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Google is showing their second face by backing robot reporters

(TECH NEWS) Google spent years pushing people to blog, to share, to index, to feed it information and have no switched it up and are undermining themselves.

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RIP human reporters

So! Turns out I’m doomed. Evidently, Google is funding a machine to write news articles. And after all the good press I gave the robot apocalypse, too.

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As my future is naught but despair and devastation, I suppose there’s nothing to talk about but history. Ever hear of Ned Ludd?

Old Ned Ludd

Even if you haven’t, you probably have. “Ludd” as in “Luddite,” which is to say, per Dr. Wik I. Pedia, “one opposed to industrialisation, automation, computerisation or new technologies in general.”

That’s really not fair.

First of all, Ned Ludd shouldn’t be remembered in history at all, because he isn’t. He wasn’t real. Ned Ludd, which may or may not be rural English for Edward Ludlam, was a Robin Hood-type fictional figure. They even both hung out in Nottingham, albeit some centuries apart.

Much like brave Sir Robin (extra geek cred for catching the reference), old Ned was both an empowerment fantasy and a cautionary tale. Robin Hood stories warned about the depredations of power-hungry nobles: here is what honest fellows who would farm and hunt may expect when rich men come for their land, and here is what may be done about it.

Likewise Ludd, who was the hero and horror story of 18th century industrialization.

Poking the bear

The story goes that Ned Ludd was an abused, developmentally disabled teenager. An “idiot boy,” in the charming idiom of the time. He worked for a weaver, and after either being mocked by children because he was due to lose his job, or failing to keep up with the pace that technology set for his job and being flogged for idleness by his masters – yes, masters, and yes, they could flog him; the 18th century sucked – he quite reasonably got a big stick and bashed said technology to scrap.

That brings us to second of all.

Ludd was right.

I mean, obviously he was right in the short term. If my options are “break something” or “starve,” give me 5 minutes, I got a wrench in the car.

But the real Luddites were right too.

The actual, historical Luddites weren’t kneejerk anti-technologists. They were skilled artisans, mostly weavers, which is to say, they required tech to do their jobs. And yet, they masked up and stomped out a bunch of machines, and when they got busted, remembering the tale, they’d say “Ned Ludd did it.”

Those workers weren’t afraid of technology.

They were afraid of what was being done with technology by people who didn’t understand the work they were doing.

Masters of their craft, they knew important aspects couldn’t be automated, and that those aspects, those fundamentally human qualities, could vanish in a generation if not systematically tended. People forget. Skills die.

The cost of robots

Now the dread machines are coming for me and like the Luddites, my first concern isn’t my job as such. I am hubristically hopeful no machine made by man can match my curling chestnut locks or inexhaustible supply of geek wisdom. Besides, if an evil robot does take my job, know what I used to do? Tech support. Thinking that’s gonna come up in the AI Age.

What I’m afraid of is what the Luddites were afraid of.

I’m afraid of what we lose.

The Luddites, those master artisans, understood the value of work. Work demands craft, experience and inspiration. Those things cannot be automated, and trying is not only silly but dangerous. They can only be acquired by doing the work, with the help of people who already know it.

Happily, neither that kind of learning nor that kind of work are in short supply, at least not yet.

Both went digital with the rest of humanity.

Ironically, the best example in the entire world is Google, whose core business model is acquiring, assessing and presenting the results of that work. On the whole, Google doesn’t create things, not even knowledge. It just aggregates, sorts and presents it better than anyone else. That’s a remarkable achievement, and it shouldn’t be undersold.

It also doesn’t change the fact that Google doesn’t do the work. Other people do.

The Ludd Question

Google’s business is connection, linking questions with answers, needs with solutions, people with people. Connection is the best part of the digital revolution. The worst, by far, is hacking the human parts out of vital systems and pretending they’re OK. Companies hack out employees. News outlets hack out fact checkers and failsafes.

It has become possible to have things that still work (barely) after you pull the humans out of them.

As it stands, and fair dues, it’s early days on this thing, that’s exactly what you get with the Google news robot. It produces nothing. To quote the article, it “turns news data into palatable content.” It’s built on the universal, deadly dangerous assumption of the digital age: somebody else has done the work. I just have to find it.

The trouble is that good journalism is about doing the work, and good work requires humans. Taking humans out of the equation means losing things that cannot be replaced.

At the end of the day, that’s the Ludd Question. How much can you afford to lose?

#RobotReporter

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

Social media giants are trying to operate without human controls but are failing

(TECH NEWS) Artificial intelligence (AI) is taking over in fascinating ways, but this big experiment of replacing human tasks is failing. Good news / bad news.

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ai robot not human

Let me tell you a story. In fact, let me tell you several.

A village in Macedonia had a small economic boom during the 2016 election, plagiarizing and stitching together pro-Trump messages on social media, then publishing the results as “news” in order to profit from Google ad revenue.

Back during the “Keep Calm and…” T-shirt fad, a shirt company went through a thoroughly justified PR apocalypse for selling products labeled “Keep Calm and Hit Her” and “Keep Calm and Rape a Lot.”

The 17th most popular website on Earth occasionally likes to tell women over 30 to freeze their ova.

So! That’s a parade of fail. What’s it got in common, beyond making any reasonable reader consider moving to an Amish community and trying to forget even the word “Internet”?

People. More accurately, their absence.

Veles, Macedonia churned out profitable nonsense about Trump slapping a protester (that didn’t happen) or getting the blessing of the Pope (Pope says nope) because Google ads are programmatic. There’s no QA component, no human eyes reviewing content and asking “is this worth advertising on?” or for that matter “is this blatantly false?”

Likewise the Evil T-Shirt Crisis. The company generated slogans by dropping memes into an algorithm, then throwing the result on Amazon. That ended… poorly.

We, and every other tech and business network in the digital cosmos, have written in depth about all the dang robots taking our jobs. Usually our primary concern is the economic fallout. We’re a business news organization. It’s our job to warn you about that stuff.

But there’s another problem, and it’s a huge problem, especially as media consumption in general continues to rise, and more and more of that media is moderated by algorithms rather than people.

Robots aren’t just taking our jobs. They suck at our jobs. Algorithms may play go, but they aren’t ready to make value judgments yet. A quick Google will yield a dozen more examples of AI failures just as repulsive and/or hilarious as the ones on my list. And the real punchline for all of that?

It’s good news.

For once, the robot apocalypse is cutting us puny humans a break. It’s creating jobs almost as fast as it’s gobbling them up, because at this point, it is excruciatingly clear that robots aren’t ready to produce work people can actually see. They’re not even ready to put ads on work people see, not without causing a PR catastrophe every other month.

AI isn’t a better widget. It also isn’t an employee that doesn’t want benefits or take long lunches.

It’s a product in permanent beta, desperately trying to catch up to the constantly changing nuance of human interaction. It doesn’t work without homo sapiens holding its robot hand.

Let’s call it Salter’s Law: For every application of AI to customer-facing work, you will need to hire at least one human for damage control when the AI screws up.

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Tech News

New stats behind mobile addiction and how people are coping

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Addiction to our screens is now accepted, and while younger generations are glued more tightly to them, many people are finding ways to fight back.

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I’d probably get this article done faster if I wasn’t checking my phone every couple of sentences. Even if I’m not expecting a message and know that everyone I was talking to is currently busy, it’s likely I’ll still neurotically check my phone every few minutes just in case.

Turns out I’m not alone in my mobile addiction.

A study from Deloitte of 2,000 U.S. internet users aged 18 to 75 found most people check their smartphone roughly 47 times a day.

Younger users nearly double this stat, checking their devices around 86 times a day, up from 82 times reported in the 2016 study.

The study also assessed which activities drove users to check their smartphones. Patterns of use compared to the previous year remain relatively unchanged except for self-reports of checking the phone while driving, which has fortunately decreased.

More than nine out of every ten respondents confess they use their phone while shopping or “spending leisure time.” Over eight out of ten reported checking on phones while watching TV, eating in a restaurant, and even while talking to family and friends.

When watching a show that’s longer than eleven minutes, I put my phone on the opposite side of the room if I want any hope of paying attention. I know if I keep my phone next to me, I’ll miss crucial chunks of episodes. This is a partial attempt to manage the addiction.

Likewise, around 47 percent of respondents said they’re trying to limit their usage, and are actively taking steps to reduce time spent on their phones. Some people report success by simply keeping their phones out of sight, turning it off during meals, or while spending time with friends.

A third of those surveyed turn off audio notifications, while around a quarter even went as far as putting some apps the chopping block. Another quarter could only part with their phones at bed time, turning their devices off at night.

Having a smartphone is fun (an addiction), but you don’t want to end up being that sad woman in the “Selfie” episode of High Maintenance only interacting with your phone.

Sometimes it can be much healthier to just put your phone away for a while. This can be a few hours of no phone time, or if you cans swing it, a few days of “business only” phone time.

Let people know if you’re going radio silent for a significant amount of time though, because otherwise your mom will think you’re dead if you stop responding to texts. Now please excuse me while I fail to follow my own advice and continue the technology loop of checking my Snaps, texts, and Instagram feed.

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Tech News

Turn your FAQ page into a chatbot without knowing how to code

(TECH NEWS) An easy way to add a chatbot to your site and automate some of your work is through this new simple tool that doesn’t require any tech know-how.

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faqbot chatbot

Reduce your workload and personalize customer service engagement with Faqbot, the tool that turns your online FAQ into a customized chatbot.

Co-founded by Denny Wong and CEO Mathis André, Faqbot uses machine learning to streamline frequently asked questions into a handy chatbot pal.

Based on your existing FAQ content, Faqbot builds a database that learns from every conversation to improve responses. Faqbot can also be used to automate sales and lead generation.

You get to design the conversation flow, mapping out a custom path to guide users to a desired outcome. Set predefined choices or free text, customize the bot’s responses, and determine what leading questions the bot should ask.

For example, on the Faqbot site, I was given two pre-set choices to click after each response from the bot. Clicking “Thanks for helping” gets the polite response “You are welcome! ;-)” complete with an old-school emoji featuring a nose.

If you select “not my question,” Faqbot uses its general response to any unanswerable question: “Sorry, I’m a chatbot. I am constantly learning and have answers to frequently asked questions. Thank you for leaving your email and we will get back to you shortly.”

Choose your own responses based on already defined FAQ or come up with new messaging to better engage and inform your customers as needed. The free text option is also available if customers wish to continue asking questions.

Of course, I had to try out some less than frequently asked questions. When I asked Faqbot “are we friends?” it kindly replied, “Absolutely. You don’t have to ask.” So I’m smitten.

However, when I tried to take it to the next level by asking “Do you love me?,” which seems to be the internet’s favorite way to harass a bot, I got the “Sorry, I’m a chatbot” response.

That’s okay. I’ll recover. Faqbot isn’t here to love, it’s here to answer questions.

You can easily install the chatbot by either copy/pasting the snippet of codes directly into your webpage, or connect Faqbot to your company’s Facebook page. No coding skills required.

Pricing is based on number of users per month, but all levels include the same service offerings of FAQ database management, messaging interface, a ticketing system, and DIY guided conversation flow. You can try out Faqbot free for 7 days by signing up on their site.

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