Science/Technology – June 2019

While human behavior grows at less than a snail’s pace, technology continues to explode exponentially.

The major problem is senior members in government tend to be ignorant of the possibilities and problems with new technologies emerging by the nanosecond.

Here we try to keep track of them as best as we can.

11 thoughts on “Science/Technology – June 2019

  1. How to Configure Your iPhone to Work for You, Not Against You

    The Very, Very Complete Guide to Productivity, Focus, and Your Own Longevity

    The iPhone could be an incredible tool, but most people use their phone as a life-shortening distraction device.

    However, if you take the time to follow the steps in this article you will be more productive, more focused, and — I’m not joking at all — live longer.

    Practically every iPhone setup decision has tradeoffs. I will give you optimal defaults and then trust you to make an adult decision about whether that default is right for you.

    Read more

  2. Opinion by Kara Swisher

    ‘If You’ve Built a Chaos Factory, You Can’t Dodge Responsibility for the Chaos’

    Amazon says it’s not responsible if its creations are abused.

    Don’t bring a knife to a chaos factory.

    That’s my takeaway after listening to tech leaders at the Code conference last week try to explain the impact of the myriad inventions, good and bad, that they have unleashed upon all of us over the last few years.

    The “chaos factory” is what Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, called Silicon Valley in a commencement address at Stanford on Sunday.

    “Too many seem to think that good intentions excuse away harmful outcomes,” Mr. Cook told the assembled graduates of a school from which much of the modern internet has sprung. “If you’ve built a chaos factory, you can’t dodge responsibility for the chaos. Taking responsibility means having the courage to think things through.”

    The graduates may have been listening; the leaders of tech maybe not as much.

    Read a pdf of this article or go behind the paywall.

  3. Why the Guardian is taking on America’s plastic waste crisis

    United States of Plastic, a new series that will run for the rest of 2019, will reveal global inequality and the environmental consequences of our dependence on a miracle material

    The Guardian is doing a series of stories on plastic that will run though the end of the year. There are already several published. The link below will take you to all of them which include stories on:

    • Where does your plastic go?
    • Are you recycling wrong?
    • Why is food wrapped in plastic and then put in a plastic bag?
    • …and more

      Read more

  4. More on Facebook’s libra currency

    Should you care about Facebook cryptocurrency?

    It’s not bitcoin. It’s also not Venmo. It’s more like an attempt at the internet-age US dollar.

    After months of rumors and partial leaks, Facebook confirmed on Tuesday that it’s working on a cryptocurrency called “libra,” which will launch next year.

    First, a quick and dirty explanation of what libra is and isn’t: While it is a cryptocurrency — in short, digital money — it doesn’t have a ton in common with bitcoin, the most famous cryptocurrency. Bitcoin derives its value from risk and scarcity, and making a profit off it is inherently difficult (in addition to a huge energy suck). And despite years of fervor about a magical future made possible by the blockchain, bitcoin is still basically a niche currency, not widely used for everyday transactions or even peer-to-peer payments.

    Libra payments will be written into a new blockchain, which is still being built. There’ll be no “mining” for libra; you’ll basically just buy it. And the value of libra — which Facebook is imagining as a new global currency standard, like the US dollar but supposedly more stable and easier to exchange — will be guaranteed by a reserve of real assets, initially provided by the partners that buy into Facebook’s Libra Association. (Making it, also, more stable than bitcoin.) Right now, that includes a pretty staggering roster of heavyweights in venture capital, tech, and the nonprofit world: Mastercard, Visa, Uber, Lyft, Spotify, eBay, PayPal, Union Square Ventures, and Andreessen Horowitz, to name a few.

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  5. Facebook Plans Global Financial System Based on Cryptocurrency


    SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook unveiled an ambitious plan on Tuesday to create an alternative financial system that relies on a cryptocurrency that the company has been secretly working on for more than a year.

    The effort, announced with 27 partners as diverse as Mastercard and Uber, could face immediate skepticism from people who question the usefulness of cryptocurrencies and others who are wary of the power already accumulated by the social media company.

    The cryptocurrency, called Libra, will also have to overcome concern that Facebook does not effectively protect the private information of its users — a fundamental task for a bank or anyone handling financial transactions.

    But if the project, which Facebook hopes to begin next year with 100 partners, should come together, it would be the most far-reaching attempt by a mainstream company to jump into the world of cryptocurrencies, which is best known for speculative investments through digital tokens like Bitcoin and outside-the-law e-commerce, like buying drugs online.

    Read a pdf of this article or go behind the paywall.

  6. How YouTube erased history in its battle against white supremacy

    Its removal of thousands of videos and channels featuring Holocaust denial and Nazi ideologies offended a wide array of would-be supporters of its new hate-speech policy

    SAN FRANCISCO — Last week, YouTube launched a crackdown on white supremacists and purveyors of hoaxes. It took down thousands of videos and channels that featured Holocaust denial and promoted Nazi ideologies.

    But instead of praise, the implementation of a new hate-speech policy managed to offend a wide array of would-be supporters: Some of the advocates who had been lobbying for YouTube to change its practices protested that their video clips had been wrongly caught up in the sweep. Among the videos that YouTube removed were clips of Hitler’s speeches and videos explaining the origins and dangers of white-supremacist ideas that had historical and educational value.

    YouTube wields enormous power as the gatekeeper of 5 billion hours of video watched daily. Its role is part social media service, part real-time broadcaster and part archive — meaning censorship on YouTube is more likely to raise difficult questions of erasing history.

    Read a pdf of this article or go behind the paywall.

  7. Twitter is eroding your intelligence. Now there’s data to prove it.

    A new study questions use of Twitter as a tool to enhance learning. (Richard Drew/AP)

    Twitter, used by 126 million people daily and now ubiquitous in some industries, has vowed to reform itself after being enlisted as a tool of misinformation and hate.

    But new evidence shows that the platform may be inflicting harm at an even more basic level. It could be making its users, well, a bit witless.

    The finding by a team of Italian researchers is not necessarily that the crush of hashtags, likes and retweets destroys brain cells; that’s a question for neuroscientists, they said.

    Rather, the economists, in a working paper published this month by the economics and finance department at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, found that Twitter not only fails to enhance intellectual attainment but substantially undermines it.

    “It’s quite detrimental,” Gian Paolo Barbetta, a professor of economic policy at the private research university and the paper’s lead author, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I can’t say whether something is changing in the mind, but I can say that something is definitely changing in the behavior and the performance.”

    To the best of Barbetta’s knowledge, his study is the largest and most rigorous examination of Twitter’s effect on student achievement, with applications to learning and information retention in other areas of life.

    Read more in a pdf or go behind the paywall.

  8. Algorithms Won’t Fix What’s Wrong With YouTube

    What seems like a sensible decision to an algorithm can be a terrible misstep to a human

    YouTube deals in the extraordinary, and shuns the ordinary. Whether that’s the everyday life of improbably rich young millionaires like Jake Paul, a high school dropout from Westlake, Ohio, or PewDiePie, a skinny, fast-talking Swede whose real name is Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, YouTube seeks to serve a need.

    It does so through “the algorithm” — YouTube’s recommendation engine. It’s a black box that YouTube introduced to keep us watching, but which has become a thorn in its side as the platform grows at an astronomically grand scale.

    YouTube’s recommendation algorithm is a set of rules followed by cold, hard computer logic. It was designed by human engineers, but is then programmed into and run automatically by computers, which return recommendations, telling viewers which videos they should watch. Google Brain, an artificial intelligence research team within the company, powers those recommendations, and bases them on user’s prior viewing. The system is highly intelligent, accounting for variations in the way people watch their videos.

    Like many aspects of Google, it is also notoriously opaque. Occasionally, however, the curtain is lifted a little. In 2016, a paper by three Google employees revealed the deep neural networks behind YouTube’s recommended videos, which rifle through every video we’ve previously watched. The algorithm then uses that information to select a few hundred videos we might like to view from the billions on the site, which are then winnowed down to dozens, which are then presented on our screens.

    In the three years since Google Brain began making smart recommendations, watch time from the YouTube home page has grown 20-fold. More than 70 percent of the time people spend watching videos on YouTube, they spend watching videos suggested by Google Brain.

    This suits Google: it doesn’t want viewers to stay in their silos and watch only one or two creators. There are plenty of others they could watch. The more videos that are watched, the more ads that are seen, and the more money Google makes. As well as helping people find what they are looking for, Jim McFadden, YouTube’s technical lead for recommendations, told The Verge: “We also wanted to serve the needs of people when they didn’t necessarily know what they wanted to look for.”

    But, as we’ve come to learn with YouTube, what seems like a sensible decision to the algorithm can be a terrible misstep to a human. And it can all go hideously wrong.

    Read a pdf of this article or go behind the paywall.

    1. Algorithms decide who gets a loan, who gets a job interview, who gets insurance and much more — but they don’t automatically make things fair. Mathematician and data scientist Cathy O’Neil coined a term for algorithms that are secret, important and harmful: “weapons of math destruction.” Learn more about the hidden agendas behind the formulas.

      h/t @CatChew



    IN APRIL 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sat before members of both houses of Congress and told them his company respected the privacy of the roughly two billion people who use it. “Privacy” remained largely undefined throughout Zuckerberg’s televised flagellations, but he mentioned the concept more than two dozen times, including when he told the Senate’s Judiciary and Commerce committees, “We have a broader responsibility to protect people’s privacy even beyond” a consent decree from federal privacy regulators, and when he told the House Energy and Commerce Committee, “We believe that everyone around the world deserves good privacy controls.” A year later, Zuckerberg claimed in interviews and essays to have discovered the religion of personal privacy and vowed to rebuild the company in its image.

    But only months after Zuckerberg first outlined his “privacy-focused vision for social networking” in a 3,000-word post on the social network he founded, his lawyers were explaining to a California judge that privacy on Facebook is nonexistent.

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