Are Social Media Companies Doing Enough to Counter Extremism?

Are Social Media Companies Doing Enough to Counter Extremism?

Some UK MPs recently accused social media giants of “consciously failing” to combat extremists using their platforms as a way of disseminating their values.

According to the Home Affairs Select Committee, firms including Google (which owns YouTube), Twitter and Facebook all need to demonstrate “a greater sense of responsibility” in the war on terror and online recruitment to terrorist groups.

All three companies have maintained that they take their role in this fight very seriously, and Twitter recently revealed that it had taken down over 200,000 extremist accounts in the past few months.

Industry body techUK reported that the MPs description of the tech moguls’ stance against terror was “inaccurate” and failed to reflect the important progress that the companies had made.

According to the HASC, the companies are guilty of “passing the buck” over countering online terrorism.

facebook“Networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are the vehicle of choice in spreading propaganda and they have become the recruiting platforms for terrorism,” the MPs complained.

“They must accept that the hundreds of millions of revenues generated from billions of people using their products needs to be accompanied by a greater sense of responsibility and ownership for the impact that extremist material on their sites is having,” the committee concluded.

According to committee chairman Keith Vaz, the networks have been “hiding behind” their supranational legal status and should be forced to demonstrate more transparency regarding how much material they remove and how quickly they’re able to do it.

“They are very powerful organizations making a lot of money and therefore they should devote more of their resources and time, and more people, to solving this problem,” Vaz told one major media outlet. “When they see a preacher of hate espousing radicalization they should take down the video- and that’s what we need to see happen.”

Once Scotland Yard unit working in tandem with social media companies has apparently overseen the removal of over 1,000 instances of extremist or illegal material every week.

When radical cleric Anjem Choudary was brought to trial for inviting support of the Islamic State, evidence was brought forward showing that when police requested that social media platforms remove Choudary’s content or accounts, these requests were ignored on several instances.

While the UK has condemned Twitter, the US State Department and France’s interior minister have both congratulated the company for its increased efforts countering terrorism, which has resulted in the closing of 360,000 extremist accounts since last summer.

waohOne UK official, the director of policy for Facebook UK, told a major media outlet that Facebook had actually provided extensive evidence regarding the rapid development of its counter-extremism strategy.

“Terrorists and the support of terrorist activity are not allowed on Facebook and we deal swiftly and robustly with reports of terrorism-related content,” said Simon Milner. “In the rare instances that we identify accounts or material as terrorist, we’ll also look for and remove relevant associated accounts and content.”

According to a spokesman for Youtube, “We take our role in combating the spread of extremist material very seriously. We remove content that incites violence, terminate accounts run by terrorist organizations, and respond to legal requests to remove content that breaks UK law… We’ll continue to work with government and law enforcement authorities to explore what more can be done to tackle radicalization.”

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Tesla Under Fire

Tesla Under Fire

The group consumer reports said this week that it is calling on Tesla to disable their automatic steering system also referred to as Auto Pilot given that it is not ready for the market or the roads. The thinking behind it is that it is ridiculous to make the claim as Tesla does that they have this thing that can drive and steer your car, but just in case the driver should be constantly vigilant and ready to take over control of the car at a moments notice. Teslsa themselves have said time and time again that this product is still in beta. This is fine but the reality remains that they are basically saying that the people who are the first to test this new product are essentially the Guinness pigs of this process and that is not okay. We have already seen this week a death involving the autopilot system and that is what is making them turn up the heat. The consumers report group usually goes after people whose products are either defective against what they say they can do or they are down right dangerous. The thing is that there is nothing that they are obligated to do but this will definitely turn up the heat and put them in the spot light. They group recently went after Samsung for their claim that their new cell phone was capable of being water proof. This was featured in a commercial in which rapper Lil Wayne is shown pouring champagne onto the phone and even completely submerging it underwater, while still maintaining service. This the group found was completely false. Because of this, they pointed out a clear breech of consumer trust and even breaking the law in saying their product can do something that it can’t. Its tantamount to saying you are selling a blender that cannot turn bananas to drink. However, when it comes to Tesla it is a bit of a different of a situation considering that they say you should not solely depend on it to drive you to where you need to go and that it is only meant to aid in the driving experience not take it over entirely. This is all well and good and they did it to avoid liability but the reality is that people are using it to just drive themselves and that is a problem. However, with the way they worded it its not really illegal what they are doing. The consumer report is not claiming that it is, rather its just really irresponsible and in bad taste to do so. They say that, ” auto pilot can’t actually drive the car, yet it allows consumers to have their hands off the steering wheel for hi-mutes at a time, Tesla should disable automatic steering in its cars until it updates the program to verify that the driver’s hands are on the wheel.” 

What is convenient is that they don’t really have to have a big recall to make this happen all they need to do is disable the service remotely.

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Cardboard Windows to Virtual Reality

Cardboard Windows to Virtual Reality

Technology is constantly changing, but Google is still on its way to owning the rights to everything you could ever want or need. Now, they’re bringing you your own imagination.

As of the 2015 developer’s conference, Google has launched blueprints for its newest life-changing necessity, Cardboard. With Cardboard, users will be able to have a low-level Virtual Reality experience without having to refinance their cars or sell their homes, because Cardboard is essentially instructions to craft a headset using your own materials. That’s right, kids; a model airplane without the pieces. You can now walk through the desert or swim underwater, sort of, for only about 20 bucks!

cardboard3Google’s idea is that this inexpensive new toy will encourage users to contribute ideas to existing Cardboard apps, and hopefully develop their own, new apps to further the growth of the Poor Man’s Headset. With the plastic – and – packaged alternatives pricing in the low hundreds, high thousands – the Oculus pricing anywhere from $900 to $1500 – it’s no wonder the idea’s popularity is skyrocketing. Cardboard and Daydream – a company who is building off the Cardboard platform – are already quoting downloads of over 50 million since its start-up last year.

Marxent CTO Barry Besecker told TechNewsWorld that Google is “betting that mobile will be the key to VR proliferation, vs. desktop or console-based hardware like Oculus,” meaning the company hopes that, instead of creating and exploring a virtual world from the safety and comfort of their homes, users will venture out into public, wearing their cardboard headsets freely, unplugged and without need for backup PC power. If you thought Bluetooth to Public secondhand conversation interaction was confusing, just wait to be run over by a canoeist with a cardboard facemask, trying frantically to escape from the 450 foot drop just ahead, oh nooo!!..

However, even though Google’s VR efforts have firmly held the attention of the masses, Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, thinks it’s still too early to predict the successes of Daydream and Cardboard, as, despite high interest among buyers, Google has developed a reputation for failing to follow through, he told TechNewsWorld.

“Daydream VR appears to be the new strategic direction for Google VR,” Enderle said, but “be aware that Google has the attention span of a small child on sugar, so how long this will remain ‘strategic’ will likely be measured in months.”

And as we all know, Where There’s A “Will you buy my product?!” There’s a “Wait, no, mine’s better!” Any sign of hesitation on Google’s end could be an open door for its competitors to rush the market.

“Microsoft is betting on HoloLens, and we still have to see what’s up with Apple,” Roger Entner, principal analyst at Recon Analytics told TechNewsWorld; “Often Apple comescardboard2 a little bit later than the others, but then they do it a lot better. I think that’s the game plan here.”

While Cardboard eventually grew beyond Android to support iOS, Daydream is native to Google’s mobile operating system, which could be a death sentence all its own. As more and more eager startup companies enter the race to the future, trends still find consumers sticking by the big-name OG companies when it comes to new ideas.

But for now you could still, you know, go outside. But first, Google “cardboard bicycles”.

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Twitter Changes with the Times

Twitter Changes with the Times

Last Tuesday, Twitter announced that it would be changing its protocol to allow users more room in what they want to include in their messages. Twitter Senior Product Manager Todd Sherman revealed that names tagged during a reply to a tweet will no longer be counted as against the character limit and that Tweets that begin with a username will be delivered to all followers of that user. The old system required that a period be inserted before the username, otherwise the tweet only be seen by the followers of the writer and any other usernames tagged. Users would also be able to retweet and quote tweet themselves.

convThese changes may toe the line between the improvements that Twitter needs to make in order to rebound from a two-year stock-value descent and the defining features that Twitter must uphold to avoid pissing off its current users. John Carroll, mass communications professor at Boston University, stated that while most of the changes would likely go over well, self-retweeting might get really annoying.

“There are a lot of people who will look on retweeting yourself with dismay,” he claimed, using an SAT word to maintain an air of professionalism despite the fact that a change in Twitter’s format has been categorized as within his academic expertise.

Others claim that the changes speak to the development of a general flexibility that has been unattainable for Twitter in the past.

“Twitter held firm too long on a very stringent format,” said Andreas Scherer, managing partner at Salto Partners, whatever that is. “This announcement is a sign that the company is willing to rethink the experience users have with its service.”

Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, made a safe wager when he guessed that the changes to Twitter will only be interesting to people obsessed with Twitter: “They don’t do anything at all drive user growth,” he told an online tech magazine whose content I generally rewrite. He added that the changes will also do nothing to affect him having a girls’ name.

chichErna Alfred Liousas, an analyst with Forrester Research, has what barely constitute’s a girl’s name and welcomes the changes: “They’re addressing things that didn’t make sense to all of us who use the platform on a regular basis…The changes will re-enforce why we’re on the platform. We’ll actually be able to have conversations without being penalized for including a person or link or photo.”

Another great platform that enables such conversation is the internet. Perhaps this is why Erna doesn’t expect the Twitter changes to attract any new users.

“The changes won’t bring new users to the platform [Twitter], but they’ll make the experience overall a lot smoother,” she posited.

In that regard, Twitter may be treading water more so than it is swimming upstream (?). The company needs to prove its ability to attract more users if it wants to compete with the likes of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. The monthly active Twitter users worldwide rose by only 2.6 percent from the first quarter of 2015 to the first quarter of 2016, and like pubescent breasts, investors see the rate of growth as much more important than the occurrence of growth in the first place.


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The Inspiring Story of AlphaGo

The Inspiring Story of AlphaGo

There have been multiple incidents when a human and a machine have faced off in a competition of wits vs. coding; in Jeopardy and in Chess, computers have finally, and famously, bested their human opponents. More recently, Western Go professional Lee Sedol lost a game of Go to a computer using an advanced artificial intelligence algorithm.

alpha go2Some feel a sense of panic at these displays of computational dominance and worry that they’re a sign that computers will rise to power over lesser minds. Others see a bright future indicated by the computer’s victory; they believe that computers and humans will commence to evolve together, and be the cause of each other’s evolution due to a kind of brain-computer link.

Perhaps in no other field of computing is this more true than that of artificial intelligence. AI developers have found inspiration for computing progress in the human brain, and organizations like DeepMind are walking at the razor’s edge of neural and computational understanding.

DeepMind was responsible for the creation of the Go machine that finally became the world champion at the ancient game invented in China 3,000 years ago. DeepMind created what’s called a deep neural network, which is comprised of a network of hardware and software engineered to loosely mimic the web of neurons in the human brain. Neural networks aren’t a singular creation by DeepMind’s development team; tech moguls like Facebook and Google use them to identify faces in photos and to understand human speech.

Neural networks allow engineers to feed a computer information and allow it to create abstractions and understandings on its own based on the loads of information it is fed. This was famously demonstrated when a computer was fed image after image of cats, and eventually learned to recognize cats on its own and differentiate them from similar mammals like dogs, foxes, and the like. Again, this was done not through creating an algorithm that allowed a computer to look for certain attributes that prove that a cat is a cat and examine a picture for those attributes (a code which would be extremely difficult to make work accurately) but instead through simply giving the computer huge amounts of information and allowing it to figure things out for itself.

agIn the case of AlphaGo, the victorious Go machine, its win against the reining human champion was chalked up to a strange and unexpected move on its 37th turn. According to David Silver, the researcher who led the creation of AlphaGo, AlphaGo “knew that this was a move that professionals would not choose, and yet, as it started to search deeper and deeper, it was able to override that initial guide.”

Although there’s no way of really understanding how the computer understands anything when it’s using a neural network, the team behind AlphaGo’s creation believes that in a certain sense, AlphaGo had to start “thinking on its own” to win the game. In other words, it was not making decisions based on a set of rules that its creator had encoded in its digital DNA but instead making decisions based on algorithms that it taught itself:

“It really discovered this for itself, through its won process of introspection and analysis.”

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Society and Technology

Society and Technology

The relationship between society and technology has always been one of interwoven feedback loops so complicated that it can seem ultimately pointless to attempt to differentiate the two terms in the first place. However, using the terms as two different, mutually-effecting entities can offer interesting thought experiments to the thinker hoping to reflect on the strange and amazing aspects of our time that have been foregrounded to the point of accruing a false sense of validation and normalcy. Let’s proceed accordingly.

virtSociety will always transition based on technological change; technology affects the jobs available at a certain time, the quality of life expected by the average member of the middle class, the information available to the average person, and many other crucial and definitive features of a society at a given place and a given time. There are a number of technological advances that have been accredited with responsibility for major societal change; the invention of the printing press, for example, enabled more works of writing to be made for less money and energy than ever before. This in turn caused the rate of literacy to sky rocket across Europe, as did the widespread knowledge of global and continent-wide events.

Another pertinent example can be made out of the invention of the internet. The internet’s effect on global society (indeed, it is held responsible for making global societies possible) is so immense and has happened so quickly that it remains difficult to analyze and therefore predict future consequences. What can be said for certain is that the opening of a new virtual space where people can educate themselves and assemble based on common interests makes this time unparalleled in terms of the potential to pursue one’s own chosen path for personal growth. That said, it’s important to acknowledge that the internet also has the potential to be a horrifying cesspool.

Technology impacts society so much that it may seem at this point very clear that it is the true catalyst to societal change, and perhaps is stationed at the steering wheel of global cultures. However, it’s important to realize that the technological advancements that have occurred over time have all been posited by members of the society of a particular age and culture; societal mores largely determine the values which, once taken for granted, determine what kind of inventions would be found useful and attractive.

virt2For example, consider the technology behind the invention of the plethora of medieval torture devices that can now be seen in museums across Europe. Those devices owe their existence to the brutality normalized in the penal systems of those times.  It’s also important to realize that the environmentally detrimental aspects of most technology, and the less environmentally detrimental technology borne out of the unfolding green revolution owe their technological differences to a shift in societal consciousness and values.

In that regard, technology and society will always be defined based on the lens of the story teller; they function as a veritable before and after, a cause and effect that can always be switched based on perspective.

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