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Context and why it matters that AI doesn’t have a clue what it is

(TECHNOLOGY NEWS) AI is learning and growing faster than ever. However, one flaw that AI cannot seem to get around is context.

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Contextual oops

Let’s start with a story. This might be my favorite story in all the annals of geekdom, which is saying something for someone whose literal job is “purveyor of geeky stories.” On March 1, 1990, in AG’s beloved hometown of Austin, Texas, the United States Secret Service raided a “suspected ring of hackers.”

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It was a full-on, TV level bust: armed agents broke locks, tore up files, carted off computers, even did that “simultaneous raid so the masterminds can’t get word to their button men” thing at the home of one of the people involved. Hooray! The cops beat the bad guys! Not so much.

Right reason, wrong time

Three years and a court decision later, the Secret Service had to fess up: they’d raided a game company. A tabletop game company. As in paper and dice, neither noted for being connected to the Internet. They weren’t hackers. At all. They’d written a game about hackers, and in the grim darkness of 1990, the Secret Service was fuzzy on the difference. That poor guy who got his very own private raid? He wrote their cyberpunk setting, and had dared to do research on the subject.

That’s as close as anyone there got to l33t h4x0r doings, and it turned out to be close enough for armed cops in a private citizen’s living room without an invitation.

There’s a halfway happy ending to that story, involving money paid to the company, an epic tonguelashing from a circuit court judge, and the founding of the leading advocacy organization for digital privacy rights, but the point is the Secret Service. Their actions weren’t malicious. Stupid, yes. Hilarious in hindsight, absolutely. Catastrophic to a small business innocent of any wrongdoing, big time. But they thought they were doing the right thing. They just Did It Wrong.

Doing It Wrong

As AI saturates our lives, I reflect, as I often do, on Doing It Wrong. Fundamentally, that ridiculous case came down to a misunderstanding of context. The Secret Service didn’t have the background or expertise to differentiate between hacking and a game about hacking. That’s absurd, that’s their job, but they didn’t.

Hacking, at least most hacking, is still a bad thing.

As simultaneously hilarious and horrible as it is to pull the equivalent of yanking a guy off his couch and charging him with murder for shooting someone in “Call of Duty,” shooting people is generally undesirable outside a fictional context.

Does AI know that?

Can AI make the distinction between “die, [expletive here]” in your favorite combat simulator and “die, [expletive here]” when an unpleasant person attempts to end the pizza guy with a fork? Because the Secret Service couldn’t, and they were human. Humans are pre-built for context. Computers have to be made that way, and it’s usually really hard. That’s a shade worrisome, what with AI growing like kudzu and the data it collects being used for everything from market analysis to, yes, murder investigations.

So consider this a gentle reminder that even the smartest computer is still fundamentally a box of switches.

Zero and one, off and on, puts certain limitations on a binary system’s ability to comprehend the complex, subjective, frankly weird human condition. Getting AI to understand context is a top priority for some of the best minds in computer science, but while they’re working we h. sapiens will have to double down on patience and nuance, because one of our most pervasive tools won’t be very good at either. They may never be as good at it as we are, though three years ago I’d have said that about go.

Mind your audience

For at least the next few years, everyone from multinational corporations and national governments down to the data junkies and media consumers reading this article will need to exercise some extra caution when it comes to AI and its assessment of people and their doings.AI doesn’t understand us quite yet.

It is, if not blind, at least a little nearsighted when it comes to context, which is basically the most important human thing.Click To Tweet

We’re going to have to keep doing that part ourselves. Fail in this, and you risk becoming your own hilarious Doing It Wrong cautionary tale. Nobody wants that.

This story originally ran on July 26, 2017.

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Tech News

Palm is a tiny phone that pairs with your giant smartphone

(TECHNOLOGY) Nokia’s new Palm mini-phone release encourages endless Honey I Shrunk the Phone jokes.

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My current phone is dangerously close to being excluded from regular software updates. However, I have no real intention of purchasing a new one until crucial functions become unusable. There’s so little storage that if I want to install a new app, I have to delete one.

Yet I hold on to my increasingly historical device because I love how tiny it is compared to everything else on the market. Larger screens are no longer a novelty. It’s now the norm to have a five inch screen at a minimum.

But Palm has something different in mind. Yes, Palm as in the same people who brought you the now defunct PalmPilot. Mobility-loving users rejoice, they have risen from the ashes of the technology graveyard to bring you a new miniature innovation.

Palm released a eensy teensy credit card sized “ultra-mobile companion device” creatively called Palm. This cute little pal’s screen measures a mere 3.3 inches and weighs just over two ounces.

It easily fits in your athleisure wear, clutches, wallets, and even bike mounts. Palm is meant to help you out in times when your “big phone” is too gigantic for whatever you’re doing. Hold up, don’t we already have smartwatches for that?

Well, yes. But the tiny device boasts several features absent in smartwatches, including rear and front facing cameras, full keyboard messaging, and an expanded accessory ecosystem. The adorable companion even has facial recognition and customizable notification settings. Plus, if you’re not a watch person, Palm is a non-wearable alternative.

So that’s all neat, but is this all just a gimmick to convince you that your giant smartphone needs a baby smartphone friend? Well, that depends on your lifestyle.

If you’re frequently using your phone on-the-go or simply want a technology detox, this device may be the thing for you. It makes your phone more like a fun toy to check sometimes instead of a huge screen that sucks the life out of your waking hours.

But if you’re constantly on your phone and always prefer the bigger screen, you’ll want to stick with your current device. Or give one to your kids to use as an American Girl Doll accessory.

The device starts at $349 and pairs with your existing phone, but comes with an additional $10 charge since it has its own cellular radio. Palm syncs with Android and iOS and is currently available in the U.S. exclusively through Verizon.

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Tech News

Remote job search site literally copied & pasted competitor’s entire site

(TECH NEWS) What happens if someone copies and pastes your site into their own site, then charges users for it? Besides rage… ?

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Despite the fact that plagiarism has been a no-no with very serious potential consequences since middle school for most people, some folks didn’t get the memo. One group of individuals even went so far as to copy a competitor’s entire website and publish it as their own, raising the question: just how much idiocy do you have to remain alert for?

This egregious case of copy-and-paste innovation started when a new company by the name of Jobscribe went live on Product Hunt. After spending some time in the spotlight, the company’s apparent plagiarism was brought to light by Product Hunt user Robert Williams in a review left on the Jobscribe announcement page – Jobscribe had duplicated Williams’ site Folyo — right down to the site copy and testimonials — and published the content on their own domain. Then had the gall to announce their launch on Product Hunt.

You can’t make this stuff up.

It’s easy to look at what happened to Folyo as an isolated incident, but this kind of “sharing of ideas” happens to businesses on a much more frequent basis than one might assume. In an era where everything is online and innumerable new sites are published every second, it’s all too easy for a competitor to steal your hard work and publish it as their own service.

Sadly, there isn’t much you can do after the fact; besides reporting the site to their web host for plagiarism and making a visible statement on your site (and social media if applicable), you’ll simply have to wait for the “competitor” to have their version of your content taken down. Steps you can take to mitigate some of the damage before instances like this even happen include patenting your service and brand before going live, but that won’t help you if you’re already a victim of plagiarism.

If you visit the Jobscribe website, it’s gone, and you get a note from GoDaddy that the site is parked. Adios.

Not so fast – if you visit the Jobscribe page on Product Hunt now, you’ll find that the page redirects to something called Worklead, a service which offers a functionality similar — though this time, not identical — to Folyo’s original purpose. Additionally, users have complained that the “free” service costs $5 (not a large sum, but indicative of the continued shady tactics the company employs).

Unfortunately, while the site’s copy has clearly been changed (arguably for the worse), the damage is done with little in the way of recourse for Folyo’s creator, and there’s no reason to believe that Worklead’s services will offer clients anything other than a lighter wallet.

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Tech News

Facebook Ads Manager unreliability keeps dumpster fire rep alive

(SOCIAL MEDIA) The Facebook Ads Manager isn’t exactly reliable, refunds aren’t offered, and social media practitioners hate the (still) necessary evil.

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If there is one thing upon which we can rely when it comes to Facebook, it’s disappointing us. Sure, it is clear that the platform has done amazing things to connect people from all over the world. It allows the sharing of passions, photos, ideas, lifestyles, and pointlessly hilarious memes. But we have all glimpsed the dark underbelly of the social media giant.

Facebook regularly shows us the ugliest side of ourselves. This is a topic that is covered ALL. THE. TIME. How many of us have expressed our regret that Auntie posted insensitive views with the same pride she shares her great-grandchild’s first touchdown in the junior divisional beauty pageant and peewee football game?

But the content created by users is not Facebook’s latest letdown.

Ad buyers are regularly unable to see the analytics of their campaigns. For example, on October 29th, a number of digital media professionals found the Facebook Ads Manager to be unresponsive for hours. This lapse in availability is devastating to those who purchase ad space. This was aggravated by the fact that many campaigns were time sensitive, as they focused on the midterm elections.

Further, online advertisers rely on instant feedback and data to inform their next decisions. Many have expressed that the October 29th outage is a fairly regular occurrence with Facebook and continues to make their jobs nightmares.

Additionally, refunds were not offered for the time advertisers had purchased and not been able to use.

This recent occurrence appears to be the longest shutdown of FB Ads Manager, contributing to the dumpster fire of a reputation Facebook ads have cultivated.

We continue to ask – how can such a wealthy and dominating platform not get this issue into check? Or is it part of a broader design to lower expectations and soak up money like an adult child living in their parent’s basement, with no end in sight?

Facebook continues to decline commenting on their unreliability. Perhaps they know that all the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers will continue to use, share, swoon, and offend regardless of internal issues, and that advertisers will not (for some time) be able to subsist without reaching these groups.

For now, it seems Facebook is still in the driver’s seat. Whether or not they know how to drive this dumpster on wheels is another matter.

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