Tag: Google

Teenagers: Facebook is only 13, Twitter just 11

Monday, 13 May, 2019

The Istanbul-born writer and academic Zeynep Tufecki has made a name for herself with her analysis of Big Tech and her understanding of its impacts. Last year she wrote in the New York Times that, “YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.” Now, she’s taken to the pages of Wired to declare, “IT’S THE (DEMOCRACY-POISONING) GOLDEN AGE OF FREE SPEECH.” In her conclusion, she compares the current state of the major social media platforms with the early days of the automobile industry:

“We don’t have to be resigned to the status quo. Facebook is only 13 years old, Twitter 11, and even Google is but 19. At this moment in the evolution of the auto industry, there were still no seat belts, airbags, emission controls, or mandatory crumple zones. The rules and incentive structures underlying how attention and surveillance work on the internet need to change. But in fairness to Facebook and Google and Twitter, while there’s a lot they could do better, the public outcry demanding that they fix all these problems is fundamentally mistaken. There are few solutions to the problems of digital discourse that don’t involve huge trade-offs — and those are not choices for Mark Zuckerberg alone to make. These are deeply political decisions. In the 20th century, the US passed laws that outlawed lead in paint and gasoline, that defined how much privacy a landlord needs to give his tenants, and that determined how much a phone company can surveil its customers. We can decide how we want to handle digital surveillance, attention-channeling, harassment, data collection, and algorithmic decision­making.”

Zeynep Tufecki is a faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, and in 2017 Yale University Press published her Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. The book is available to download as a PDF (1.70MB) for free from Twitterandteargas.org.


Google quietly adds DuckDuckGo as a search option

Thursday, 14 March, 2019

“Tech” is not yet a four-letter word in Washington, but it could soon become one. Following noises from the left and right about breaking up Big Tech, Google has just offered a DuckDuckGo sop to its critics. TechCrunch has the story:

“In an update to the chromium engine, which underpins Google’s popular Chrome browser, the search giant has quietly updated the lists of default search engines it offers per market — expanding the choice of search product users can pick from in markets around the world.

Most notably it has expanded search engine lists to include pro-privacy rivals in more than 60 markets globally.

The changes, which appear to have been pushed out with the Chromium 73 stable release yesterday, come at a time when Google is facing rising privacy and antitrust scrutiny and accusations of market distorting behavior at home and abroad.”

Language note: A little over a year ago, when The Economist made its predictions for “The World in 2018,” one topic that the it singled out was ‘the coming ‘techlash.'” This possible backlash against Silicon Valley giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, would see increasing calls for regulation and crackdowns on monopolistic policies wrote the forecaster. And now, the techlash is beginning to sting.


The Larry Page link to Google is broken

Saturday, 15 September, 2018

These are the best of times and the worst of times for the world’s predominant search engine. The best of times because the Alphabet money well continues to gush; the worst of times because the Google’s public image has been severely tarnished and its ethics have been questioned as never before. For example, this week saw the publication of that Breitbart video showing top executives gathering for a public grief session following the defeat of their US presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. Cultish and cringeworthy, this exercise in liberal groupthink should settle any remaining doubts about the bias that’s built into Google’s mindset.

That mindset also raises very disturbing questions about what Google is up to in China, where it’s said to be tinkering with a search engine that would comply with the Chinese authorities’ rigid censorship demands. Don’t be evil, and all that. Remember?

It’s in these contexts, then, that Google’s refusal to send one of its leaders to Washington earlier this month for Senate hearing on “Foreign Influence Operations’ Use of Social Media Platforms” becomes serious. Twitter sent CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook sent COO Sheryl Sandberg, but the search engine turned down the Senate committee’s requests for Google CEO Sundar Pichai or Alphabet CEO Larry Page to appear. Instead, there was an empty chair.

“In Page’s absence at the Senate hearing, louder voices filled the void, from senators criticizing Google for its dealings with China to pundits decrying Page as unpatriotic. McNamee, the early investor who’s since advocated for the company’s breakup, says Page and Pichai shirked their civic duty by skipping the hearing. ‘This is Corporate Governance 101,’ he says. ‘You’ve been invited to speak in front of a Senate hearing to protect our democracy, and your response is, ‘We’re too important to go’?”

So write Mark Bergen and Austin Carr in Businessweek, and they ask Where in the World Is Larry Page? Answer:

“It’s not just Washington. Even in Silicon Valley, people have started wondering: Where’s Larry? Page has long been reclusive, a computer scientist who pondered technical problems away from the public eye, preferring to chase moonshots over magazine covers. Unlike founder-CEO peers (Mark Zuckerberg comes to mind), he hasn’t presented at product launches or on earnings calls since 2013, and he hasn’t done press since 2015. He leaves day-to-day decisions to Pichai and a handful of advisers. But a slew of interviews in recent months with colleagues and confidants, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they were worried about retribution from Alphabet, describe Page as an executive who’s more withdrawn than ever, bordering on emeritus, invisible to wide swaths of the company. Supporters contend he’s still engaged, but his immersion in the technology solutions of tomorrow has distracted him from the problems Google faces today.”

Larry Page has checked out and that’s not good news for Google. This Businessweek cover brilliantly captures his 404 status.

Businessweek


Google: The duplicity of Duplex

Friday, 11 May, 2018 0 Comments

On Tuesday, Google announced an Artificial Intelligence product called Duplex, which is capable of having human-sounding conversations. “We hope that these technology advances will ultimately contribute to a meaningful improvement in people’s experience in day-to-day interactions with computers,” wrote Yaniv Leviathan, Principal Engineer, and Yossi Matias, Vice President, Engineering, Google. But that’s not good enough. They did not address the moral and ethical implications of Duplex. And these are enormous. For example: What will happen to the meaning of “trust” when the synthetic voice of synthetic intelligence is made to sound human? But before we go any further, let’s listen to Duplex phoning two different businesses to make appointments.

We’re racing towards a future where machines will be able to do anything humans can do. Duplex is an important signpost on the road but people should be thinking seriously about where we’re going. During Google I/O, which ended yesterday, tech journalist Bridget Carey posed some of the questions more of us should be asking:

I am genuinely bothered and disturbed at how morally wrong it is for the Google Assistant voice to act like a human and deceive other humans on the other line of a phone call, using upspeek and other quirks of language. “Hi um, do you have anything available on uh May 3?” #io18

If Google created a way for a machine to sound so much like a human that now we can’t tell what is real and what is fake, we need to have a talk about ethics and when it’s right for a human to know when they are speaking to a robot. #io18

In this age of disinformation, where people don’t know what’s fake news… how do you know what to believe if you can’t even trust your ears with now Google Assistant calling businesses and posing as a human? That means any dialogue can be spoofed by a machine and you can’t tell.

Speak now or forever hold your peace.


Sting warned us about Google

Friday, 26 January, 2018 0 Comments

If you’re using an Android phone, Google may be tracking every move you make:

“The Alphabet subsidiary’s location-hungry tentacles are quietly lurking behind some of the most innovative features of its Android mobile operating system. Once those tentacles latch on, phones using Android begin silently transmitting data back to the servers of Google, including everything from GPS coordinates to nearby wifi networks, barometric pressure, and even a guess at the phone-holder’s current activity. Although the product behind those transmissions is opt-in, for Android users it can be hard to avoid and even harder to understand.”

So writes David Yanofsky in Quartz. And, as Sting sang during the last century:

Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I’ll be watching you

Back now to David Yanofsky:

“As a result, Google holds more extensive data on Android users than some ever realize. That data can be used by the company to sell targeted advertising. It can also be used to track into stores those consumers who saw ads on their phone or computer urging them to visit. This also means governments and courts can request the detailed data on an individual’s whereabouts.”

Back now to Sting:

Every move you make
Every vow you break
Every smile you fake
Every claim you stake
I’ll be watching you

David Yanofsky again:

“While you’ve probably never heard of it, ‘Location History’ is a longtime Google product with origins in the now-defunct Google Latitude. (Launched in 2009, that app allowed users to constantly broadcast their location to friends.) Today, Location History is used to power features like traffic predictions and restaurant recommendations. While it is not enabled on an Android phone by default — or even suggested to be turned on when setting up a new phone — activating Location History is subtly baked into setup for apps like Google Maps, Photos, the Google Assistant, and the primary Google app. In testing multiple phones, Quartz found that none of those apps use the same language to describe what happens when Location History is enabled, and none explicitly indicate that activation will allow every Google app, not just the one seeking permission, to access Location History data.

Sting was way ahead of his time:

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you

Note: Every Breath You Take appeared on the 1983 Police album Synchronicity. Written by Sting, the single was the biggest US and UK hit of 1983, topping the UK singles chart for four weeks and the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for eight weeks. And it remains a winner. In October last year, the song was featured at the end of Season 2 of the Netflix thriller Stranger Things and it also appears on the Sony Music soundtrack of songs used in both Seasons 1 and 2.


One channel to rule them all

Monday, 4 December, 2017 0 Comments

As J.R.R. Tolkien fans know, the One Ring is the central plot element in his masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings. It’s got a malevolent power, this ring, which is not surprising as it was created by Sauron as part of his plan to conquer Middle-earth. The words inscribed on the Ring were uttered by the Dark Lord himself as he forged it:

“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them”

There is no parallel to be drawn between YouTube and the One Ring, of course, but it has turned into the internet for video content from Middle-earth. All the big players publish on Google’s channel: Amazon is there, so is Microsoft, so is Twitter, so is Facebook and Apple has now bowed to reality.

“Someone else always has to carry on the story.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings


The daily wisdom of Google

Thursday, 26 October, 2017 0 Comments

Back in 1,400 BC, the Oracle of Delphi was the most important shrine in ancient Greece. Built around a sacred spring, it was considered to be the omphalos (the centre of the world) and people came from all over Greece and beyond to have their questions answered by the Pythia, the priestess of Apollo. Her cryptic answers could determine the course of everything from when a farmer planted crops, to when an empire declared war. Today, Google has replaced Delphi as the omphalos and people from all over Greece and beyond can have their questions answered by the algorithm. Example:

Google oracle

History: For centuries, scholars congregated at Delphi, and it became a focal point for intellectual inquiry as well as a meeting place where rivals could negotiate. The party ended, as it were, in the 4th century AD when a newly Christian Rome proscribed the prophesying. Then, on 4 September 1998, Google was founded in California.


Google is being evil

Friday, 1 September, 2017 0 Comments

Just sent this letter to Google’s CEO:

Google’s attempts to shut down think tanks, journalists, and public interest advocates researching and writing about the dangers of concentrated private power must end. As an immense corporation, it’s wrong for Google to wield its vast financial and political power to try to silence the writers and researchers working to promote sensible antitrust enforcement. This kind of unethical behavior violates Google’s founding corporate code of conduct, “Don’t be evil.”

You can do the same at Citizens Against Monopoly.


The AI Apocalypse: Warning No. 702

Monday, 17 July, 2017 0 Comments

Elon Musk has said it before and now he’s saying it again. We need to wise up to the dangers of artificial intelligence (AI). Speaking at the National Governors Association meeting in Rhode Island at the weekend, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX said that AI will threaten all human jobs and could even start a war.

“It is the biggest risk that we face as a civilization,” he said.

Musk helped create OpenAI, a non-profit group dedicated to the safe development of the technology and he’s now urging that a regulatory agency be formed that will monitor AI developments and then put regulations in place. Fans of AI say such concerns are hasty, given its evolving state.

Note: Open AI and Google’s DeepMind released three papers last week — “Producing flexible behaviours in simulated environments” — highlighting an experimental machine learning system that used human teamwork to help an AI decide the best way to learn a new task. For one experiment, humans provided feedback to help a simulated robot learn how to do a backflip. The human input resulted in a successful backflip with under an hour of feedback, compared to the two hours of coding time an OpenAI researcher needed which, by the way, produced an inferior backflip to the human-trained one.

Is this important? Yes, because evidence is emerging that an AI can do some tasks better with human instruction — from cleaning someone’s home to learning a patient’s unique care needs. OpenAI hopes that if we can “train” AI to work closely with humans, we’ll be able to moderate some of the potential downsides of the technology. Like replacing journalists or starting a war.


Machine learning on smartphones

Tuesday, 7 February, 2017 0 Comments

The language used by the acolytes of the high priests of the Information Age is richly encoded. Example: “TensorFlow is now available in a Docker image that’s compatible with Python 3, and for all Python users, TensorFlow can now be installed by pip, Python’s native package manager.”

That’s from an InfoWorld story by Serdar Yegulalp in which he says machine learning will one day run on a smartphone, without cloud support. At the heart of this development is TensorFlow the open-source, deep-learning framework developed by Google. Here’s how the engineers, using human language, decode it:


RAISR Sharp Images with Machine Learning

Monday, 6 February, 2017 0 Comments

Rapid and Accurate Image Super-Resolution is a bit of a mouthful so we should welcome the acronym: RAISR. What it means is that machine learning is used to sharpen low-resolution images. Google, which provided the headline for this post, claims that RAISR is so fast that the process can run in real-time on a mobile device. Nerds love this kind of thing, but photographers should be pleased as well because RAISR can avoid aliasing artifacts in the final image, even when artifacts exist in the low-resolution original.

RAISR

Note: Google says it will expand RAISR beyond Android over the coming months and in his recent post on the future of phones, Mobile 2.0, Benedict Evans pointed out the role machine learning will play in the coming changes…

“Web 2.0 was followed not by anything one could call 3.0 but rather a basic platform shift, as the iPhone triggered the move from desktop to mobile as the centre of tech. AirPods, Spectacles, watches and Alexa also reflect or perhaps prefigure platform shifts. In some of them, on one hand, one can see the rise of machine learning as a fundamental new enabling technology, and in some, on the other hand, more and more miniaturisation and optimisation of computing. I think one can see quite a lot of hardware building blocks for augmented reality glasses in some of Apple’s latest little devices, and AR does seem like it could be the next multi-touch, while of course machine learning is also part of that, as computer vision and voice recognition.”