Tag archives for Facebook

The Lanier Effect

You’re probably familiar with Jaron Lanier. VR pioneer, musician, author of You Are Not a Gadget and far too many articles to mention. He’s also the inspiration for the Prevail Scenario in Radical Evolution, and the Prevail Project in general. And more recently, he has an hour long interview over at edge.org.

The interview and transcript is far too complex to be summarized here, but Jaron attempts to get at this very basic question: if the internet was supposed to connect people, get them access to information and the levers of power, and make the world better, why do people feel less secure and less wealthy today? It’s because we’re giving up our data, our decisions, and our integrity in the name of efficiency and internet fame, without asking if those are durable goods.

What you have now is a system in which the Internet user becomes the product that is being sold to others, and what the product is, is the ability to be manipulated. It’s an anti-liberty system, and I know that the rhetoric around it is very contrary to that. “Oh, no, there are useful ads, and it’s increasing your choice space”, and all that, but if you look at the kinds of ads that make the most money, they are tawdry, and if you look at what’s happening to wealth distribution, the middle is going away, and just empirically, these ideals haven’t delivered in actuality. I think the darker interpretation is the one that has more empirical evidence behind it at this point…

And so when all you can expect is free stuff, you don’t respect it, it doesn’t offer you enough to give you a social contract. What you can seek on the Internet is you can seek some fine things, you can seek friendship and connection, you can seek reputation and all these things that are always talked about, you just can’t seek cash. And it tends to create a lot of vandalism and mob-like behavior. That’s what happens in the real world when people feel hopeless, and don’t feel that they’re getting enough from society. It happens online.

What does Jaron see as the way out? Well, you’ll have to read the article to find out.

Cracking the Facebook Code

Recommendation agents pay a minor, but increasingly important role in our lives. Whether it’s Amazon’s book recommendations, or Netflix, Pandora Radio, or Google Search, we rely on algorithms and computers to tell us what to watch, listen to, and how to get where we’re going. Anybody who’s a Facebook user knows that the best part of the site is the feed, seeing all your friends and what they’re up to. But we only see a fraction of our friends’ total activity. The “top news” feed is heavily edited for your pleasure. Tom Weber of the Daily Beast goes inside Facebook’s algorithm, running a variety of experiments to see how Facebook decides what we see.

It’s a fascinating read about computers are managing, maybe even censoring our social lives. As we rely more and more on computers to curate the torrent of information out there, we’ll become increasing dependent on these confidential algorithms. Practical reserve-engineering efforts like Tom’s are necessary for us to manage these technologies. As Jaron Lanier put it in a very Prevail-ish op-ed last year.

“What all this comes down to is that the very idea of artificial intelligence gives us the cover to avoid accountability by pretending that machines can take on more and more human responsibility. This holds for things that we don’t even think of as artificial intelligence, like the recommendations made by Netflix and Pandora. Seeing movies and listening to music suggested to us by algorithms is relatively harmless, I suppose. But I hope that once in a while the users of those services resist the recommendations; our exposure to art shouldn’t be hemmed in by an algorithm that we merely want to believe predicts our tastes accurately. These algorithms do not represent emotion or meaning, only statistics and correlations.”

No, these algorithms don’t represent us, but relying on them is far safer if we have better ideas about how they work, and the filters they impose.

The Coffee Party, With A Taste For Civic Participation, Is Added To The Political Menu

Fed up with government gridlock, but put off by the flavor of the Tea Party, people in cities across the country are offering an alternative:  The Coffee Party.  Growing through a Facebook page, the party pledges to “support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them.”  Within days of its inception, over 40,000 members joined this website and the numbers are growing quickly.  Annabel Park, a documentary filmmaker who lives outside Washington is in shock over the level of energy and attention this website is drawing.  She has over 300 requests to start a chapter and cannot keep up.  The slogan is “Wake up and Stand Up” and their mission statement declares that the federal government is “not the enemy of the people, but the expression of  our collective will and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges we face as Americans ”.