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December 3, 2016

[liveblog] Stephanie Mendoza: Web VR

Stephanie Mendoza [twitter:@_liooil] [Github: SAM-liooil] is giving a talk at the Web 1.0 conference. She’s a Unity developer.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

WebVR— a 3D in-browser standard— is at 1.0 these days, she says.. It’s cross platform which is amazing because it’s hard to build for Web, Android, and Vive. It’s “uncharted territory” where “everything is an experiment.” You need Chromium
, an experimental version of Chrome, to run it. She uses A-Frame to create in-browser 3D environments.

“We’re trying to figure out the limit of things we can simulate.” It’s going to follow us out into the real world. E.g., she’s found that “Simulating fearful situations ) can lessen fear of those situations in the real world”simulating fearful situations (e.g., heights) can lessen fear of those situations in the real world.

This crosses into Meinong’s jungle: a repository of non-existent entities in Alexius Meinong‘s philosophy.

The tool they’re using is A-Frame, which is an abstraction layer on top of WebGL
, Three.js, and VRML. (VRML was an HTML standard that didn’t get taken up much because the browsers didn’t run it very well. [I was once on the board of a VRML company which also didn’t do very well.]) WebVR works on Vibe, High Fidelity, Janus, the Unity Web player, and Youtube 360, under different definitions of “works.” A-Frame is open source.

Now she takes us through how to build a VR Web page. You can scavenge for 3D assets or create your own. E.g., you can go to Thingiverse and convert the files to the appropriate format for A-Frame.

Then you begin a “scene” in A-Frame, which lives between <a-scene> tags in HTML. You can create graphic objects (spheres, planes, etc.) You can interactively work on the 3D elements within your browser. [This link will take you to a page that displays the 3D scene Stephanie is working with, but you need Chromium to get to the interactive menus.]

She goes a bit deeper into the A-Frame HTML for assets, light maps, height maps, specular maps, all of which are mapped back to much lower-count polygons. Entities consist of geometry, light, mesh, material, position, and raycaster, and your extensions. [I am not attempting to record the details, which Stephanie is spelling out clearly. ]

She talks about the HTC Vive. “The controllers are really cool. “They’re like claws. I use them to climb virtual trees and then jump out”They’re like claws. I use them to climb virtual trees and then jump out because it’s fun.” Your brain simulates gravity when there is none, she observes. She shows the A-Frame tags for configuring the controls, including gabbing, colliding, and teleporting.

She recommends some sites, including NormalMap, which maps images and lets you download the results.

QA

Q: Platforms are making their own non-interoperable VR frameworks, which is concerning.

A: It went from art to industry very quickly.

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[liveblog] Paul Frazee on the Beaker Browser

At the Web 1.0 conference, Paul Frazee
is talking about a browser — a Chrome fork — he’s been writing to browse the distributed Web.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

The distributed Web is the Web with ideas from BitTorrent integrated into it. Beaker
uses IPFS and DAT

  • This means:

  1. Anyone can be a server at any time.

  2. There’s no binding between a specific computer and a site; the content lives independently.

  3. There’s no back end.

This lets Beaker provide some unusual features:

  1. A “fork button” is built into the browser itself so you can modify the site you’re browsing. “People can hack socially” by forking a site and sharing those changes.

  2. Independent publishing: The site owner can’t change your stuff. You can allocate new domains cheaply.

  3. With Beaker, you can write your site locally first, and then post into the distributed Web.

  4. Secure distribution

  5. Versioned URLs

He takes us through a demo. Beaker’s directory looks a bit like Github in terms of style. He shows how to create a new site using an integrated terminal tool. The init command creates a dat.json file with some core metadata. Then he creates an index.html file and publishes it. Then anyone using the browser can see the site and ask to see the files behind it…and fork them. As with GitHub, you can see the path of forks. If you own the site, you can write to the site, with the browser. [This fulfills Tim Berners’-Lee’s original vision of Web browsers.]

QA

Q: Any DNS support?

A: Yes.

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[liveblog] Amber Case on making the Web fun again

I’m at the Web 1.0 conference, at the MIT Media Lab, organized by Amber Case [@caseorganic]. It’s a celebration of sites that can be built by a single person, she explains.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

The subtitle of Amber’s opening talk is “Where did my data go?” She talks about hosting sites that folded and took all the home pages with them. After AOL Hometown got angry comments about this, it AOL Hometown “solved” the problem by turning off comments“solved” the problem by turning off comments. Other bad things can happen to sites you build on other people’s sites. They can change your UI. And things other than Web sites can be shut down — including household items in the Internet of Things.

She shows the Maslow Hierarchy for Social Network Supermarkets from Chris Messina. So, what happened to owning your identity? At early Web conferences, you’d write your domain name on your ID tag. Your domain was your identity. RSS and Atom allowed for distributed reading. But then in the early 2000s social networks took over.

We started writing on third party platforms such as Medium and Wikia, but their terms of service make it difficult to own and transfer one’s own content.

The people who could have created the tools that would let us share our blogs went to work for the social networking sites. In 2010 there was a Federated Web movement that resulted in a movement towards this. E.g., it came up with Publish on your own Site and Syndicate Elsewhere (POSSE
).

Why do we need an independent Web? To avoid losing our content, so businesses can’t to fold and take it with it, for a friendlier UX, and for freedom. “Independent Websites can help provide the future of the Web.”

If we don’t do this, the Web gets serious, she says: People go to a tiny handful of sites. They’re not building as many quirky, niche, weird Web sites. “”We need a weird Web””“We need a weird Web because it allows us to play at the edges and to meet others.” But if you know how to build and archive your own things, you have a home for your data, for self-expression, and with links out to the rest of the Web.

Make static websites, she urges…possibly with the conference sponsor, Neocities.

QA

Bob Frankston: How can you own a domain name?

Amber: You can’t, not really.

Bob: And that’s a big, big problem.

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November 22, 2016

[liveblog][bkc] Scott Bradner: IANA: Important, but not for what they do"

I’m at a Berkman Klein [twitter: BKCHarvard] talk by Scott Bradner about IANA, the Internet Assigned Names Authority. Scott is one of the people responsible for giving us the Internet. So, thanks for that, Scott!

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Scott begins by pointing to the “absurdity” of Ted Cruz’s campaign
to prevent the “Internet giveaway.”“ The idea that “Obama gave away the Internet” is “hooey,”” The idea that “Obama gave away the Internet” is “hooey,” says Scott.

IANA started with a need to coordinate information, not to control it, he says. It began with the Network Working Group in 1968. Then Requests for Comments (RFC) in 1969. . The name “IANA” showed up in 1988, although the function had begun in 1972 with coordinating socket numbers. The Domain Name System made IP addresses easier to use, including the hierarchical clustering under .com, .org, etc.

Back to the beginning, computers were too expensive for every gov’t department to have one. So, ARPA wanted to share large and expensive computers among users. It created a packet-based network, which broke info up into packets that were then transmitted. Packet networking was the idea of Paul Baran at RAND who wanted a system that would survive a nuclear strike, but the aim of that network was to share computers. The packets had enough info to make it to their destinations, but the packet design made “no assumptions about the underlying transport network.” No service guarantees about packets making it through were offered. The Internet is the interconnection of the different networks, including the commercial networks that began showing up in the 1990s.

No one cared about the Net for decades. To the traditional telecom and corporate networking people, it was just a toy—”No quality of service, no guarantees, no security, no one in charge.” IBM thought you couldn’t build a network out of this because their definition of a network — the minimal requirements — was different. “That was great because it meant the regulators ignored us.”

The IANA function went into steady state 1984-1995. It did some allocating of addresses. (When Scott asked Jon Postel for addresses for Harvard, Postel sent him some; Postel was the one-person domain allocation shop.) IANA ran it for the top level domains.

“The Internet has few needs,” Scott says. It’s almost all done through collaboration and agreement. There are no requirements except at a very simple level. The only centralized functions: 1. We have to agree on what the protocol parameters are. Machines have to understand how to read the packet headers. 2. We have to allocate blocks of IP addresses and ASN‘s. 3. We have to have a single DNS, at least for now. IANA handles those three. “Everything else is distributed.” Everything else is collaboration.

In 1993, Network Solutions was given permission to start selling domain names. A domain cost $100 for 2 yrs. There were were about 100M names at that point, which added up to real money. Some countries even started selling off their TLD’s (top level domains), e.g., .tv

IANA dealt with three topics, but DNS was the only one of interest to most people. There was pressure to create new TLDs, which Scott thinks doesn’t solve any real problems. That power was given to ISOC, which set up the International Ad-Hoc Committee in 1996. It set up 7 new TLDs, one of which (.web) caused Image Online Design to sue Postel because they said Postel had promised it to them. The Dept. of Commerce saw that it needed to do something. So they put out an RFC and got 400+ comments. Meanwhile, Postel worked on a plan for institutionalizing the IANA function, which culminated in a conference in Jan 1998. Postel couldn’t go, so Scott presented in his stead.

Shortly after that the Dept of Commerce proposed having a private non-profit coordinate and manage the allocation of the blocks to the registries, manage the file that determines TLDs, and decide which TLDs should exist…the functions of IANA. “There’s no Internet governance here, simply what IANA did.”

There were meetings around the world to discuss this, including one sponsored by the Berkman Center. Many of the people attending were there to discuss Internet governance, which was not the point of the meetings. One person said, “Why are we wasting time talking about TLDs when the Internet is going to destroy countries?” “Most of us thought that was a well-needed vacuum,” says Scott. We didn’t need Internet governance. We were better off without it.

Jon Postel submitted a proposal for an Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). He died of a heart attack shortly thereafter. The Dept. of Commerce accepted the proposal. In Oct 1998 ICANN had its first board meeting. It was a closed meeting “which anticipated much of what’s wrong with ICANN.”

The Dept of Commerce had oversight over ICANN but its only power was to say yes or no to the file that lists the TLDs and the IP addresses of the nameservers for each of the TLDs.” “That’s the entirety of the control the US govt had over ICANN. “In theory, the Dept of Commerce could have said ‘Take Cuba out of that file,’ but that’s the most ridiculous thing they could have done and most of the world could have ignored them.” The Dept of Commerce never said no to ICANN.

ICANN institutionalizes the IANA. But it also has to deal with trademark issues coming out of domain name registrations, and consults on DNS security issues. “ICANN was formed as a little organization to replace Jon Postel.”

It didn’t stay little. ICANN’s budget went from a few million bucks to over $100M.“ “That’s a lot of money to replace a few competent geeks.”” “That’s a lot of money to replace a few competent geeks.” It’s also approved hundreds of TLDs. The bylaws went from 7,000 words to 37,000 words. “If you need 37,000 words to say what you’re doing, there’s something wrong.”

The world started to change. Many govts see the Net as an intrinsic threat.

  • In Sept. 2001, India, Brazil, and South Africa proposed that the UN undertake governance of the Internet.

  • Oct 2013: After Snowden, the Montevideo Statement on the Future of Internet Cooperation proposing moving away from US govt’s oversight of IANA.

  • Apr. 2014: NetMundial Initiative. “Self-appointed 25-member council to perform internet governance.”

  • Mar. 2014: NTIA announces its intent to transition key domain name functions.

The NTIA proposal was supposed to involve all the stakeholders. But it also said that ICANN should continue to maintain the openness of the Internet…a function that ICANN never had. Openness arises from the technical nature of the Net. NTIA said it wouldn’t accept an inter-governmental solution (like the ITU) because it has to involve all the stakeholders.

So who holds ICANN accountable? They created a community process that is “incredibly strong.” It can change the bylaws, and remove ICAN directors or the entire board.

Meanwhile, the US Congress got bent out of shape because the US is “giving away the Internet.” It blocked the NTIA from acting until Sept. 2016. On Oct. 1 IANA became independent and is under the control of the community. “This cannot be undone.” “If the transition had not happened, forces in the UN would likely have taken over” governance of the Internet. This would have been much more likely if the NTIA had not let it go. “The IANA performs coordination functions, not governance. There is no Internet governance.”

How can there be no governance? “Because nobody cared for long enough that it got away from them,” Scott says. “But is this a problem we have to fix?”

He leaves the answer hanging. [SPOILER: The answer is NO]

Q&A

Q: Under whom do the IRI‘s [Internationalized Resource Identifier] operate?

A: Some Europeans offered to take over European domain names from Jon Postel. It’s an open question whether they have authority to do what they’re doing Every one has its own policy development process.

Q: Where’s research being done to make a more distributed Internet?

A: There have been many proposals ever since ICANN was formed to have some sort of distributed maintenance of the TLDs. But it always comes down to you seeing the same .com site as I do — the same address pointing to the same site for all Internet users. You still have to centralize or at least distribute the mapping. Some people are looking at geographic addressing, although it doesn’t scale.

Q: Do you think Trump could make the US more like China in terms of the Internet?

A: Trump signed on to Cruz’s position on IANA. The security issue is a big one, very real. The gut reaction to recent DDOS
attacks is to fix that rather than to look at the root cause, which was crappy devices. The Chinese government controls the Net in China by making everyone go through a central, national connection. Most countries don’t do that. OTOH, England is imposing very strict content

rules that all ISPs have to obey. We may be moving to a telephony model, which is a Westphalian
idea of national Internets.

Q: The Net seems to need other things internationally controlled, e.g. buffer bloat. Peer pressure seems to be the only way: you throw people off who disagree.

A: IANA doesn’t have agreements with service providers. Buffer bloat is a real issue but it only affects the people who have it, unlike the IoT DDOS attack that affected us all. Are you going to kick off people who’s home security cameras are insecure?

Q: Russia seems to be taking the opposite approach. It has lots of connections coming into it, perhaps for fear that someone would cut them off. Terrorist groups are cutting cables, botnets, etc.

A: Great question. It’s not clear there’s an answer.

Q: With IPv6 there are many more address spaces to give out. How does that change things?

A: The DNS is an amazing success story. It scales extremely well … although there are scaling issues with the backbone routing systems, which are big and expensive. “That’s one of the issues we wanted to address when we did IPv6.”

Q: You said that ICANN has a spotty history of transparency. What role do you think ICANN is going to play going forward? Can it improve on its track record?

A: I’m not sure that it’s relevant. IANA’s functions are not a governance function. The only thing like a governance issue are the TLDs and ICANN has already blown that.

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November 1, 2016

[liveblog][bkc] Paola Villarreal on Public Interest in Data Science

I’m at a Berkman Klein Center lunch time talk by Paola Villarreal [twitter: paw], a BKC fellow, on “Public Interest in Data Science.” (Paola points to a github page for her project info.)

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.


Public interest, she says, is the effecting of changes in social policies in the interest of the public, especially for the underdog. Data science extracts knowledge and insight from data in various forms, using math, statistics, research, info science and computer science. “What happens if you put data and tech in the hands of civil liberties orgs, human rights activists, media outlets”What happens if you put data and tech in the hands of civil liberties orgs, human rights activists, media outlets, and governments? How might this effect liberty, justice, equality, and transparency and accountability?


She is going to talk about the Data for Justice project, which is supported by the Ford Foundation, the ACLU, and the Mozilla Foundation. The aim is to empower lawyers and advocates to make data-supported cases for improving justice in their communities.


The process: get the data, normalize it, process it, analyze it, visualize it … and then socialize it, inform change, and make it last! She cautions that it is crucial to make sure that you’ve identified the affected communities and that they’re involved in generating a solution. All the stakeholders should be involved in co-designing the solution.


Paola talks about the Annie Dookhan case. Dookhan was a chemist at a Massachusetts crime lab, who falsified evidence, possibly affecting 24,000 cases. Paola shows a table of data: the percentage of adults and juveniles convicted in drug cases and those whose evidence went through Dookhan. It’s a very high number: in some counties, over 25% of the drug convictions used possibly falsified data from Dookhan.


She shows a map of Boston that shows that marijuana-related police interactions occur mainly where people of color live. She plays a clip from marijuana,justiceos.org.


She lists her toolkit, which includes R, Stata, PostGIS, Ant (Augmented Narrative Toolkit),
and Tableau


But what counts is having an impact, she says. That means reaching out to journalists, community organizers, authorities, and lawmakers.


She concludes that data and tech do not do anything by themselves, and data scientists are only one part of a team with a common goal. The intersection of law and data is important. She concludes: Data and tech in the hands of people working with and for the public interest can have an impact on people’s lives.


Q&A

Q: Why are communities not more often involved?


A: It’s hard. It’s expensive. And data scientists are often pretty far removed from community organizing.


Q: Much of the data you’re referring to are private. How do you manage privacy when sharing the data?


A: In the Dookhan case, the data was impounded, and I used security measures. The Boston maps showing where incidents occurred smudged the info across a grid of about half a mile.


A: Kate Crawford talks about how important Paola’s research was in the Dookhan case. “It’s really valuable for the ACLU to have a scientist working on data like this.”


Q: What happened to the people who were tried with Dookhan evidence?


A: [ann] Special magistrates and special hearings were set up…


Q: [charlie nesson] A MOOC is considering Yes on 4 (marijuana legalization ballot question) and someone asked if there is a relationship between cannabis reform and Black Lives Matter. And you’ve answered that question. It’s remarkable that BLM hasn’t cottoned on to cannabis reform as a sister issue.


Q: I’ve been reading Cathy O’Neil‘s Weapons of Math Destruction [me too!] and I’m wondering if you could talk about your passion for social justice as a data scientist.


A: I’m Mexican. I learned to code when I was 12 because I had access to the Internet. I started working as a web developer at 15, and a few years later I was director of IT for the president’s office. I reflected on how I got that opportunity, and the answer was that it was thanks to open source. That inspired me.


Q: We are not looking at what happens to black women. They get criminalized even more often than black men. Also, has anyone looked at questions of environmental justice?


Q: How can we tell if a visualization is valid or is propaganda? Are there organizations doing this?


A: Great question, and I don’t know how to answer it. We publish the code, but of course not everyone can understand it. I’m not using AI or Deep Learning; I’m keeping it simple.


Q: What’s the next big data set you’re going to work on?


A: (She shows a visualization tool she developed that explores police budgets.)


Q: How do you work with journalists? Do you bring them in early?


A: We haven’t had that much interaction with them yet.

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October 25, 2016

[liveblog] Tim Wu

Tim Wu [Twitter: superwuster] is giving a talk jointly sponsored by the Shorenstein Center and the Berkman Klein Center. His new book is The Attention Merchants.  He is introduced by Erie Meyer, a Shorenstein fellow this year.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Tim begins by noting that he was at the Berkman Center at its beginning, when it was pretty much just Charlie Nesson and Jonathan Zittrain.

He says that his new book is the “history of a business model”: the re-sale of human attention. This model has “long anchored the media,” but now has “exploded into all parts of our lives.” It’s part of many business models these days. Even the national parks are selling naming rights to trails.

“Maybe a thousand times a day, something tries to get us to spend maybe a micro-second” to notice something. “The deepest ambition of the book is to say that this is having an effect on the human condition.” He points to the casino effect where you get distracted by links and an hour later you say, “What just happened?” He’s concerned about a model that has us taking our attention away from people and our surroundings and into a commercial space.

The book is a history, he says. “”Newspapers once upon a time were not a mass media.” In 1830 NY’s biggest paper’s circulation was 2,000.”“Newspapers once upon a time were not a mass media.” In 1830 NY’s biggest paper’s circulation was 2,000. Papers were expensive. So, Benjamin Day — “the first attention merchant” — lowered the price of his paper to a penny, and covered a broader range of topics, “human interest stories for a mass audience.”. E.g., the first story in his paper, The NY Sun, was about tragic lovers. He was selling his audience to the advertisers.

“We’re in a time when we’re almost addicted to free stuff — free content, free services.” But people have begun to realize that we are then the product. “What’s being resold is something very scarce: human attention.” And as food, shelter, clothing, etc., are abundant, so the scarce things become even more valuable. We have 168 hours in a week, and that is one of the last scarce resources. “The models of free are scrambling to get at that resource.”

ERIE: You say in the book that trash-talking grabs our attention.

TIM: Many of the current techniques are quite old. E.g., Trolls. The NY Sun attracted competitors, including the NY Tribune. The Trib got attention by picking fights with other newspaper editors. He was the first troll. It worked. “We’ve seen recently that you can run an entire campaign just by insulting people.” The Sun fought back with even more salacious stories. E.g., “it reported that a scientist had discovered life on the moon, including trees, horse-like animals, and man-bats. They never retracted it.”it reported that a scientist had discovered life on the moon, including trees, horse-like animals, and man-bats. They never retracted it.

ERIE: As you point out, one of them grabbed attention by being pro-Abolition, which caused the others to become rabidly anti-Abolition.

TIM: The book doesn’t totally condemn that attention-seeking model, but it warns about its tendency to run to the most lurid content. This makes for constant ethical problems.

ERIE: You talk about the Oprah model…

TIM: “Orpah Winfrey is one of the great innovators in this area.” She was a fully integrated celebrity, production company, advertising company, and a tv network, all in one. She created product endorsements that drove a lot of advertising. She also married the appeal of ministry (salvation, forgiveness, transcendence) and commercialism. By 1995, she was making more money in entertainment than anyone else and gave rise to celebrities who are themselves attention merchants. E.g., Martha Stewart, Donald Trump: the celebrity builds her/his own media empire. Tim expects this to be the future.

One of the subtexts of the book, Tim says, is that the value of human attention was not widely recognized until the 20th century, except for organized religion. The entities interested in what you spent your time doing, before the 20th century, were organized religions that wanted you praying, and going to church, and in various ways to keep God on your mind.” In some ways, Tim says, the story of the book is the story of government and business figuring out that this is valuable resource. The govt realizes it when they see they can raise an army through govt propaganda. Industry, after govt, realizes they can sell products if they have public attention.

ERIE: Can you talk about micro-celebrities?

TIM: There’s a fascinating change in celebrity. (Tim name-checks me for the line “In the future, everyone will be famous to 15 people.”) And reality tv offers the lottery of fame to anyone. This has some consistency with the American dream: Everyone can have their own land and be sort of wealthy. “We have this idea that everyone can be famous.” The negative side of this is that in fact the disparities remain: it’s extremely hard to become famous, and the pursuit of it leads to empty lives. “It’s not like you write something and people read it.” The main reason is biological: ““The default setting of our brain is to ignore everything.”The default setting of our brain is to ignore everything.”

You can control attention to some degree, but it’s always darting around, and you can really only attend to one thing at once.

ERIE: You say the first ad blocker was a remote control…

TIM: In the 1920s, Zenith was a maverick company. The head of it (“The Commodore”) thought commercials had ruined radio. He had his engineers work on ad-blocking software for TV. They came up with the remote control. Originally it was a gun so you could shoot out the commercials. There have been other revolts. In Paris, there was a revolt against posters. In Paris, advertising is still restricted to certain areas. We may be in another such period now. (He mentions the Brave browserthat blocks ads from the gitgo.) “I believe in the power and legitimacy of results.”

ERIE: “You’ve said that if you have a mission in life, it’s to fight bullies.” What should aspiring entrepreneurs do?

TIM: I struggle with this. “A lot of people who have gone into tech have been very idealistic people.” The pay-for-content models haven’t worked so well. One chapter tells the story of decision-making at Google. At one point, it was bleeding money and didn’t know what to do, so they thought about advertising. But in 1996 Larry Page had written a manifesto that declared that advertising-funded search engines will always be biased and will never serve the interests of people. But Google thought it could square the circle with Adwords: a form of advertising that made the product better and didn’t bother people. That was true at the beginning. If an ad showed up, which usually didn’t happen, it’d be useful to you.

But the demands of the ad-based model have increased. The longer it gets, the worse it gets. They’ve increasingly blurred the lines between the organic results and the ads. Google Maps shows us things and it sometimes unclear why. Most of the major platforms haven’t gotten much better for consumers over the past few years, but have gotten better for advertisers. A developer said, ““The best minds of our generation have gone to getting people to click on ads.”The best minds of our generation have gone to getting people to click on ads.”

Tech is a key driver these days, he says. “Which has changed your life more? Government or tech?” I wish Google had considered a different kind of corporate form or model. “I give Wikipedia a lot of credit for going non-commercial. I give even more to the original creators of the Internet who just built it and put it out there.” E.g., the creator of email didn’t look for a business model. Likewise for the creators of the Internet Protocol or the Web.

ERIE: Have you ever clicked on an ad on purpose?

TIM: I think yes. I think I wanted to buy those razors.

Q & A

Q: Two positive examples: FB put out the call to register to vote. Services raise money for worthy causes.

A: Yes. Gathering up attention for some purpose isn’t inherently good or evil. The book argues for carving out quiet spaces, but I believe in the Habermasian public sphere.

Q: Platforms can abandon ads but show us content based on who pays them. How can we rebel against what we can’t see?

A: Ad-blockers are not the most sustainable form of rebellion. I’ve decided that my attitude that I should never pay for anything on the Web came from my adolescent years. You have to support the content you like. “”There’s a difference between buying and supporting.””“There’s a difference between buying and supporting.”

Q: How about “Society as Spectacle“? And Kevin Kelly’s True Fan theory?

A: Paid models support a much broader variety of content. Ad models require the underlying content to more generally be mass content. That’s one of the reason that TV has gotten better over the past fifteen years. Ad supported TV drove to the middle. TV now gets 50% of its revenue from non-advertising.

Q: What’s been your hardest struggle to regain control of your attention?

A: All books probably come from a personal place. Control of attention is a struggle for me. One of the places I decided I needed to write this book was during a 10-day solo trip in the Utah desert. Time seemed to pass in very different ways. An hour could feel like a week. I felt like the modern regime was having me lose control. I like the Web, but I found I didn’t like the way I’d spent my time. I wish I’d spent time on activities I’d consciously chosen. I like JS Mills’ Chapter 3: Life is a matter of autonomy and self-development, and you need to make decisions that are yours.

Q: Is your a book is a manifesto for policy change, or a self-help book?

A: Can I have a third option?

Q: Are there policy implications?

A: I struggled with how much to make this legally prescriptive. Should I end the book with policy proposals? I decided not to, for a number of reasons. One had to do with craft: those last chapters of policy prescriptions, after a book covering 200 years, are usually pathetic. It’s very hard to regulate well. A lot of it has to do with how people conduct their lives. Policies aren’t sensitive to individual situations. I have complex feelings about it and didn’t want to cram into the book. And then people focus on those prescriptions at the expense of the rest of the book.

“If you get down to it, there is room for a new era of consumer protection” that tries to protect attention. Especially when it’s not consensual. E.g., the back of a taxi cab where you’re forced to be exposed to ads. “Non-consensual things reaching you…in law we call that ‘battery’.”

Q: Is commerce in attention span part of a democracy? People have to learn things they would not willingly learn.

A: If we perfect our filters, we may live in worlds where we learn only what we want to learn. I have complicated ideas about this. The penny press did a good job of creating the sense of a public and public opinion. But I resist the idea that to be a democracy we have to all attend to the same sources of information. “In the 19th century, America was a flourishing democracy and there was no national media”In the 19th century, America was a flourishing democracy and there was no national media, and lived in geographically defined filter bubbles. I don’t pine for the 1950s when everyone watched the same news broadcasts. Building one’s character means making your own information environment.

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October 12, 2016

[liveblog] Perception of Moral Judgment Made by Machines

I’m at the PAPIs conference where Edmond Awad [ twitter]at the MIT Media Lab is giving a talk about “Moral Machine: Perception of Moral Judgement Made by Machines.”

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

He begins with a hypothetical in which you can swerve a car to kill one person instead of stay on its course and kill five. The audience chooses to swerve, and Edmond points out that we’re utilitarians. Second hypothesis: swerve into a barrier that will kill you but save the pedestrians. Most of us say we’d like it to swerve. Edmond points out that this is a variation of the trolley problem, except now it’s a machine that’s making the decision for us.

Autonomous cars are predicted to minimize fatalities from accidents by 90%. He says his advisor’s research found that most people think a car should swerve and sacrifice the passenger, but they don’t want to buy such a car. They want everyone else to.

He connects this to the Tragedy of the Commons in which if everyone acts to maximize their good, the commons fails. In such cases, governments sometimes issue regulations. Research shows that people don’t want the government to regulate the behavior of autonomous cars, although the US Dept of Transportation is requiring manufacturers to address this question.

Edmond’s group has created the moral machine, a website that creates moral dilemmas for autonomous cars. There have been about two million users and 14 million responses.

Some national trends are emerging. E.g., Eastern countries tend to prefer to save passengers more than Western countries do. Now the MIT group is looking for correlations with other factors, e.g., religiousness, economics, etc. Also, what are the factors most crucial in making decisions?

They are also looking at the effect of automation levels on the assignment of blame. Toyota’s “Guardian Angel” model results in humans being judged less harshly: that mode has a human driver but lets the car override human decisions.

Q&A

In response to a question, Edmond says that Mercedes has said that its cars will always save the passenger. He raises the possibility of the owner of such a car being held responsible for plowing into a bus full of children.

Q: The solutions in the Moral Machine seem contrived. The cars should just drive slower.

A: Yes, the point is to stimulate discussion. E.g., it doesn’t raise the possibility of swerving to avoid hitting someone who is in some way considered to be more worthy of life. [I’m rephrasing his response badly. My fault!]

Q: Have you analyzed chains of events? Does the responsibility decay the further you are from the event?

This very quickly gets game theoretical.
A:

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October 11, 2016

[liveblog] Bas Nieland, Datatrix, on predicting customer behavior

At the PAPis conference Bas Nieland, CEO and Co-Founder of Datatrics, is talking about how to predict the color of shoes your customer is going to buy. The company tries to “make data science marketeer-proof for marketing teams of all sizes.” IT ties to create 360-degree customer profiles by bringing together info from all the data silos.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

They use some machine learning to create these profiles. The profile includes the buying phase, the best time to present choices to a user, and the type of persuasion that will get them to take the desired action. [Yes, this makes me uncomfortable.]

It is structured around a core API that talks to mongoDB and MySQL. They provide “workbenches” that work with the customer’s data systems. They use BigML to operate on this data.

The outcome are models that can be used to make recommendations. They use visualizations so that marketeers can understand it. But the marketeers couldn’t figure out how to use even simplified visualizations. So they created visual decision trees. But still the marketeers couldn’t figure it out. So they turn the data into simple declarative phrases: which audience they should contact, in which channel, what content, and when. E.g.:

“To increase sales, çontact your customers in the buying phase with high engagement through FB with content about jeans on sale on Thursday, around 10 o’clock.”

They predict the increase in sales for each action, and quantify in dollars the size of the opportunity. They also classify responses by customer type and phase.

For a hotel chain, they connected 16,000 variables and 21M data points, that got reduced to 75 variables by BigML which created a predictive model that ended up getting the chain more customer conversions. E.g., if the model says someone is in the orientation phase, the Web site shows photos of recommend hotels. If in the decision phase, the user sees persuasive messages, e.g., “18 people have looked at this room today.” The messages themselves are chosen based on the customer’s profile.

Coming up: Chatbot integration. It’s a “real conversation” [with a bot with a photo of an atttractive white woman who is supposedly doing the chatting]

Take-aways: Start simple. Make ML very easy to understand. Make it actionable.

Q&A

Me: Is there a way built in for a customer to let your model know that it’s gotten her wrong. E.g., stop sending me pregnancy ads because I lost the baby.

Bas: No.

Me: Is that on the roadmap?

Bas: Yes. But not on a schedule. [I’m not proud of myself for this hostile question. I have been turning into an asshole over the past few years.]

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[liveblog] Vinny Senguttuvan on Predicting Customers

Vinny Senguttuvan is Senior Data Scientist at METIS. Before that, he was at Facebook-based gaming company, High 5 Games, which had 10M users. His talk at PAPIs: “Predicting Customers.”

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

The main challenge: Most of the players play for free. Only 2% ever spend money on the site, buying extra money to play. (It’s not gambling because you never cash out). 2% of those 2% contribute the majority of the revenue.

All proposed changes go through A/B testing. E.g., should we change the “Buy credits” button from blue to red. This is classic hypothesis testing. So you put up both options and see which gets the best results. It’s important to remember that there’s a cost to the change, so the A-B preference needs to be substantial enough. But often the differences are marginal. So you can increase the sample size. This complicates the process. “A long list of changes means not enough time per change.” And you want to be sure that the change affects the paying customers positively, which means taking even longer.

When they don’t have enough samples, they can bring down the confidence level required to make the change. Or they could bias one side of the hypothesis. And you can assume the variables are independent and run simultaneous A-B tests on various variables. High 5 does all three. It’s not perfect but it works.

Second, there is a poularity metric by which they rank or classify their 100 games. They constantly add games — it went from 15 to 100 in two years. This continuously changes the ranking of the games. Plus, some are launched locked. This complicates things. Vinny’s boss came up with a model of an n-dimensional casino, but it was too complex. Instead, they take 2 simple approaches: 1. An average-weighted spin. 2. Bayesian. Both predicted well but had flaws, so they used a type of average of both.

Third: Survival analysis. They wanted to know how many users are still active a given time after they created their account, and when is a user at risk of discontinuing use. First, they grouped users into cohorts (people who joined within a couple of weeks of each other) and plotted survival rates over time. They also observed return rates of users after each additional day of absence. They also implement a Cox survival model. They found that newer users were more likely to decline in their use of the product; early users are more committed. This pattern is widespread. That means they have to continuously acquire new players. They also alert users when they reach the elbow of disuse.

Fourth: Predictive lifetime value. Lifetime value = total revenue from a user over the entire time the the produced. This is significant because of costs: 10-15% of the rev goes into ads to acquire customers. Their 365 day prediction model should be a time series, but they needed results faster, so they flipped it into a regression problem, predicting the 365 day revenue based on the user’s first month data: how they spent, purchase count, days of play, player level achievement, and the date joined. [He talks about regression problems, but I can’t keep up.] At that point it cost $2 to acquire a customer from FB ad, and $6 from mobile apps. But when they tested, the mobile acquisitions were more profitable than those that came from through FB. It turned out that FB was counting as new users any player who hadn’t played in 30 days, and was re-charging them for it. [I hope I got that right.]

Fifth: Recommendation systems. Pandora notes the feature of songs and uses this to recommend similarities. YouTube makes recommendations made based on relations among users. Non-matrix factorization [I’m pretty sure he just made this up] gives you the ability to predict the score for a video that you know nothing about in terms of content. But what if the ratings are not clearly defined? At High 5, there are no explicit ratings. They calculated a rating based on how often a player plays it, how long the session, etc. And what do you do about missing values: use averages. But there are too many zeroes in the system, so they use sparse matrix solvers. Plus, there is a semi-order to the games, so they used some human input. [Useful for library Stackscores
?]

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September 21, 2016

[iab] Frances Donegan-Ryan

At the IAB conference, Frances Donegan-Ryan from Bing begins by reminding us of the history of online search.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

We all leave digital footprints, she says. Every time we search, data is recorded. The sequence of our searches gives especially useful information to help the engine figure out what you’re trying to find out. Now the engines can refer to social graphs.

“But what do we do with data?”

Bing Predicts
looks at all the data it can in order to make predictions. It began by predicting the winners and losers in American Idol, and got it 100% right. For this election year, it tried to predict who would win each state primary or caucus in the US. Then it took in sentiment data to figure out which issues matter in each state, broken down by demographic groups.

Now, for example, it can track a new diabetes drug through the places people visit when logged into their browser. This might show that there are problems with the drug; consider for example people searching for unexpected side effects of it. Bing shares the result of this analysis with the CDC. [The acoustics where I was sitting was poor. I’m not sure I got this right.]

They’re doing the same for retail products, and are able to tell which will be the big sellers.

Frances talks about Cortana, “the only digital system that works across all platforms.” Microsoft is working on many more digital assistants — Bots
— that live within other services. She shows a temporary tattoo
made from gold leaf that you can use as a track pad, and other ways; this came out of MIT.

She says that the Microsoft version of a Fitbit can tell if you’re dehydrated or tired, and then can point you to the nearest place with water and a place to sit. Those shops could send you a coupon.

She goes quickly over the Hololens since Robert Scoble covered it so well this morning.

She closes with a story about using sensor data to know when a cow is in heat, which, it turns out, correlates with them walking faster. Then the data showed at what point in the period of fertility a male or female cow is likely to be conceived. Then they started using genetic data to predict genetically disabled calves.

It takes enormous computing power to do this sort of data analysis.

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