Listened to The Disagreement Is The Point from On the Media | WNYC Studios

The media's "epistemic crisis," algorithmic biases, and the radio's inherent, historical misogyny.

In hearings this week, House Democrats sought to highlight an emerging set of facts concerning the President’s conduct. On this week’s On the Media, a look at why muddying the waters remains a viable strategy for Trump’s defenders. Plus, even the technology we trust for its clarity isn’t entirely objective, especially the algorithms that drive decisions in public and private institutions. And, how early radio engineers designed broadcast equipment to favor male voices and make women sound "shrill."

1. David Roberts [@drvox], writer covering energy for Vox, on the "epistemic crisis" at the heart of our bifurcated information ecosystem. Listen.

2. Cathy O'Neil [@mathbabedotorg], mathematician and author of Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, on the biases baked into our algorithms. Listen.

3. Tina Tallon [@ttallon], musician and professor, on how biases built into radio technology have shaped how we hear women speak. Listen.

Some great discussion on the idea of women being “shrill” and ad hominem attacks instead of attacks on ideas.

Cathy O’Neil has a great interview on her book Weapons of Math Distraction. I highly recommend everyone read it, but if for some reason you can’t do it this month, this interview is a good starting place for repairing that deficiency.

In section three, I’ll note that I’ve studied the areas of signal processing and information theory in great depth, but never run across the fascinating history of how we physically and consciously engineered women out of radio and broadcast in quite the way discussed here. I recall the image of “Lena” being nudged out of image processing recently, but the engineering wrongs here are far more serious and pernicious.

Listened to The internet we lost by Matthew Yglesias from The Weeds | Vox
Function's Anil Dash joins Matt to discuss how Big Tech broke the web and how we can get it back.

Some recent discussion relating to Anil Dash’s overarching thesis of the Web we Lost. He’s also got some discussion related to algorithms and Weapons of Math Destruction. He specifically highlights the idea of context collapse and needing to preface one’s work with the presumption that people coming to it will be completely lacking your prior background and history of the subject. He also talks about algorithmic amplification of fringe content which many people miss. We need a better name for what that is and how to discuss it. I liken it to the introduction of machine guns in early 1900’s warfare that allowed for the mass killing of soldiers and people at a scale previously unseen. People with the technology did better than those without it, but it still gave unfair advantage to some over others. I’ve used the tag social media machine guns before, but we certainly need to give it a concrete (and preferably negative) name.

Bookmarked on December 06, 2019 at 09:54PM

Read What Happened to Tagging? by Alexandra SamuelAlexandra Samuel (JSTOR Daily)
Fourteen years ago, a dozen geeks gathered around our dining table for Tagsgiving dinner. No, that’s not a typo. In 2005, my husband and I celebrated Thanksgiving as “Tagsgiving,” in honor of the web technology that had given birth to our online community development shop. I invited our guests...
It almost sounds like Dr. Samuel could be looking for the IndieWeb community, but just hasn’t run across it yet. Since she’s writing about tags, I can’t help but mischievously snitch tagging it to her, though I’ll do so only in hopes that it might make the internet all the better for it.

Tagging systems were “folksonomies:” chaotic, self-organizing categorization schemes that grew from the bottom up.

There’s something that just feels so wrong in this article about old school tagging and the blogosphere that has a pullquote meant to encourage one to Tweet the quote.
–December 04, 2019 at 11:03AM

I literally couldn’t remember when I’d last looked at my RSS subscriptions.
On the surface, that might seem like a win: Instead of painstakingly curating my own incoming news, I can effortlessly find an endless supply of interesting, worthwhile content that the algorithm finds for me. The problem, of course, is that the algorithm isn’t neutral: It’s the embodiment of Facebook and Twitter’s technology, data analysis, and most crucial, business model. By relying on the algorithm, instead of on tags and RSS, I’m letting an army of web developers, business strategists, data scientists, and advertisers determine what gets my attention. I’m leaving myself vulnerable to misinformation, and manipulation, and giving up my power of self-determination.

–December 04, 2019 at 11:34AM

You might connect with someone who regularly used the same tags that you did, but that was because they shared your interests, not because they had X thousand followers.

An important and sadly underutilized means of discovery. –December 04, 2019 at 11:35AM

I find it interesting that Alexandra’s Twitter display name is AlexandraSamuel.com while the top of her own website has the apparent title @AlexandraSamuel. I don’t think I’ve seen a crossing up of those two sorts of identities before though it has become more common for people to use their own website name as their Twitter name. Greg McVerry is another example of this.

Thanks to Jeremy Cherfas[1] and Aaron Davis[2] for the links to this piece. I suspect that Dr. Samuel will appreciate that we’re talking about this piece using our own websites and tagging them with our own crazy taxonomies. I’m feeling nostalgic now for the old Technorati…

🎧 Triangulation 413 David Weinberger: Everyday Chaos | TWiT.TV

Listened to Triangulation 413 David Weinberger: Everyday Chaos from TWiT.tv

Mikah Sargent speaks with David Weinberger, author of Everyday Chaos: Technology, Complexity, and How We’re Thriving in a New World of Possibility about how AI, big data, and the internet are all revealing that the world is vastly more complex and unpredictable than we've allowed ourselves to see and how we're getting acculturated to these machines based on chaos.

Interesting discussion of systems with built in openness or flexibility as a feature. They highlight Slack which has a core product, but allows individual users and companies to add custom pieces to it to use in the way they want. This provides a tremendous amount of addition value that Slack would never have known or been able to build otherwise. These sorts of products or platforms have the ability not only to create their inherent links, but add value by being able to flexibly create additional links outside of themselves or let external pieces create links to them.

Twitter started out like this in some sense, but ultimately closed itself off–likely to its own detriment.

Watched A bold idea to replace politicians by César Hidalgo from ted.com
César Hidalgo has a radical suggestion for fixing our broken political system: automate it! In this provocative talk, he outlines a bold idea to bypass politicians by empowering citizens to create personalized AI representatives that participate directly in democratic decisions. Explore a new way to make collective decisions and expand your understanding of democracy.

“It’s not a communication problem, it’s a cognitive bandwidth problem.”—César Hidalgo

He’s definitely right about the second part, but it’s also a communication problem because most of political speech is nuanced toward the side of untruths and covering up facts and potential outcomes to represent the outcome the speaker wants. There’s also far too much of our leaders saying “Do as I say (and attempt to legislate) and not as I do.” Examples include things like legislators working to actively take away things like abortion or condemn those who are LGBTQ when they actively do those things for themselves or their families or live out those lifestyles in secret.

“One of the reasons why we use Democracy so little may be because Democracy has a very bad user interface and if we improve the user interface of democracy we might be able to use it more.”—César Hidalgo

This is an interesting idea, but definitely has many pitfalls with respect to how we know AI systems currently work. We’d definitely need to start small with simpler problems and build our way up to the more complex. However, even then, I’m not so sure that the complexity issues could ultimately be overcome. On it’s face it sounds like he’s relying too much on the old “clockwork” viewpoint of phyiscs, though I know that obviously isn’t (or couldn’t be) his personal viewpoint. There’s a lot more pathways for this to become a weapon of math destruction currently than the utopian tool he’s envisioning.

Read Privacy Is Just the Beginning of the Debate Over Tech by Jathan Sadowski (onezero.medium.com)
Controversial ‘smart locks’ show the way that surveillance tech begins with the poor, before spreading to the rest of us

Instead, when we talk about technology, we should be thinking about power dynamics.

Great piece about ethics in technology.

👓 Thanks to Facebook, Your Cellphone Company Is Watching You More Closely Than Ever | The Intercept

Read Thanks to Facebook, your cellphone company is watching you more closely than ever by Sam BiddleSam Biddle (The Intercept)

AMONG THE MEGA-CORPORATIONS that surveil you, your cellphone carrier has always been one of the keenest monitors, in constant contact with the one small device you keep on you at almost every moment. A confidential Facebook document reviewed by The Intercept shows that the social network courts carriers, along with phone makers — some 100 different companies in 50 countries — by offering the use of even more surveillance data, pulled straight from your smartphone by Facebook itself.

Offered to select Facebook partners, the data includes not just technical information about Facebook members’ devices and use of Wi-Fi and cellular networks, but also their past locations, interests, and even their social groups. This data is sourced not just from the company’s main iOS and Android apps, but from Instagram and Messenger as well. The data has been used by Facebook partners to assess their standing against competitors, including customers lost to and won from them, but also for more controversial uses like racially targeted ads.

📑 Thanks to Facebook, Your Cellphone Company Is Watching You More Closely Than Ever | The Intercept

Annotated Thanks to Facebook, Your Cellphone Company Is Watching You More Closely Than Ever by Sam BiddleSam Biddle (The Intercept)
“It sure smells like the prescreening provisions of the FCRA,” Reidenberg told The Intercept. “From a functional point of view, what they’re doing is filtering Facebook users on creditworthiness criteria and potentially escaping the application of the FCRA.”  

📑 Thanks to Facebook, Your Cellphone Company Is Watching You More Closely Than Ever | The Intercept

Annotated Thanks to Facebook, Your Cellphone Company Is Watching You More Closely Than Ever by Sam BiddleSam Biddle (The Intercept)
In an initial conversation with a Facebook spokesperson, they stated that the company does “not provide creditworthiness services, nor is that a feature of Actionable Insights.” When asked if Actionable Insights facilitates the targeting of ads on the basis of creditworthiness, the spokesperson replied, “No, there isn’t an instance where this is used.” It’s difficult to reconcile this claim with the fact that Facebook’s own promotional materials tout how Actionable Insights can enable a company to do exactly this. Asked about this apparent inconsistency between what Facebook tells advertising partners and what it told The Intercept, the company declined to discuss the matter on the record,  

📑 Thanks to Facebook, Your Cellphone Company Is Watching You More Closely Than Ever | The Intercept

Annotated Thanks to Facebook, Your Cellphone Company Is Watching You More Closely Than Ever by Sam BiddleSam Biddle (The Intercept)
How consumers would be expected to navigate this invisible, unofficial credit-scoring process, given that they’re never informed of its existence, remains an open question.  

📑 Thanks to Facebook, Your Cellphone Company Is Watching You More Closely Than Ever | The Intercept

Annotated Thanks to Facebook, Your Cellphone Company Is Watching You More Closely Than Ever by Sam BiddleSam Biddle (The Intercept)
But these lookalike audiences aren’t just potential new customers — they can also be used to exclude unwanted customers in the future, creating a sort of ad targeting demographic blacklist.  

🎧 Episode 011 – Surveillance Capitalism and Digital Redlining | Media and the End of the World Podcast

Listened to Episode 011 – Surveillance Capitalism and Digital Redlining by Adam Croom and Ralph Beliveau from Media and the End of the World Podcast

We are joined by Chris Gilliard, Professor of English at Macomb Community College. His scholarship concentrates on privacy, institutional tech policy, digital redlining, and the re-inventions of discriminatory practices through data mining and algorithmic decision-making, especially as these apply to college students. He is currently developing a project that looks at how popular misunderstandings of mathematical concepts create the illusions of fairness and objectivity in student analytics, predictive policing, and hiring practices. Follow him on Twitter at @hypervisible.

Show Notes

An interesting episode on surveillance capitalism and redlining.

I’m a bit surprised to find that I’ve been blocked by Chris Gilliard (@hypervisible) on Twitter. I hope I haven’t done or said anything in particular to have offended him. More likely I may have been put on a block list to which he’s subscribed?? Just not sure. I’ll have to follow him from another account as I’m really interested in his research particularly as it applies to fixing these areas within the edtech space and applications using IndieWeb principles. I think this may be the first instance that I’ve gone to someone’s account to notice that I’ve been blocked.

👓 The Most Measured Person in Tech Is Running the Most Chaotic Place on the Internet | New York Times

Read The Most Measured Person in Tech Is Running the Most Chaotic Place on the Internet (New York Times)
YouTube’s C.E.O. spends her days contemplating condoms and bestiality, talking advertisers off the ledge and managing a property the size of Netflix.