevgeny Nuzhin which saw high engagement within days of being uploaded last month, it said.”

That brutal murder, which was performed with a sledgehammer, was viewed over 900,000 times on TikTok before ByteDance took it down. Nuzhin was apparently killed because he switched sides and denounced the Wagner Group. Sadly but surely, there are many viewers who would seek out such footage; why blame TikTok for its spread? The article continues:

“NewsGuard found that TikTok’s algorithm appeared to push users towards violent Wagner Group content. When an analyst searched for the term ‘Wagner’, TikTok’s search bar suggested searches for ‘Wagner execution’ and ‘Wagner sledgehammer’. The same search in Russian resulted in the suggestions ‘Wagner PMC’, ‘Wagner sledgehammer’ and ‘Wagner orchestra’. Wagner refers to its fighters as ‘musicians’. NewsGuard also found that videos could be found on TikTok showing another Wagner murder involving an army deserter in Syria in 2017 and that they had reached millions of users.

The online analysis group said it had also identified other music videos on the platform that advocated violence against Ukrainians, including calls to kill Ukrainians claiming they were ‘Nazis’.

Funny, when I searched Google for “Wagner,” the first three results my filter bubble turned up were composer Richard Wagner’s Wikipedia page, Wagner paint sprayer’s home page, and Staten Island’s Wagner College. Some actual news articles about the Wagner Group followed, but nary a violence glorification video in sight. TikTok certainly knows how to generate clicks. But what about China’s “reeducation” camps? The Chinese company is not circulating videos of those, is it? It seems the platform can be somewhat selective, after all.

Cynthia Murrell, December 20, 2022

TikTok Explained without Mentioning Regulation and US Education Failings

December 19, 2022

I am not into TikTok. I enjoy reading analyses of TikTok by individuals who are not engaged in law enforcement, crime analysis, and intelligence work for the US and its allies. Most of these deep dives are entertaining because they miss the obvious: Hoovering data from users for strategic and tactical information weaponization and information operations. I assume that makes me a party pooper, particularly among those who are into the mobile experience. I recall laughing out loud when I listened to a podcast featuring a Silicon Valley news type explaining that TikTok was no big deal. Ho ho ho.

I read this morning (December 17, 2022, 530 am US Eastern) “TikTok’s Secret Sauce.” The write up explains insights gleaned from “a project studying algorithmic amplification and distortion.” Quotes from the write up are in italic to differentiate them from my comments.

I learned:

… the average ratio of hearts to views on TikTok is roughly 5%. People are just not that predictable.

Okay, people are not predictable. May I suggest spending some time with the publicly available information on the Recorded Future Web site? Google and In-Q-Tel were early supporters of this company. The firm’s predictive analytics rely, in part, that people are creatures of habits. Useful information emerges from these types of analyses. In fact, most intelware does, and this includes specialists in other countries, including some not allied with the US.

I learned:

Exploration explains why there are an unending variety of incredibly weird niches on TikTok: the app manages to connect those creators to their niche audiences.

Let’s think in terms of unarticulated needs and desires. TikTok makes it possible for that which is not stated to emerge from user behavior. Feedback ensures that skinny girls and diets that deliver thinness get in front of certain individuals. Feedback is good and finding content that reveals more of the user’s psychographic footprint useful. Why? Manipulation, identification of individuals with certain behavior fingerprints, and amplification of certain messaging. Yep, useful.

I learned:

More generally, in AI applications, the sophistication of the algorithm is rarely the limiting factor.

Interesting. Perhaps the function of TikTok is just obvious. It, in my opinion, so obvious that it is overlooked. In high school more than a half century ago, I recall our class having to read “The Purloined Letter” by that sporty writing Edgar Allan Poe. The main idea is that the obvious is overlooked.

In some countries — might TikTok’s home base be an example — certain actions are obvious and then ignored or misunderstood. TikTok is that type of product. Now, after years of availability, experts are asking questions and digging into the service.

The limiting factor is a failure to understand how online information and services can be weaponized, deliver directed harm, and be viewed as a harmless time waster. Is it too late? Maybe not, but I get a kick out of the reactions of experts to what is as clear and straightforward as driving a vehicle over a mostly clueless pedestrian or ordering spicy regional cuisine without understanding the concept of hot.

Stephen E Arnold, December 19, 2022

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