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Net neutrality could be killed under President Trump

(TECH NEWS) We rarely take a political position on anything here at AG, but we’ve long advocated for the policy supporting net neutrality, which could be in danger under Trump.

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With transition comes change

It’s common for presidential transitions to herald changes in perspectives and thus policies, especially when the president-elect hails from a different political party than his predecessor. U.S. History is replete with examples of shifts and changes in programs and policies, but certain principles have stood time’s tests for the republic.

There used to be clear actions of America’s power, ensuring the marginalized within our borders were protected, and that every person was the beneficiary of the powers of a nation that protected families by making certain that caveat emptor was no longer the de facto or the de jure law of the land. When Teddy Roosevelt came to office, for example, filled with a zeal for reform, he was swift to act, ensuring people could eat untainted meat, work in a safer environment for fewer hours, and that the corporations could no longer be controlled by monopolies of power.

America has previously passed needed laws and regulations to ensure that the rights of the many were not impeded by the powers of the few. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as if net neutrality will belong to that legacy of protection.

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What is net neutrality and why should I care?

Here’s the question: Do you think that your internet service provider (ISP) should allow you to access legal content and applications on an equal basis, favoring none and allowing all sources without having to pay premiums to do so?

If you do, you support the concept of net neutrality — and you’re not alone. Content providers, including Netflix, Google, and Apple, along with millions of others who filed public comments with the Federal Communications Commission last year, support the concept of net neutrality.

Current rules prohibit ISP’s from charging content providers more for faster access to their customers or deliberately slowing the content of competitors.

Net neutrality keeps accessing content on the internet free from bias of who is providing it. Supporters focus on the fact that consumers pay for access to the things that they want to see. Consumers want to access all content at the speeds that they were promised when they bought their plan. The FCC’s adoption of the Open Internet Rule in 2015, protecting net neutrality, has — so far, anyway — made it past the legal challenges that have come its way.

So, who doesn’t agree with that? Typically, dozens of broadband companies, including giants such as Comcast, Cox, Verizon, and AT&T. Their position is that the net neutrality regulations are overly prescriptive and act as a deterrent to innovation and further investment.

And the new president and his FCC advisers agree with them.

Changes are afoot

Trump’s recent appointment of advisers Mark Jamison and Jeffrey Eisenach to the FCC transition team serve as a likely herald regarding the future of net neutrality, as well as the FCC itself.

To be fair, we saw this coming. While not commenting on many things tech during the course of his campaign, Trump did speak directly on net neutrality. “Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media,” he tweeted in 2014.

Interesting point, except that it reflects a lack of understanding as to what net neutrality is and how the policy works.

The Fairness Doctrine was an FCC policy that ended in 1987. At its core, it required FCC-licensed TV and radio stations to provide a portion of their programming to issues of controversy and public importance, ensuring opposing viewpoints were aired.

The Washington Post explained the Fairness Doctrine further, writing, “[t]his meant that programs on politics were required to include opposing opinions on the topic under discussion. Broadcasters had an active duty to determine the spectrum of views on a given issue and include those people best suited to representing those views in their programming.”

There’s no missing nuance of Trump’s tweet. His point was that net neutrality rules would somehow censor conservative media. Since the regulations don’t address the specifics of content, and, in fact call for all content to be treated equally, the message is somewhat clear: I don’t get it, but the ISP’s beat content providers.

So, who’s advising the President?

It’s clear that Trump has taken the position that net neutrality isn’t long for the keeping, and the role of the FCC is possibly subject to change as well.

Jamison and Eisenach have both been connected with the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI). AEI focuses on limiting government intervention in business, and providing businesses the ability to operate without what some would call government interference, and others would call government oversight.

While testifying in front of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee in 2014, Eisenach took the position that the broadband market, which is another way of identifying ISPs, is “[not] a cause for concern,” as the market was neither a monopoly nor “cozy duopoly”. It’s not as if history has been vacant of examples of competing businesses within the same field, in which a monopoly did not exist, engaging in collusion to ensure satisfactory business conditions for them all.

While conceding that ISPs have power in the market, and that power “can create the incentive for firms to deny access to their platforms”, he posited that there was no reason for the FCC to inject itself in regulatory affairs because these conditions weren’t unique to the broadband ISP field. Therefore, continuing his logic trail to its end, since the FCC doesn’t need to be involved in regulatory affairs over broadband ISPs, there must not be an existing problem.

Thus, “net neutrality regulation cannot be justified on grounds of enhancing consumer welfare or protecting the public interest”.

Jamison’s approach to the issue is similar. Writing for AEI, he took the stance that FCC’s regulations regarding net neutrality were necessary only if a monopoly of broadband providers existed. Predictably, he doesn’t believe that there is. “If the U.S. is to continue to be a place where consumers, entrepreneurs, and other enterprises can develop the next generation of information technologies, the country must move beyond net neutrality controversies,” he wrote. “This means letting the industry make business decisions and regulating only when monopolies take over.”

Even in “instances where there are monopolies,” Jamison continued, “it would seem overkill to have an entire federal agency dedicated to ex ante regulation of their services.” Let’s let that sink in for just a moment before continuing, shall we?

His solution? Almost everything that the FCC does can be handled by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services.

But of course. We wouldn’t want an entire federal commission only dedicated to the regulation of public communications in the 21st century. I’m certain those other agencies aren’t too busy with what’s currently in front of them. Surely they can shoehorn in these other responsibilities, as well as get up to speed on the issues facing the FCC in an expedient and efficient fashion.

Jeff Sessions, a United States Senator from Alabama and the presumptive nominee for U.S. Attorney General, is also on record as opposing net neutrality regulations, thus likely securing the perspective for the Trump administration on the near future of Internet regulation. Given the public statements of the two men assisting Trump in the FCC transition team, it is also likely that the FCC may be phased out or leashed to the point in which there are no real regulations on how the companies that control the means of our nation’s communications do so.

We’re not neutral about net neutrality

We at The American Genius believe that reasonable people can certainly disagree on how the country is best run. What we don’t stand for is turning a blind eye to dangers in front of us. Jefferson had it right: some truths are simply self-evident. And those truths are worth defending, loudly and vigorously.

A monopoly of public utilities has rarely proven to be a winning strategy for innovation in the long run, and an unregulated monopoly grows staler still.

Without anyone in a dedicated federal agency to look out after our best interests when it comes to the volume and exchange of ideas and content on the Internet, it will fall to each of us to ensure that our ISP of choice understands what we choose to do with our dollars should they decide to throttle content. It behooves us to ensure that our US Representatives and Senators understand what we will choose to do with our support as well.

#NetNeutrality

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Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

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Silicon Valley created tech for your family that’s too addictive for theirs

(TECHNOLOGY) Tech inventors are big on innovating and advancing tools, but a growing parenting trend in tech circles seems hypocritical.

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tech addiction in children

I consider myself an older Millennial. I was slowly but surely introduced to technologies as they became mass-marketable, but they didn’t affect every moment of my day-to-day life. I learned how to use computers in elementary school, I chatted on AOL as a preteen, and when I was 16, my parents gave me my own cell phone “for emergencies.” I promptly dropped it under the car seat, where it remained for a year, before I or my parents even noticed that it was missing.

In less than a generation, our relationship to cell phones has transformed completely. For one thing, my first cell phone didn’t have a touch screen. It didn’t have an internet connection. Hell, for an entire year, I didn’t even use the damn thing.

Fast forward to 2018, when your children can learn to use an iPad at the same time that they learn to use a toilet.

Interestingly, the tech whizzes who designed much of the technology that now pervades nearly every moment of our lives seem wariest of the negative impact screen time might have on kids. The NYT reports that the trend amongst Silicon Valley parents is to severely limit or even ban cell phone use by their children.

Parents in all echelons of the tech industry are limiting their kids’ exposure. Steve Jobs kept iPads out of the hands of his young children. The Gates offspring didn’t receive cell phones until high school (just like me, in 2001), and Tim Cook discourages his nephew from using social networks.

These concerned parents describe the addictive potential and negative consequences of screen time in increasingly pessimistic terms.

Athena Chavarria, a former Facebook employee, believes that “the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”

Chris Anderson (yes that Chris Anderson), former editor of Wired and founder of GeekDad, says that when it comes to screens, “On a scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine.”

Parents are even making contractual agreements to make sure their kids don’t use screens while under the supervision of their nanny or babysitter.

Like basically every human idea or invention ever, connected, screened devices reveal that our ability to create new technologies far outpaces our ability to understand the consequences – positive or negative – of that tech.

Those closest to the situation – the inventors themselves – are often the first ones to sound the alarm when they realize that their hard-won advancements may not have been such a great idea after all.

Said Chris Anderson of the addictive nature of cell phones, “We thought we could control it. And this is beyond our power to control.”

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Amazingly fun tech toys that are secretly educational

(TECHNOLOGY) STEM toys for children are fun *and* educational – here are some that have caught our eye.

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STEM tech toys for kids

There’s a new trend amongst startups – and amongst kids’ toys: educational playthings that teach your little ones STEM skills like programming and coding.

Toys that double as learning tools are nothing new, but digital, connected technology still is, and so is the idea that your toddler can get a leg up in the tech industry by getting an early start.

Parents, universities, and economists seem concerned that acquiring STEM skills will soon be the only way to guarantee a good job, despite reports from the U.S. Census Bureau that 3 out of 4 STEM majors end up in non-STEM fields anyway.

So if your kid is more into, say, baseball or dancing than computers, you might be wasting the pretty pennies these high-powered educational toys will cost you.

Kids, with their alarmingly short attention spans, are as likely to toss these toys back into the toybox as any other. But if your wee one seems to have a knack for all things technical – or if you’d just rather see them learn how to build a device than passively stare at one all day – then check out TC’s guide to STEM toys.

Even though these toys are marketed towards the younger set, I found myself a little envious, wishing I could take a few for a test drive – especially since many of them are modern, high-tech reboots on old standbys from my childhood.

Lego’s Boost Creative Toolbox uses the same classic Lego blocks, but allows you to animate and program your creations.

Several products cross-market with some of my childhood favorites; Dash Robotics has teamed up with Mattel to make Jurassic World robots, and Kano makes a Harry Potter Coding Kit that teaches kids to program a wand that can interact with digital content. There’s even Electro Dough which is basically electrically-conductive Play-Doh that can light up and make sounds. I want!

In fact, a lot of the toys combine arts ‘n’ crafts with STEM lessons. Adafruits makes a marker with electronically conductive ink that can light up circuits and interact with computer programs, and an electronic pencil that synthesizes music. Root Robotic’s little bot can draw pictures and compose songs.

For the more straightforward tech nerds, Makeblock, Evo, Robo Wunderkind, and Wonder Workshop all make programmable robots – a big step up from the “artificially intelligent” Furby’s of my childhood. Sphero’s Bolt is a ball-shaped robot, while Airblock makes a programmable hovercraft.

There’s the Pi-top Modular Laptop that teaching kids coding, and there are even opportunities for kids to build their own electronics; Kano offers a build-it-yourself computer.

The holidays are just around the corner – but whether STEM educational toys will be the next Tickle Me Elmo remains to be seen.

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A deepfakes creator for text so realistic it can’t be made public yet

(TECHNOLOGY) You know about video deepfakes, but the technology exists for doing convincing deepfakes for text. It’s so good that they aren’t ready to release it to the public yet…

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Artificial intelligence is being used to complete more and more human tasks. But as of right now, news stories you read online – including all the articles here on American Genius – have been written by real human beings.

Until recently, even the most intelligent computers couldn’t be trained to recreate the complex rules and stylistic subtleties of language. AI-generated text would often wander off topic or mix up the syntax and lack context or analysis.

However, a non-profit called OpenAI says they have developed a text generator that can simulate human writing with remarkable accuracy.

The program is called GPT2. When fed any amount of text, from a few words to a page, it can complete the story, whether it be a news story or a fictional one.

You already know about video deepfakes, but these “deepfakes for text” stay on subject and match the style of the original text. For example, when fed the first line of George Orwell’s 1984, GPT2 created a science-fiction story set in a futuristic China.

This improved text generator is much better at simulating human writing because it has learned from a dataset that is “15 times bigger and broader” than its predecessor, according to OpenAI research director, Dario Amodei.

Usually researchers are eager to share their creations with the world – but in the case, the Elon Musk-backed organization has, at least of the time being, withheld GPT2 from the public out of fear of what criminals and other malicious users might do with it.

Jack Clark, OpenAI’s head of policy, says that the organization needs more time to experiment with GPT2’s capabilities so that they can anticipate malicious uses. “If you can’t anticipate all the abilities of a model, you have to prod it to see what it can do,” he says. “There are many more people than us who are better at thinking what it can do maliciously.”

Some potential malicious uses of GPT2 could include generating fake positive reviews for products (or fake negative reviews of competitors’ products); generating SPAM messages; writing fake news stories that would be indistinguishable from real news stories; and spreading conspiracy theories.

Furthermore, because GPT2 learns from the internet, it wouldn’t be hard to program GPT2 to produce hate speech and other offensive messages.

As a writer, I can’t think of very many good reasons to use an AI story generator that doesn’t put me out of job. So I appreciate that the researchers at OpenAI are taking time to fully think through the implications before making this Pandora’s box of technology available to the general public.

Says Clark, “We are trying to develop more rigorous thinking here. We’re trying to build the road as we travel across it.”

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