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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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indeed top 50 reporter news google

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.

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Tech News

Facebook deletes developer over ironic browser extension invention

(TECHNOLOGY) Think a muted week for a nipple shadow is bad? Facebook just permabanned this inventor for…helping others to use the platform less.

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African American hand holding iphone on Facebook's login page.

It must be true that corporations are people because Facebook is pulling some seriously petulant moves.

In a stunt that goes beyond 24hr bans for harmless hyperbole, and chopping away at organic reach (still bitter from my stint in social media management), Facebook straight up permanently banned one of their users for the high crime of…aiming to get people to use the platform a little less.

Developer Louis Barclay came up with Unfollow Everything, an extension that basically instantly deleted your feed without having you unfriend anyone or unlike anything. Rather than have users manually go through and opt out of seeing posts, they’d now opt IN to keeping who they wanted front and center.

In his own words on Slate: “I still remember the feeling of unfollowing everything for the first time. It was near-miraculous. I had lost nothing, since I could still see my favorite friends and groups by going to them directly. But I had gained a staggering amount of control. I was no longer tempted to scroll down an infinite feed of content. The time I spent on Facebook decreased dramatically. Overnight, my Facebook addiction became manageable.”

Since more time spent on Facebook means more ads that you’re exposed to, means more you spend, the add-on started slowly making headway. I myself pretend to be a ranch owner to keep ads as irrelevant to me as possible (though my new addiction to hoof trimming videos is all too real), and Unfollow Everything probably would have been a great find for me if it hadn’t been killed by a cease and desist.

Law firm Perkins Coie, representing the internet giant, let Barclay know in their notice that Unfollow Everything violated the site’s rules on automated collection of user content, and was muscling in on Facebook trademarked IP.

They also added, in what I can only assume was a grade-school narc voice, that the add-on was “encouraging others to break Facebook’s rules.”

Barclay, not having the resources to fight a company with the finances of a small country, promptly ceased and desisted. Practical.

Officially speaking, Facebook might have actually have some ground to stand on vis-à-vis its Terms Of Service. The letter and legal team may have been warranted, not that we’ll ever truly know, since who’s taking Facebook to court? But then they followed up with a ‘neener neener’ deletion of Barclay’s 15 year old account – which was still very much in use.

Look, Facebook is the only way I connect with some of my friends. I don’t take enough pictures to make full use of Instagram, I fully hate Twitter, my Tumblr is inundated with R-rated fanfiction, and any other social media platform I’m happy to admit I’m too haggish and calcified to learn to use. So a complete WIPE of everything there with no notice would be pretty devastating to me. I can only imagine how Barclay felt.

And in light of the fact that the browser extension wasn’t hurting anyone, taking money, or spewing hateful rhetoric, there’s really only one thing to say about Facebook’s actions…they’re petty.

Sure, they may have the legal right to do what they did. It’s just that when you notice every fifth post is an unvetted advertisement, their high ground starts to sink a little. I mean nothing says ‘We’re being totally responsible with user information’ like the number of add ons and user tactics popping up to avoid seeing the unnecessary. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Facebook put up a fight against losing ad traffic.

We all know all those stores with amazing deals aren’t actually going out of business, or even using their own photos right? Right?

Barclay added in his article, “Facebook’s behavior isn’t just anti-competitive; it’s anti-consumer. We are being locked into platforms by virtue of their undeniable usefulness, and then prevented from making legitimate choices over how we use them—not just through the squashing of tools like Unfollow Everything, but through the highly manipulative designs and features platforms adopt in the first place. The loser here is the user, and the cost is counted in billions of wasted hours spent on Facebook.”

Agreed, Mr. Barclay.

Now I’m off to refresh my feed. Again.

 

Graffiti wall with image of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, with the saying "You've been Zucked."

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Tech News

Glowbom: Create a website, using just your voice

(TECH NEWS) Talk about futuristic! This app allows you to create quizzes, surveys, an online store, and even a website in minutes–without typing.

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Colleagues looking at Glowbom website homepage

In the past, we’ve discussed things like simplified coding and no-code app creation. Now, a San Francisco startup has taken the process a step further with no-type app creation.

Glowbom is a voice app that allows you to dictate steps to an AI – from adding information all the way to exporting code–in order to create a simple app, survey, or game. While the built-in options for now are limited to four simple categories, the power of the app itself is impressive: By asking the Glowbom AI to complete tasks, one is able to dictate an entire (if small) program.

It’s an impressive idea, and an even more impressive product. Glowbom founder and CEO Jacob Ilin showcases the power of Glowbom in a short demonstration video, and while he only uses it to create a simple survey, the entire process–up to and including the exportation of the API–is accomplished via voice commands.

Furthermore, Glowbom appears to process natural inputs–such as phrases like “Let’s get started”–in the context of an actual command rather than the colloquial disconnect one tends to expect in AI. This means that users won’t need to read a 700-page manual on phrases and buzzwords to use before jumping on board–something the Glowbom user base was probably hoping to avoid anyway.

As of now, the options one can use Glowbom to create include a quiz, a survey, an online store, and a website. It seems reasonable to expect that, as support for the app grows, those categories will expand to comprise a larger library.

Glowbom certainly opens a few doors for people looking to take their businesses or ideas from an offline medium into the digital marketplace. As coding becomes less centralized in computer language and more contingent on processes such as this, we can expect to see more products from folks who may have missed the coding boat.

Perhaps more importantly, Glowbom and products like it make coding more accessible to a wider base of disabled users, thus taking a notable step toward evening the playing field for a marginalized demographic. It’s not true equality, but it’s a start.

This story was first published here in October 2020.

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Tech News

4 ways startups prove their investment in upcoming technology trends

(TECH NEWS) Want to see into the future? Just take a look at what technology the tech field is exploring and investing in today — that’s the stuff that will make up the world of tomorrow.

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Woman testing VR technology

Big companies scout like for small ones that have proven ideas and prototypes, rather than take the initial risk on themselves. So startups have to stay ahead of technology by their very nature, in order to be stand-out candidates when selling their ideas to investors.

Innovation Leader, in partnership with KPMG LLP, recently conducted a study that sheds light onto the bleeding edge of tech: The technologies that the biggest companies are most interested in building right now.

The study asked its respondents to group 16 technologies into four categorical buckets, which Innovation Leader CEO Scott Kirsner refers to as “commitment level.”

The highest commitment level, “in-market or accelerating investment,” basically means that technology is already mainstream. For optimum tech-clairvoyance, keep your eyes on the technologies which land in the middle of the ranking.

“Investing or piloting” represents the second-highest commitment level – that means they have offerings that are approaching market-readiness.

The standout in this category is Advanced Analytics. That’s a pretty vague title, but it generally refers to the automated interpretation and prediction on data sets, and has overlap with Machine learning.

Wearables, on the other hand, are self explanatory. From smart watches to location trackers for children, these devices often pick up on input from the body, such heart rate.

The “Internet of Things” is finding new and improved ways to embed sensor and network capabilities into objects within the home, the workplace, and the world at large. (Hopefully that doesn’t mean anyone’s out there trying to reinvent Juicero, though.)

Collaboration tools and cloud computing also land on this list. That’s no shock, given the continuous pandemic.

The next tier is “learning and exploring”— that represents lower commitment, but a high level of curiosity. These technologies will take a longer time to become common, but only because they have an abundance of unexplored potential.

Blockchain was the highest ranked under this category. Not surprising, considering it’s the OG of making people go “wait, what?”

Augmented & virtual reality has been hyped up particularly hard recently and is in high demand (again, due to the pandemic forcing us to seek new ways to interact without human contact.)

And notably, AI & machine learning appears on rankings for both second and third commitment levels, indicating it’s possibly in transition between these categories.

The lowest level is “not exploring or investing,” which represents little to no interest.

Quantum computing is the standout selection for this category of technology. But there’s reason to believe that it, too, is just waiting for the right breakthroughs to happen.

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