IBM’s New Program Would Like to Have a Debate with You

“Understanding natural language is such a complex and difficult task, systems like IBM Debater lean on a wide range of systems, each handling a different part of the problem. One system will identify information that helps fuel an argument on one side of the debate. Another will generate the text of the argument. And so on.”

“But understanding language is far more complex. That means systems that perform fairly complex language tasks – like writing a Wikipedia article, let alone engaging in a serious debate on a random topic – may still be light years away.”

Let the debates begin – man vs. machine!

Ray Myers

P.S. Sorry about the late posting today.

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Death by Twitter – a Cautionary Tale

The most popular show on ABC (American Broadcasting Company), Rosanne, was canceled last week because the star of the show, Roseanne Barr — known for saying and writing stuff that would get most of us fired — did exactly what she was known for doing and got fired. ABC now looks like it is run by idiots because, really, who didn’t see this coming?

The network now has to explain to its licensees, which deliver shows to you and me, why they no longer will be able to get the ad revenue that otherwise would have been coming to them. I guess Rosanne will still get paid, but I really don’t know, and truthfully, don’t care. Twitter has become our most popular and most abused form of social media. Oh yes, the current White House resident is very fond of using it as well.

Maybe he too will get fired some day?

Ray Myers

Limiting Use of Apps – Dark Side of Technology?

Is there a dark side to technology? I am sure we can all agree that technology can be addictive and can diminish the development of our interpersonal and social skills if it takes the place of real time exchanges with family and friends. But what is the best way to monitor or change behavior that may be harming us? At a recent conference Apple announced an iPhone tool that can limit the use of certain apps, if that is what the user really wants?

“We aim to put the customer at the center of everything we do,” Timothy D.Cook, Apple’s Chief Executive, said several times on Monday. That seemed like a promise as well as a backhanded defense. Apple will give you the world. What you do with it is your problem.

Fair enough, but didn’t we use to talk about corporate responsibility? Or is that an outdated term in our technology-driven world?

Ray Myers

Tweeting for Freedom with Russia Watching

Bill Browder, a London-based investor who has styled himself as a nemesis to Vladimir Putin of Russia, documented the latest episode in his thirteen year game of cat and mouse with the Russian government, live-tweeting his brief arrest by the Spanish police on Wednesday.

Mr. Browder who was once the largest foreign investor in the Russian stock market ran afoul of Mr. Putin in 2005 and was kicked out of Russia. He was convicted of tax fraud in absentia and sentenced to nine years in prison. He documented Russia’s efforts to arrest him in a 2015 book, “Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice.”

Unfortunately, our current White House resident who likes to tweet, but has not read a book since who knows when, will probably not benefit from knowing his story. Too busy tweeting lies that promote his agenda. So sad!

Ray Myers

iPads and Bedtime Reading

Bedtime reading with a tablet or smartphone can interfere with a good night’s sleep, some studies and many anecdotal reports suggest. Now researchers have conducted a small experiment to test the idea. Volunteers in this study reported less sleepy in the evening , and less alert in the morning after using the electronic device.

One of the co-authors of this study concluded that these devices are not benign. They have biological effects on us. I recently blogged about the social (or antisocial) effects of these “handy” devices on our interpersonal relationships. Now we discover that we may be losing physiological energy as well. Our digital tools may be our new “best,” and most demanding friends.

Where would we be without them?

Ray Myers

Not a Twitter Matter, Mr. Trump

Someone please tell the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington , D.C., that he is not an Emperor.  He can not decree or demand that things be done to his liking simply because he wants them.  Or, in his case, simply “tweet” out his demands.  It’s time to tell him “he has no clothes” when he refuses to recognize that any power he has comes from the citizens of this democratic republic.  No number of petulant tweets can supersede that!

On Sunday, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter: “I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for political purposes – any of any such demands or request were made by people within the Obama administration.

FYI, former President Barack Obama wrote a piece in the Harvard Law Review last year in which he stated: “The president does not and should not decide who or what to investigate or prosecute or when an investigation or prosecution should happen.”  Good advice, I think.

Ray Myers

P.S. Happy Memorial Day. Enjoy the holiday. Back on Wednesday, May 30.

Technology and Friendships – the New Social Network (continued)

“Your available social time is limited, and you can either spend it face to face or on the Internet. If it is spent with people who are ‘remote,’ whether geographically or just because they’re represented digitally, you don’t have time to invest in new relationships where you are.” As with many millennials, talking on the phone is not a big part of social interaction and is now reserved for the rarest of occasions.

“If a high school friend posts frequently about her life, it’s almost like celebrity gossip, or it’s akin to watching a reality show about her. Our brains get confused about whether we know celebrities; if we see someone a lot, our brain thinks we know them.” There are physiological benefits to face-to-face encounters, however, that do not accrue to digital interactions or the phone. “Your blood pressure goes down, you have synchrony, you mimic your friend’s posture posture unconsciously.”

Maybe we call them “cyber friends.”

Ray Myers

Technology and Friendships – the New Social Network?

My net is cast wider” nwow than in the past, said Lucy Schiller, 29, a recent graduate of the nonfiction writing program at the University of Iowa. “It’s a lot easier for me to engage casually with a greater number of people. I don’t know if this is a byproduct of aging, but it seems like the parameters of friendships have changed. I’d like to think they involve long walks and talking at length in person and involving yourself in shared activities, but at this point it feels like those structures have been relegated to the past and we’re skating along through very fun but very lightweight interactions.”

Two statistics from the General Social Survey in 1985 and 2004 are often invoked regarding the influence of new technology on close friendships and social isolation. The average number of confidants people said they had dropped from 2.94 to 2.08 over that time, and the number of those who had none at all went from one-tenth to nearly one-quarter.

More about “Are My Friends Really My Friends” on Friday. Thanks for following “TechtoExpress.”

Ray Myers

 

 

Inside Washington Tech Policy Stories – a Reporter’s View

I (Cecilia Kang) feel like everyone is hunched over their phones in Washington even more than other places. This is a news-obsessed town that is texting and e-mailing at all hours. There seems to be a bit of a generational divide on the use of communications apps. Younger staffers on Capitol Hill often use encrypted apps and direct messages on Twitter. But even some of my older sources (my peers, really) can sometimes text me at all hours. It feels totally appropriate to call, text or Signal late at night or on weekends. Many an interview is done with children heard in the background at a park.

The whole attitude toward the tech industry has changed in Washington, with every growing calls for privacy regulation and antitrust enforcement of giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The biggest stories coming up will be the lawsuits to restore net neutrality, which should begin late this summer. The Trump administration and the F.C.C. have focused on the race for the 5G networks and have acted to thwart competition from China, citing national security concerns. And privacy is the big wild card. Even if stricter privacy rules aren’t introduced in the United States, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation set to take effect next month will most likely spill over in some way into American policy.

Faster is better?

Ray Myers

Digital Revolution Is Leaving Black Americans Behind

Black Americans are frequent users of technology, and have helped build social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram into the giants they are today. But they aren’t reaping the same economic benefits of the tech boom as white Americans, and low rates of black employment in the tech industry are a large part of the reason why.

A new study released on Friday sheds light on this issue. The State of Black America 2018, a report published annually by the National Urban League, compares how black and white people fare in a number of areas, including housing, economics, education, social justice, and civic engagement.

This year’s report pays particular attention to black Americans’ access Digital Revolution is Leaving Black People Behind to jobs in the tech industry and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The study reveals that while black people are one of the racial groups most likely to use smartphones and have created thriving communities on platforms like Twitter, those high rates of usage haven’t translated into employment.

“And this is largely because the tech industry has failed to hire black STEM grads and transition them into careers in Silicon Valley, where many of these jobs are basedIn the vast majority of [social media and tech] companies, fewer than five percent of the workforce is African American,” the authors of the report note. “By contrast, at least half of the workforce in these companies is white.Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, notes that this isn’t new — black Americans have repeatedly been left behind when America’s technology makes a leap forward, be it when slavery and Reconstruction blocked black people from the benefits of farming technology, or when technological revolutions in the North were less accessible to poor black people fleeing the South. Over generations, the effect of this lack of inclusion has compounded, leading us to the disparities that exist today.

And, as the report indicates, none of this happens in a vacuum. When black workers are shut out of higher-income jobs, like in tech, it adds to the already significant income gap — the median income for white households is $63,155, while it’s only $38,555 for black households. There’s a persistent wealth gap as well, which hasn’t improved much since the 1960s.

“We’re trying to shine a spotlight on the fact that this is an area where the country has to improve,” Morial says.

Silicon Valley has faced mounting criticism for its lack of diversity

Unfortunately, the tech world’s lack of diversity is a stubborn problem that doesn’t seem to be going away. Despite media attention and criticism, top companies continue to hire small numbers of black employees. At companies like Uber, Twitter, Google, and Facebook, fewer than 3 percent of tech workers identify as black.

In 2015, the Congressional Black Caucus launched an extended effort to press Silicon Valley to boost its black employment numbers, with several members of Congress traveling to meet with various tech industry leaders. The efforts have led to some change — the 3 percent figure above actually reflects slight growth at places like Facebook.

The caucus has continued to pressure tech companies to improve further. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified on Capitol Hill last month about Facebook’s ability to protect users’ privacy, black lawmakers took him to task for his company’s persistent lack of diversity, saying that Facebook “does not reflect America.”

And on April 30, lawmakers traveled to Silicon Valley for a third time to engage in a series of discussions with tech companies. Some members, including Rep. Maxine Waters, have threatened that lawmakers could introduce stricter measures to regulate the industry if companies can’t improve on their own.

The CBC members argue that efforts to increase black employment are not simply due to the economic opportunities presented by a high-paying tech job but are also about increasing protections for minority users. Black people are often targeted on social media and other internet-based platforms, facing racism on Twitter, discrimination from Airbnb hosts, or exploitation from fake Facebook pages.

Morial argues that while the tech industry has said promising things about improving diversity, it needs to do more — in hiring as well as in increasing training and investment in black students and improving educational pipelines.

Perhaps another “Inconvenient Truth” as Al Gore would say!

Ray Myers

Goodbye Cambridge Analytica, Your Work is Done (for now?)

The London based firm blamed “unfairly negative media coverage” and said it has been “vilified” for actions it says both legal and widely accepted as part of online advertising. As most Americans know by now, its actions included the spreading of false news in support of the election of Mr. Trump, and to the denigration of Hilary Clinton’s campaign.

Cambridge Analytica said it has filed papers to begin insolvency proceedings in the U.K. And will seek bankruptcy protection in a federal court in New York. “The siege of media coverage has driven away virtually all of the company’s customers and suppliers.”

“So sad” as Mr. Trump would say.

Ray Myers

Mark Zuckerberg Threatened With “Formal Summons” by UK Parliament

The UK may issue a formal summons to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that would require him to appear in front of British lawmakers the next time he enters the country, according to a letter sent to the company Tuesday.

Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer “failed to answer fully” 39 questions when he appeared before Parliament last week, according to the letter from the Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. As a result, lawmakers are requesting the presence of the company’s boss. Schroepfer went to London in place of Zuckerberg to give evidence as part of the committee’s inquiry into the Cambridge Analytica data-mining scandal and the impact of fake news on the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Committee chair Damian Collins has repeatedly asked Zuckerberg to appear and answer questions, as the CEO did last month before Congress. Instead, Zuckerberg has twice sent other executives in his place.

Collins reiterated his request for Zuckerberg to appear in front of the committee in the Tuesday letter, asking that he do so before May 24 when the Facebook chief will reportedly visit Europe to give evidence to the European Parliament.

“It is worth noting that, while Mr Zuckerberg does not normally come under the jurisdiction of the UK Parliament, he will do so next time he enters the country,” according to the letter. “We hope that he will respond positively to our request, but if not the Committee will resolve to issue a formal summons for him to appear when he is next in the UK.”

Collins listed the 39 questions that the committee believes Schroepfer failed to sufficiently answer, including ones about dark ads that can only be seen by the target audience, foreign spending on election-related ads, third-party app developers, and the storage and privacy of Facebook user data.

The committee’s inquiry began last July, but doubled down on investigating Facebook’s activities following revelations in March that data consultancy Cambridge Analytica had accessed Facebook data of 87 million users.

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to request for comment. I think Mark Zuckerberg may have had enough of “parliamentary” inquiries for now.

Ray Myers

Social Media Wealthy, but Lonely at Home

The United States and other countries might have been successful at connecting young citizens to the wonders of the Internet but there also seems to have been a price to pay in terms of interpersonal relationships with their peers. Teenagers are suddenly less likely to date, less likely to leave home without their parents, more likely to put off the activities of adulthood. They are spending more time alone with their digital screens,and the greater the screen time, the greater their unhappiness. Eighth graders who are heavy users of social media are 27 percent more likely to be depressed.

“But the big issue around social media is not privacy alone. These companies are feeding the epidemic of loneliness and social isolation. It’s not that the heavy social media users are sadder. It’s not only that online life seems to heighten painful comparisons and both inflate and threaten the ego. It’s that heavy internet users are much less likely to have contact with their proximate neighbors to exchange favors and extend care. There’s something big happening to the social structures of neighborhoods (Brooks, NYTimes, 4/20/18).”

Many of us who are socially wealthy don’t really know how the other half lives.

Ray Myers

“Facebook Envy” – More Bad News for Mark Zuckerberg

Are all your Facebook friends happy and doing well? Probably not, and how would you really know anyway. Recently some researchers have attempted to evaluate Facebook’s impact on a sampling of its users in Denmark (1,097).

The experiment had half of its subjects continue their Facebook rituals and the other half abstain from them. Thirteen percent of the abstained could not keep away and wound up succumbing to their addiction. In the end, those who has no contact with Facebook during the course of a week rated their general sense of satisfaction higher than those who retained their habit. But apart from envy, Facebook seems to energize profound feelings of dread, perhaps especially for those in middle age, because it serves to to remind us over and over how many ways life can go horribly and dramatically wrong when we continuously hear the “bad news” about our friends’ lives. Maybe making our lives an “open book” has more negative consequences than we realize.

“The news is a delivery system for misery of course, especially now, but Facebook brings us news we might otherwise never encounter, supplying in bulk and elevating our relationship to it. The value of this remains dubious (Bellafante, NY Times, 4/15/18).”

Ray Myers

Hands on the Wheel, Eyes on the Road

If you’re driving right now, it’s far more likely you are reading this on your phone than you would have been a year ago. Despite a harrowing surge in traffic fatalities, American drivers appear to be getting worse at avoiding Instagram, e-mail and other mobile-phone distractions while driving. More people are using their phones at the wheel, and for longer periods of time, according to a study published Tuesday from Zendrive, a San Francisco-based startup that tracks phone use for auto insurers and ride-hailing fleets.

“As you have more young drivers on the road, and as people increasingly become addicted to their smartphones, it will continue being a major health issue—almost an epidemic—in this country,” said Zendrive founder Jonathan Matus. From December through February, Zendrive technology monitored 4.5 million drivers who traveled 7.1 billion miles, comparing the results with the year-earlier period. Roughly two out of three of those people used a mobile phone at least once.”

One of the few bright spots of the study is that drivers tend to use their phone as they first start out on a trip, perhaps ending a message thread before settling in for the journey. While that window of time isn’t any safer than any other moment behind the wheel, Matus believes it may present an opportunity for changing behavior. A publicity campaign urging drivers to finish screen work, or just catch up on Instagram, before setting out could produce results. “Legislation, by itself, is clearly not enough,” he explained.

Ray Myers

Reclaiming Conversation – Time Out from Tech

Let’s talk! It appears that in our growing technologically interconnected world, we really do have to make time for face-to-face conversation. Sherry Turkle has written extensively about this subject, recently in her book, “Reclaiming Conversation” and shared some of her thoughts in a recent interview with Sean Iling of Vox.

“We grew up with the internet, so we think the internet is grown up, but it’s not. The internet is very young, and our ways of using it are very young. I think we’re starting to see a backlash. . . But there are certain kinds of communication that can’t be done via texting or video messages or whatever, and I think people are starting to see that. If you want to be a true friend or partner or lover or colleague and you want to really connect, then you have to look at the person you’re engaged with; you have to actually be with them. That’s how progress is made. I think enough people are beginning to understand this.”

Sean Illing: You’ve written a lot about empathy and how these technologies are making it harder for us to be empathic. I wonder if you think they’re encouraging us to treat other people as objects or as actors in our own personal drama. As you say, we’re always living through our screens, always performing, always projecting our image and our story.

“That’s an interesting way to put it — that we become actors in our own personal drama. I think, over time, the so-called “internet of things” emerges and then we sort of become things on the internet. We talk a lot about authenticity, but actually what we’re doing is curating the self, and that’s what I worry about in terms of empathy. Empathy requires that I get into your mental space, into your head, into your experience, and give you the comfort of knowing that I made that effort to listen and care, and that I’m taking responsibility for what I hear. It’s a commitment that we make to other people that involves us getting out of our own heads, and the constant self-curation online, the constant self-gratification of smartphones and social media, makes it harder for us to do this.We grew up with the internet, so we think the internet is grown up, but it’s not. The internet is very young, and our ways of using it are very young. I think we’re starting to see a backlash. Yes, there are many things about the internet that are amazing, like the fact that we’re having this (online) conversation right now. But there are certain kinds of communication that can’t be done via texting or video messages or whatever, and I think people are starting to see that. If you want to be a true friend or partner or lover or colleague and you want to really connect, then you have to look at the person you’re engaged with; you have to actually be with them. That’s how progress is made. I think enough people are beginning to understand this.

Empathy requires that I get into your mental space, into your head, into your experience, and give you the comfort of knowing that I made that effort to listen and care, and that I’m taking responsibility for what I hear. It’s a commitment that we make to other people that involves us getting out of our own heads, and the constant self-curation online, the constant self-gratification of smartphones and social media, makes it harder for us to do this.”

Ray Myers

Texting While Walking – Living Dangerously

It will kill you! But just don’t take my word for it. I am not even going to get into pot-smoking or drunken-driving, but let’s just say that human judgements become flawed when drivers and pedestrians go around stoned. Let’s take a look at some recent statistics published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Perhaps most alarming is the dramatic rise in pedestrian deaths on our streets where you may have thought was the safest place to be.

The increase in pedestrian deaths, which account for 16 percent of all traffic fatalities, may be the most discouraging news of all. There were 5,987 of them in 2016 according to the NHTSA. Expectations are that 2017 will end up with a toll at least that high. That’s a rise of 22 percent from the 4,910 registered in 2014. Maybe it’s time for every municipality to get serious about distracted walking, as it is called, even though distracted driving is plainly a bigger concern.

Put away your mobile technology devices while walking (or driving). Heads up, everyone!

Ray Myers

Sex-Trafficking on the Internet

“Pressure has been mounting for social media companies and other internet giants to be better stewards of their powerful platforms (NY Times, 2/28/18).” A bill to force these companies to better monitor their online content passed the House earlier this week.” A similar bill in the Senate is expected to pass soon.

Facebook, in particular, has come under pressure over the spread of misinformation and the exertion of foreign interference during the 2016 presidential election. Democratic and Republican lawmakers have called for regulations, including disclosures on political advertising, but those efforts have been slow to gain wide support. Some experts have concluded that there is clearly not a willingness for the government to pursue fundamental business model changes.

Sex, politics, and profits, in any order you choose.

Ray Myers

Less is More, Tommy Hilfiger

“But what Mr. Hilfiger’s four-season cycle demonstrates is that when the social-media friendly smoke and mirrors clear, it’s still about clothes, and if the clothes aren’t very good — aren’t original or interesting or desirable — then it doesn’t matter how revved up you get (NY Times, 2/27/18).” Social media and the “web surfing” mentality that technology has made possible may all be contributing to this accelerated marketing cycle.

It sounds like a cautionary tale for the world of fashion, but it may apply to many fields of human endeavor as well. Maybe you can become “overexposed” in the world of social media and the effects may wear (no pun intended) on your audience as much as yourself. The human creativity “machine” can literally run out of gas if you keep it running continuously. We can continue making things at a faster pace, but there seems to be a loss of originality if it becomes more like an assembly line process than an inspirational one. I know we are only talking about clothing, but I think there should be more appreciation for the time it takes to be creative in all fields.

Faster is not always better.

Ray Myers