What Can Slow Down the GOOG? Lawyers Reviewing AI Research Papers

October 21, 2021

I spotted an allegedly true factoid in “Google’s AI Researchers Say Their Output Is Being Slowed by Lawyers after a String of High Level Exits : Getting Published Really Is a Nightmare Right Now.” Here is the paywalled item:

According to Google’s own online records, the company published 925 pieces of AI research in 2019, and a further 962 in 2020. But the company looks to have experienced a moderate slowdown this
year, publishing just 618 research papers in all of 2021 thus far. 

Quite a decrease, particularly in the rarified atmosphere of the smartest people in the world who want to be in a position to train, test, deploy, and benefit from their smart software.

With management and legal cooks in the Google AI kitchen, the production of AI delicacies seems to be going down. Bad for careers? Good for lawyers? Yes and yes.

Is this a surprise? It depends on whom one asks.

At a time when there is chatter that VCs want to pump money into smart software and when some high profile individuals suggest China is the leader in artificial intelligence, the Google downturn in this facet of research is not good news for the GOOG.

Is there a fix? Sure, but none is going to include turning back the hands of time to undo what I call the Battle of Timnit. The decision to try and swizzle around the issue of baked in algorithmic bias appears to have blocked some Google researchers’ snorkels. Deep dives without free flowing research oxygen can be debilitating.

Stephen E Arnold, October 21, 2021

Regulating Big Tech: Ho, Ho, Ho. That Is a Good One

October 11, 2021

How long do government attorneys remain on the job? One answer is, “Until a big time firm comes with a juicy job.”

Now what’s this fact of government life suggest for regulating big tech?

One clue appears in “Apple Files Appeal in Epic Games Case, Potentially Delaying App Store Changes for Years.” The operative word is “appeal.” Yep, Apple has money, lawyers, and corporate patience. The US government has fewer legal resources and some lawyers who might jump at a chance to work in the big weird spaceship house pizza dish.

Here’s the passage I noted:

If Apple wins the stay, which will be decided by a judge in November, a rule change potentially allowing developers to circumvent App Store fees of 15% to 30% may not take effect until appeals in the case have finished, a process that could take years.

Does this suggest that taking steps to deal with “big tech” may be a tough job?


Stephen E Arnold, October 11, 2021

Twitter: Breathe Deeply. And Again. Now Write a Check for $800 Million.

September 22, 2021

I read an interesting story called “Twitter to Pay $809.5 Million to Settle Lawsuit Alleging Jack Dorsey, Others Misled Investors.” What? a super trendy SMS company adored by those in Silicon Alley and Silicon Valley allegedly doing some Fancy Dancing with the money crowd? Who ever heard of such a thing?

The write up states without the snappy writing of yore:

The original lawsuit, filed in 2016 by a Twitter shareholder, alleged Dorsey and others including former CEO Dick Costolo and board member Evan Williams hid facts about Twitter’s slowing user growth while they sold their personal stock holdings “for hundreds of millions of dollars in insider profits.”

Then the Hollywood “real” news publication notes:

Twitter, in an 8-K filing Monday, noted that the final settlement agreement will not “include or constitute an admission, concession, or finding of any fault, liability, or wrongdoing by the Company or any defendant.”

Of course not. This is an allegation.

Quick question: Did the parties to the litigation tweet the news? I know everyone downloads and reads the outstandingly compelling prose in SEC documents, but social media is now the source for real news. A recent Pew study does not include the SEC in its list of sources. This is an obvious oversight.

Stephen E Arnold, September 22, 2021

Triggering the Turtle Response: A Cyber Security Misstep?

September 15, 2021

One noble idea is to ask each and every organization to report a cyber attack and data breach. How are noble ideas like this greeted by commercial organizations or government bureaucrats with one eye on SES and one on retirement on a full pension? My hunch is that certain noble ideas are going to be ignored, sidestepped, or bulldozed under legal briefs.

I read “Exclusive: Wide-Ranging SolarWinds Probe Sparks Fear in Corporate America.” The trustworthy outfit Thomson Reuters says:

The SEC is asking companies to turn over records into “any other” data breach or ransomware attack since October 2019 if they downloaded a bugged network-management software update from SolarWinds Corp, which delivers products used across corporate America, according to details of the letters shared with Reuters. People familiar with the inquiry say the requests may reveal numerous unreported cyber incidents unrelated to the Russian espionage campaign, giving the SEC a rare level of insight into previously unknown incidents that the companies likely never intended to disclose.

Many organizations bite the bullet and keep cyber breach info under wraps. Examples include outfits dealing with financial transactions and juicy pharma companies, among others.

What’s going to happen? Investigators will find interesting information to explore and, in the manner of investigators, and piece together.

What’s one method of dealing with this intriguing government request? The turtle response. Pull one’s head into a shell and hope the legal eagles can make it safe to return to pre-SolarWinds’ practices.

Stephen E Arnold, September 15, 2021

Silicon Valley: Fraud or Fake Is an Incorrect Characterization

September 10, 2021

I read “Elizabeth Holmes: Has the Theranos Scandal Changed Silicon Valley?” The write up contains a passage I found interesting; to wit:

In Silicon Valley, hyping up your product – over-promising – isn’t unusual…

Marketing is more important than the technology sold by the cash hype artists. Notice that I don’t use the word “entrepreneur,” “innovator,” “programmer,” or the new moniker “AIOps” (that’s artificial intelligence operations).

The Theranos story went wrong because there was not a “good enough” method provided. The fact that Theranos could not cook up a marginally better way of testing blood is less interesting than the fact about the money. She had plenty of money, and her failure is what I call the transition from PowerPoint to “good enough.”

Why not pull a me-too and change the packaging? Why not license a method from Eastern Europe or Thailand and rebrand it? Why not white label a system known to work, offer a discount, and convince the almost clueless Walgreen’s-type operation that the  Zirconia was dug out of a hole in a far-off country.

Each of these methods has been used to allow an exit strategy with honor and not a career-ending Tesla-like electric battery fire which burns for days.

The write up explains:

Particularly at an early stage, when a start-up is in its infancy, investors are often looking at people and ideas rather than substantive technology anyway. General wisdom holds that the technology will come with the right concept – and the right people to make it work. Ms Holmes was brilliant at selling that dream, exercising a very Silicon Valley practice: ‘fake it until you make it’. Her problem was she couldn’t make it work.

The transgression, in my opinion, was a failure to use a me-too model. That points to what I call a denial of reality.

Here are some examples of how a not-so-good solution has delivered to users a disappointing product or service yet flourished. How many of these have entered your personal ionosphere?

  1. Proprietary app stores which offer mobile software which is malware? The purpose of the proprietary app store is to prevent malfeasance, right?
  2. Operating systems which cannot provide security? My newsfeed is stuffed full of breaches, intrusions, phishing scams, and cloud vulnerabilities. How about that Microsoft Exchange and Azure security or the booming business of NSO Group-types of surveillance functionality?
  3. Self-driving vehicles anyone? Sorry, not for me.
  4. Smart software which is tuned to deliver irrelevant advertising despite a service’s access to browser history, user location, and email mail? If I see one more ad for Grammarly or Ke Chava when I watch a Thomas Gast French Foreign Legion video in German, I may have a stroke. (Smart software is great, isn’t it? Just like ad-supported Web search results!)
  5. Palantir-type systems are the business intelligence solutions for everyone with a question and deep pockets.

The article is interesting, but it sidesteps the principal reason why Theranos has become a touchstone for some people. The primum movens from my vantage point is:

There are no meaningful consequences: For the funders. For the educational institutions. For the “innovators.”

The people who get hurt are not part of the technology club. Maybe Ms. Holmes, the “face” of Theranos will go to jail, be slapped with a digital scarlet A, and end up begging in Berkeley?

I can’t predict the future, but I can visualize a Michael Milkin-type or Kevin Mitnick-type of phoenixing after walking out of jail.

Theranos is a consequence of the have and have not technology social construct. Technology is a tool. Ms. Holmes cut off her finger in woodworking class. That’s sort of embarrassing. Repurposing is so darned obvious and easy.

More adept pioneers have done the marketing thing and made a me-too approach to innovation work. But it does not matter. This year has been a good one for start ups. Get your digital currency. Embrace AIOps. Lease a self driving vehicle. Use TikTok. No problem.

Stephen E Arnold, September 10. 2021

Another Angle for Protecting Kids Online

September 10, 2021

Nonprofit group Campaign for Accountability has Apple playing defense for seemingly putting kids at risk. MacRumors reports, “Watchdog Investigation Finds ‘Major Weaknesses’ in Apple’s App Store Child Safety Measures.” Writer Joe Rossignol cites the group’s report as he writes:

“As part of its Tech Transparency Project, the watchdog group said it set up an Apple ID for a fictitious 14-year-old user and used it to download and test 75 apps in the App Store across several adult-oriented genres: dating, hookups, online chat, and casino/gambling. Despite all of these apps being designated as 17+ on the App Store, the investigation found the underage user could easily evade the apps’ age restrictions. Among the findings presented included a dating app that presented pornography before asking the user’s age, adult chat apps with explicit images that never asked the user’s age, and a gambling app that allowed the minor to deposit and withdraw money. The investigation also identified broader flaws in Apple’s approach to child safety, claiming that Apple and many apps ‘essentially pass the buck to each other’ when it comes to blocking underage users. The report added that a number of apps design their age verification mechanisms ‘in a way that minimizes the chance of learning the user is underage,’ and claimed that Apple takes no discernible steps to prevent this.”

Ah, buck passing, a time-honored practice. Why does Apple itself not block such content when it knows a user is underaged? That is what the Campaign for Accountability’s executive director would like to know. Curious readers can see more details from the report and the organization’s methodology at its Tech Transparency website.

For its part, Apple points to its parent control features built in to its iOS and iPadOS. These settings let guardians choose what apps can be downloaded as well as the time children may spend on each app or website. The Campaign for Accountability did not have these controls activated for its hypothetical 14-year-old. Don’t parents still bear ultimate responsibility for what their kids are exposed to? Trying to outsource that burden to tech companies and app developers is probably a bad idea.

Cynthia Murrell, September 10, 2021

Great Moments in Customer Service: Online May Pose Different Risks

September 6, 2021

No, I am not talking about Yext’s new focus on helping customer service via a connected device better. No, I am not talking about Amazon’s paying up to $1,000 for a third party product which exhibits interesting behavior; for example, producing unexpected consequences. Yes, I am talking about a non-digital approach.

Navigate to “An Illinois Man Ran Over His Customer after a Botched Drug Sale. Here’s How Long He’ll Spend in Prison.” Note: Prison sentences in the Land of Lincoln can be malleable. Take terms with both salt and furikake.

The write up reports as “real” news:

Macon County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Griffith sentenced Christopher Castelli on Aug. 24 to a maximum of nine years in prison according to the plea agreement he made with the district attorney’s office. Initially, Castelli was charged with reckless homicide, but the charges were dismissed. Instead, he accepted a plea for leaving the scene of an accident resulting in the death of Alisha Gordon, 27.

Interesting. Honest Abe might wonder about this sentencing and its dismissal. For now, online customer service does not pose this type of risk to customers.

Stephen E Arnold, September 6, 2021

Need a Job? TikTok or TikNot?

September 6, 2021

I read “Employer Pitfalls of the TikTok Resume Trend.” Some organizations, eager to beef up their social media offensive line, are prowling TikTok for candidates. Those seeking “real” jobs (sort of) are posting TikTok video resumes. The write up states:

Human resources industry experts have long cautioned companies about peeping at the social media accounts of job applicants. The drawbacks of using social media in professional contexts are exactly the same even if the platform differs. Employers who use TikTok, Facebook, Twitter or other social networks to evaluate job candidates run certain risks, including overlooking potentially strong non-video savvy applicants or unwittingly succumbing to bias, Stevens [a headhunter] says. Social media profiles and TikTok resumes almost always include user images, which can reveal the candidate’s age, race, weight and level of attractiveness—factors that are more easily obscured in a resume.

There are other risks as well. How about old tweets or posts like those which wrapped Sony and Jeopardy in late night comedy jibes. Imagine a Timnit Gebru-type of matter in which TikTok videos are evidence in court?

Try explaining that to a judge and jury.

Stephen E Arnold, September 9, 2021

Google: Fighting the Fate of Kleenex and Xerox?

September 2, 2021

Yep, genericide.

It is hard to imagine anything scaring Google, one of the most powerful tech company’s in the world. There is something that scare Google (other than net neutrality, Internet privacy laws, and breakup of monopolies: genericide. Cracked dives into the meaning of “genericide” and Google’s fears in the article, “Google Has Been Avoiding ‘Genericide,’ The Scariest Word in Trademark Law.” Companies want their products and brands to become household names, but not to the point where their t\trademarked items become permanently associated with an item. Scotch Tape, Kleenex, Q-Tips, and Frisbees are victims of genericide.

Genericide means:

“This term refers to death by becoming generic, causing companies to lose trademark rights when their brand becomes commonly referred to the product or service in general rather than the specific brand itself.”

Google does not want to lose the trademark on their brand name. Google’s heads want people to use Google as a verb, like “I googled that,” but only when they are referring to the Google search engine. If someone were to say “I googled that” when using Bing, it would technically be incorrect. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary includes an entry on “google,” but its lowercased and specifically refers to searching on the Google search engine. Google was so worried about losing their trademark that the term was taken to court:

“This specific control of the trademark has been effective. In 2017, a petition made its way to the Supreme Court that claimed that the term Google had become generic. The Court dismissed this. Google has effectively enforced their trademark to ensure that people are only “Googling” something when they are on Google. Any other web searching is just searching.”

Google may eventually lose its trademark if the term “googling” becomes too generic. The company could also lose its cultural relevancy like other former big names in the game. Or Google may live never lose its trademark like Disney will never lose its copyright on Mickey Mouse.

Whitney Grace, September 2, 2021

Amazon: Can the Bezos Bulldozer Pull Off a JEDI Play in the EU?

August 31, 2021

The Bezos bulldozer is a wonderful construct, and it is uniquely American. For those who do not follow the path of the machine as it grinds forward, Amazon made a case to rip from the grasp of Microsoft the JEDI contract. Now the mom-and-pop seller of books has an opportunity to rework the landscape of an EU fine in the neighborhood of a billion dollars. My goodness, it takes less than a day for the ecommerce store to generate one billion in cash. Painful? For sure.

You can read about this fine in “Europe: Amazon Slapped with Record-Breaking Privacy Fine.” The article characterizes the levy as an “enormous bite.” Yep, one day of revenue is painful indeed. Game changer? Nope.

The question is, “Why not?” With each “punishment” it becomes more and more clear that there is little incentive for certain large technology companies to change their business strategy or practices. After decades of business as usual, change becomes more and more difficult for both regulators and the business constructs. Who’s running the show? Obviously not the regulators.

Stephen E Arnold, August 31, 2021

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