Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Mark Zuckerberg spoke with civil rights leaders about Trump’s posts. It didn’t go well.

leave a comment »

Mark Zuckerberg is a problem, and apparently a problem that will not go away and is not open to change. Cat Zakrzewski writes in the Washington Post:

Top Facebook executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, spoke with civil rights leaders last night as the company confronts a wave of backlash over its decision not to moderate President Trump’s controversial posts.

But the roughly hour-long call, intended to show the company takes concerns from the black community seriously, only further inflamed tensions.

Color of Change President Rashad Robinson, NAACP Legal Defense Fund president Sherrilyn Ifil and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights chief executive Vanita Gupta immediately blasted Zuckerberg in a statement following the call.

Robinson told me the meeting was “disappointing.”

What was clear coming out of that meeting is Mark has no real understanding of the history or current impact of voter suppression, racism or discrimination. He lives in a bubble, and he defended every decision that he’s made,” Robinson said in a phone interview.

The attendees discussed Facebook’s decision not to label or remove several of Trump’s posts last week, including one that appeared to incite violence against demonstrators that said “when the looting starts the shooting starts.” By contrast, the posts drew a warning from Twitter for violating its platform’s rules about “glorifying violence.”

“Mark is setting a very dangerous precedent for other voices who would say similar harmful things on Facebook,” the civil rights leaders said in the joint statement. The meeting also covered Trump’s post that made misleading claims about mail-in voting, which Twitter labeled but Facebook did not.

Facebook’s poor track record on civil rights issues could come under greater scrutiny as controversy mounts.

The Trump posts are the latest flashpoint in years-long tensions between Facebook and civil rights activists, especially since Russian actors leveraged Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram to broadcast posts aimed at suppressing the black vote in the 2016 election.

The activists say Facebook’s hands-off approach to Trump’s rhetoric underscores that it’s promises to support and work with the black community are empty.

“This is just another reminder that companies will say black lives matter, and then do a whole bunch of things to make it clear that they could care less about black lives,” Robinson said. “Those are two very powerful statements that Facebook is making – making it harder for us to vote and making us more unsafe from a hostile, violence-inciting president.”

Robinson said that Zuckerberg was trying to make the case that it wasn’t inciting necessarily violence, as much as it was promoting the law.

Zuckerberg, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and Facebook vice president of global affairs Nick Clegg spoke on the call, Robinson told me. Joel Kaplan, an executive who has become a lightning rod of criticism both internally and externally for promoting conservative positions in Facebook’s leadership, was also on the call but did not speak, Robinson said.

Just days before, Zuckerberg had a phone call with Trump about the decision not to moderate his posts.

The president had been mounting an aggressive campaign to pressure social media companies not to label or otherwise moderate his posts in the wake of Twitter’s unprecedented decision to label a pair of his tweets that made false claims about mail-in voting. The president signed an executive order last week that would prompt federal regulators to review the scope of Section 230, a legal provision that shields tech companies from lawsuits for the posts and photos on their services.

“It’s clear that the president and potential regulation from the president is in Facebook’s head,” Robinson said.

Twitter, meanwhile, is doubling down on its stand. The company restricted a tweet from Rep. Matt Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), which the company said violated its policies on glorification of violence, according to The Verge. “Now that we clearly see Antifa as terrorists, can we hunt them down like we do those in the Middle East?” the tweet read, before it was hidden from Gaetz’s profile and likes, retweets, and replies were disabled.

Facebook responded by thanking the civil rights leaders for their time.

“We’re grateful that leaders in the civil rights community took the time to share candid, honest feedback with Mark and Sheryl. It is an important moment to listen, and we look forward to continuing these conversations,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement.

Employees expressed disappointment with the leadership’s handling of the call on Twitter.

Brandon Dail, an engineer at Facebook, called the meeting “another half-measure”:

Hundreds of employees yesterday staged a “virtual walkout” in protest of the company’s handling of the Trump posts. Employees at Facebook and Instagram refused to work on Monday in solidarity with protests across the country over the death of George Floyd. They openly expressed their anger with Facebook’s decision not to moderate Trump’s post, largely taking to rival social network Twitter.

The civil rights leaders shared solidarity with the employees’ efforts. 

“I want the employees to know that we see them, and we appreciate them, and we appreciate their speaking up and standing up and pushing back,” Robinson told me in an interview. “That is part of how every bit of change has happened in this country, when people on the inside and people on the outside speak up. And I hope that they accept nothing less than real change — not platitudes, not empathy, but actual real change.”

Zuckerberg is expected to field questions from Facebook employees today. The company moved up its all-hands meeting that was originally scheduled for Thursday as internal backlash against Zuckerberg’s decision mounts.

The walkout marked a rare display of employee rebellion at the social network.

Facebook’s highly in-demand engineers, developers and employees are uniquely positioned to drive policy changes at the company. But until now, they rarely exercised that power as frequently as their peers at other tech companies, such as Google.

But Zuckerberg’s decision could be a turning point. Employees largely did not speak out — and certainly not in as coordinated or large numbers — when the company was embroiled in other high-profile controversies, such as the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal or the fallout from Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Many employees changed their profile pictures and shared messages of dissent on rival social network Twitter with the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #TakeAction. From Katie Zhu, who says on LinkedIn that she is a product manager for Instagram: . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the column:

Zuckerberg may face an uphill battle in addressing employee concerns.

Zuckerberg already had a chance to try to convince them his decision not to moderate Trump’s tweets was justified in an employee during a meeting on Friday.

The chief executive said Facebook would re-examine its policies around politicians discussing the use of state force on the service, Casey Newton reports for The Verge. That process could take weeks.

Zuckerberg also told employees he was unhappy with Trump’s remarks on the platform. “My first reaction … was just disgust,” he said, according to audio that Casey obtained of the meeting. “This is not how I think we want our leaders to show up during this time. This is a moment that calls for unity and calmness and empathy for people who are struggling.”

Facebook attempted to strike a supportive tone in its statement on the employee activism. The company also said it did not require employees who skipped work to use their paid time off to do so.

“We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community,” Stone, the Facebook spokesman, told me. “We encourage employees to speak openly when they disagree with leadership. As we face additional difficult decisions around content ahead, we’ll continue seeking their honest feedback.”

Business partners and advertisers could be the next to challenge Facebook’s policies.

Talkspace, a company that provides therapy online, yesterday said it would pull out of talks for a six-figure deal with Facebook following the company’s decision. The deal was a content partnership, that would also involve Facebook leveraging the mental health app to provide therapy to certain audiences, such as students, CNBC reported.

Though such a deal is a drop in the bucket for a company with the scope and scale of Facebook, it is notable to see a start-up chief executive speak out against a company that many rely on as a key distribution channel. From Talkspace chief executive Oren Frank:

Written by LeisureGuy

2 June 2020 at 9:21 am

Constructive suggestions for addressing police violence

leave a comment »

D.J. Patil has a good article in Medium, and in it he includes some constructive suggestions:

. . . It’s easy to make broad generalization at times like this. We need to do better. America, we have a problem. We’ve known about it for far too long. So what are we going to do about it? Below is my list of policies that we need to accelerate action on immediately. I hope you’ll share yours too. Because we need action and we need it now.

  • National database on excessive use of force: we need a national database of excessive use of force. If a department receives any federal funding they should be required to submit data daily in a machine readable format. A model for this is the Police Data Initiative.
  • Transparency of police contracts: all contracts of policing should be made public. We need to remove barriers to effective conduct investigations and increase civilian oversight; ensure officers disciplinary histories accessible to the public and other departments that might hire them; and ensure financial accountability when excessive force is used. For more see Campaign Zero’s policy recommendations.
  • Data-driven justice: we need more programs that end the endless cycle of incarceration. And we need more out-of-the-box thinking of programs like the Data-Driven Justice Initiative and funding needs to be established to make it a reality across the country.
  • Funding to investigate domestic terrorist groups: we’ve defunded our efforts to identify groups that radicalize individuals. Our government has focused on groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, but continues to ignore home-grown terrorists including white supremacy groups.
  • Technology platforms must take greater accountability: there is too much disinformation and misinformation on social media platforms. The evidence is clear that foreign groups are infiltrating and creating social groups to foster chaos and social division.
  • Body cameras: While good in theory, it’s the implementation that counts. We need uniform best practices about how and when footage is made available.
  • Task force on 21st century policing recommendations: We have not acted forcefully or aggressively enough on the recommendations of this group convened at the Presidential level. We should do so immediately.

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 June 2020 at 12:44 pm

Attempts to build squirrel-proof bird feeder

leave a comment »

Ninja squirrels — impressive.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2020 at 10:03 am

The love that lays the swale in rows

leave a comment »

Nicholas Carr writes in his blog:

There’s a line of verse I’m always coming back to, and it’s been on my mind more than usual over these last few disorienting months:

The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.

It’s the second to last line of one of Robert Frost’s earliest and best poems, a sonnet called “Mowing.” He wrote it just after the turn of the twentieth century, when he was a young man, in his twenties, with a young family. He was working as a farmer, raising chickens and tending a few apple trees on a small plot of land his grandfather had bought for him in Derry, New Hampshire. It was a difficult time in his life. He had little money and few prospects. He had dropped out of two colleges, Dartmouth and Harvard, without earning a degree. He had been unsuccessful in a succession of petty jobs. He was sickly. He had nightmares. His firstborn child, a son, had died of cholera at the age of three. His marriage was troubled. “Life was peremptory,” Frost would later recall, “and threw me into confusion.”

But it was during those lonely years in Derry that he came into his own as a writer and an artist. Something about farming—the long, repetitive days, the solitary work, the closeness to nature’s beauty and carelessness—inspired him. The burden of labor eased the burden of life. “If I feel timeless and immortal it is from having lost track of time for five or six years there,” he would write of his stay in Derry. “We gave up winding clocks. Our ideas got untimely from not taking newspapers for a long period. It couldn’t have been more perfect if we had planned it or foreseen what we were getting into.” In the breaks between chores on the farm, Frost somehow managed to write most of the poems for his first book, A Boy’s Will; about half the poems for his second book, North of Boston; and a good number of other poems that would find their way into subsequent volumes.

“Mowing,” from A Boy’s Will, was the greatest of his Derry lyrics. It was the poem in which he found his distinctive voice: plainspoken and conversational, but also sly and dissembling. (To really understand Frost—to really understand anything, including yourself—requires as much mistrust as trust.) As with many of his best works, “Mowing” has an enigmatic, almost hallucinatory quality that belies the simple and homely picture it paints—in this case of a man cutting a field of grass for hay. The more you read the poem, the deeper and stranger it becomes:

There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound—
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.

We rarely look to poetry for instruction anymore, but here we see how a poet’s scrutiny of the world can be more subtle and discerning than a scientist’s. Frost understood the meaning of the mental state we now call “flow” long before psychologists and neurobiologists delivered the empirical evidence. His mower is not an airbrushed peasant, a rustic caricature. He’s a farmer, a man doing a hard job on a still, hot summer day. He’s not dreaming of “idle hours” or “easy gold.” His mind is on his work—the bodily rhythm of the cutting, the weight of the tool in his hands, the stalks piling up around him. He’s not seeking some greater truth beyond the work. The work is the truth.

The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.

There are mysteries in that line. Its power lies in its . . .

Continue reading.

Old tools can be better than new tools: cf. shaving, pens, paper, and more.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2020 at 5:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

More Memphis Meats Musings

with one comment

Memphis Meats makes meat — that is, if you look at their beef, you see beef muscle cells growing in the usual structure of beef muscle. Thus what they produce is not “imitation” meat like Beyond Meat and its ilk. Memphis Meat is meat, but vat-grown rather than field-grown (or pen-raised).

All foods result from a process (of growth, harvesting, etc.), so the term “processed food” is for some quite puzzling. Normally, that term has been applied to foods that are the result of deconstructing natural foods, whose various components (such as taking the head of a wheat plant and breaking it up into chaff, wheat bran, wheat germ, and wheat flour) and then combining some components (wheat flour, say) with components from other foods (e.g., corn oil, refined sugar) and with flavorings, colors, and preservatives — and salt, don’t forget salt — to make a product food that can be packaged and has a long shelf-life. The resulting product food is unlike the foods from which it was derived.

Memphis Meats beef, in contrast, consists of growing, rather than deconstructing, the food to be delivered. Memphis Meats beef is more akin to tomatoes grown indoors in a hydroponic garden, away from dirt and insects (and insecticides) and airborne pollutants (various kinds of dust). They are still tomatoes, but they have never tasted dirt nor been victims of storm, insects, and the various poisons applied to outdoor crops. Just as tomatoes from a hydroponic indoor garden are real tomatoes, so is Memphis Meats beef, grown indoors in vats, real beef: the muscle fibers grown in the vat medium just as the muscle fibers grown in a cow.

The big difference is that Memphis Meat does not take so much land, does not pollute the environment so much, does not take so long, does not require so much transport, and does not involve killing an animal. I can see a future in which the consumer is asked, “Do you want killed meat? or grown meat?” (PETA, BTW, should be totally on board with Memphis Meats since no animals are harmed in the making of that product.)

I suggest the large rooms of vats with the growing meat have soothing classical music piped in so that when consumer tours occur the inevitable iPhone videos will have a nice soundtrack.

And in fact an interesting video commercial could be made to contrast the clean, well-lighted vat rooms, with their quiet and soothing music with the sounds and activity of a slaughterhouse in action, something that the killed-meat industry is not eager to display (for some reason).

I do think that the traditional killed-meat producers will fight Memphis Meats tooth and nail unless Memphis Meats finds a way to bring them inside the process. (Example: Fisher once made carriages, but when the automobile came along they found a new niche: making automobile bodies: “Body by Fisher” was once a tagline for well-crafted automobiles.) Perhaps ranchers could find a way to grow the plants and prepare the medium for the grown meat, perhaps slaughterhouses could be purchased and refurbished as vat farms for growing beef instead of killing cows (since slaughterhouses are located at the hub of the existing distribution system, that would help in getting grown meat to market: existing supply chains could be utilized).

I do understand some will not want to eat meat unless it involves killing an animal to get it, but if the meat’s the same, many will see advantages to grown meat. In time one significant advantage in time will be much lower cost, since the growing operation can be scaled and does not involve so much land, so much time, so much labor, so much transportation, so much waste (much of the animal is not edible and some of the animal is downright unsanitary).

Memphis Meat is the future, but it is a future that will be fought by those who kill and cut apart animals for profit.

In Canada, you can view Meat the Future easily. I’m not sure where you can see it in the US. Here’s the IMDB entry.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2020 at 9:56 am

Check out the documentary “Meat the Future”

leave a comment »

Use to find where you can see it on-line: real meat without killing animals and without the environmental cost. Fascinating: Meat the Future.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2020 at 8:36 pm

Naomi Klein: How big tech plans to profit from the pandemic

leave a comment »

The Guardian republishes Naomi Klein’s article from the Intercept. It has a grim but probably accurate outlook on our future. Capitalism will always seek ways to profit from any event or trend or crisis. My saying this is not a reflex of anti-capitalism, any more than observing that a disturbed rattlesnake will strike or that rewards influence behavior. Capitalism is just a system to maximize profit, and that drives its behavior. Of course, if there is a calamity the capitalist response will be to seek a way to profit — that is simply what capitalism does.

That doesn’t mean that we simply lie down and let capitalism roll over us, but rather that we seek ways to control capitalize: exploit its strengths while blocking its destructive aspects. Government provides one means: laws and regulations that (for example) set severe limits on pollution — or (to take another example) that set minimum fleet mileage requirements. The regulations thus apply to all corporations in the sector, so no one corporation gets an unfair advantage, and then capitalism can evolve cost-effective solutions that meet the requirements.

Klein writes:

For a few fleeting moments during the New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday 6 May, the sombre grimace that has filled our screens for weeks was briefly replaced by something resembling a smile.

“We are ready, we’re all-in,” the governor gushed. “We are New Yorkers, so we’re aggressive about it, we’re ambitious about it … We realise that change is not only imminent, but it can actually be a friend if done the right way.”

The inspiration for these uncharacteristically good vibes was a video visit from the former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who joined the governor’s briefing to announce that he will be heading up a panel to reimagine New York state’s post-Covid reality, with an emphasis on permanently integrating technology into every aspect of civic life.

“The first priorities of what we’re trying to do,” Schmidt said, “are focused on telehealth, remote learning, and broadband … We need to look for solutions that can be presented now, and accelerated, and use technology to make things better.” Lest there be any doubt that the former Google chair’s goals were purely benevolent, his video background featured a framed pair of golden angel wings.

Just one day earlier, Cuomo had announced a similar partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop “a smarter education system”. Calling Gates a “visionary”, Cuomo said the pandemic has created “a moment in history when we can actually incorporate and advance [Gates’s] ideas … all these buildings, all these physical classrooms – why, with all the technology you have?” he asked, apparently rhetorically.

It has taken some time to gel, but something resembling a coherent pandemic shock doctrine is beginning to emerge. Call it the Screen New Deal. Far more hi-tech than anything we have seen during previous disasters, the future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent – and highly profitable – no-touch future.

Anuja Sonalker, the CEO of Steer Tech, a Maryland-based company selling self-parking technology, recently summed up the new virus-personalised pitch. “There has been a distinct warming up to humanless, contactless technology,” she said. “Humans are biohazards, machines are not.”

It’s a future in which our homes are never again exclusively personal spaces, but are also, via high-speed digital connectivity, our schools, our doctor’s offices, our gyms, and, if determined by the state, our jails. Of course, for many of us, those same homes were already turning into our never-off workplaces and our primary entertainment venues before the pandemic, and surveillance incarceration “in the community” was already booming. But in the future that is hastily being constructed, all of these trends are poised for a warp-speed acceleration.

This is a future in which, for the privileged, almost everything is home delivered, either virtually via streaming and cloud technology, or physically via driverless vehicle or drone, then screen “shared” on a mediated platform. It’s a future that employs far fewer teachers, doctors and drivers. It accepts no cash or credit cards (under guise of virus control), and has skeletal mass transit and far less live art. It’s a future that claims to be run on “artificial intelligence”, but is actually held together by tens of millions of anonymous workers tucked away in warehouses, data centres, content-moderation mills, electronic sweatshops, lithium mines, industrial farms, meat-processing plants and prisons, where they are left unprotected from disease and hyper-exploitation. It’s a future in which our every move, our every word, our every relationship is trackable, traceable and data-mineable by unprecedented collaborations between government and tech giants.

If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because, pre-Covid, this precise app-driven, gig-fuelled future was being sold to us in the name of friction-free convenience and personalisation. But many of us had concerns. About the security, quality and inequity of telehealth and online classrooms. About driverless cars mowing down pedestrians and drones smashing packages (and people). About location tracking and cash-free commerce obliterating our privacy and entrenching racial and gender discrimination. About unscrupulous social media platforms poisoning our information ecology and our kids’ mental health. About “smart cities” filled with sensors supplanting local government. About the good jobs these technologies wiped out. About the bad jobs they mass produced.

And most of all, we had concerns about the democracy-threatening wealth and power accumulated by a handful of tech companies that are masters of abdication – eschewing all responsibility for the wreckage left behind in the fields they now dominate, whether media, retail or transportation.

That was the ancient past, also known as February. Today, a great many of those well-founded concerns are being swept away by a tidal wave of panic, and this warmed-over dystopia is going through a rush-job rebranding. Now, against a harrowing backdrop of mass death, it is being sold to us on the dubious promise that these technologies are the only possible way to pandemic-proof our lives, the indispensable keys to keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe.

Thanks to Cuomo and his various billionaire partnerships (including one with Michael Bloomberg for testing and tracing), New York state is being positioned as the gleaming showroom for this grim future – but the ambitions reach far beyond the borders of any one state or country.

And at the dead centre of it all is Eric Schmidt.

Well before Americans understood the threat of Covid-19, Schmidt had been on an aggressive lobbying and public-relations campaign, pushing precisely the Black Mirror vision of society that Cuomo has just empowered him to build. At the heart of this vision is seamless integration of government with a handful of Silicon Valley giants – with public schools, hospitals, doctor’s offices, police and military all outsourcing (at a high cost) many of their core functions to private tech companies.

It’s a vision Schmidt has been advancing in his roles as chair of the Defense Innovation Board, which advises the US Department of Defense on increased use of artificial intelligence in the military, and as chair of the powerful National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, or NSCAI, which advises Congress on “advances in artificial intelligence, related machine learning developments and associated technologies”, with the goal of addressing “the national and economic security needs of the United States, including economic risk”. Both boards are crowded with powerful Silicon Valley CEOs and top executives from companies including Oracle, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and of course, Schmidt’s former colleagues at Google.

As chair, Schmidt – who still holds more than $5.3bn in shares of Alphabet (Google’s parent company), as well as large investments in other tech firms – has essentially been running a Washington-based shakedown on behalf of Silicon Valley. The main purpose of the two boards is to call for exponential increases in government spending on research into artificial intelligence and on tech-enabling infrastructure such as 5G – investments that would directly benefit the companies in which Schmidt and other members of these boards have extensive holdings.

First in closed-door presentations to lawmakers, and later in public-facing opinion articles and interviews, the thrust of Schmidt’s argument has been that since the Chinese government is willing to spend limitless public money building the infrastructure of high-tech surveillance, while allowing Chinese tech companies such as Alibaba, Baidu and Huawei to pocket the profits from commercial applications, the US’s dominant position in the global economy is on the precipice of collapsing.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic) recently got access, through a freedom of information (FOI) request, to a presentation made by Schmidt’s NSCAI in May 2019. Its slides make a series of alarmist claims about how China’s relatively lax regulatory infrastructure and its bottomless appetite for surveillance are causing it to pull ahead of the US in a number of fields, including “AI for medical diagnosis”, autonomous vehicles, digital infrastructure, “smart cities”, ride-sharing and cashless commerce.

The reasons given for China’s competitive edge are myriad, ranging from . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 May 2020 at 9:51 am

%d bloggers like this: