The Big Data vs Artists and Everyone Else

By David Trend:

Heard about Generation Z?  The demographic growing up in the 2000s? It’s a bigger group than Boomers or Millennials–––and it has one further distinction. “Members of Generation Z are ‘digital natives’ who cannot remember what it was like not to have access to the Internet –– no matter when, no matter what, no matter where,” according to Forbes Magazine. This is a group raised on networked “connecting” with others, sharing, and buying things. It’s second nature to Gen-Zers to upload their favorite music on YouTube, post images on Facebook, and sell things on Etsy or eBay. Much is being made in creative economy talk of how networks now blur traditional producer/ consumer roles, manifest in the new figure of the “prosumer.” In Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything authors Don Prescott and Anthony D. Williams effused over the democratization inherent in the new “Openness, Peering, Sharing and Acting Globally.”  Of course, there is nothing really new about home-made items, crafts, and people’s willingness to share. What’s different today is the ability to copy digitized materials and circulate them via electronic networks. Digitization also has made Generation Z the first demographic to be completely tracked by “big data” analytics.

Some creativity industry experts argue that this is nothing short of a revolution, driven by ongoing change more than any clear future. Evolutionary economist Jason Potts and collaborators have proposed what they term “Social Network Markets” unlike the top-down models of industrial capitalism.  Characterized by fluidity and exchange through complex fields of actors, the new social network markets are less governed by competition and profit than by communication and preference. Participants are “Not ‘buying’ the property, but buying into the social space.”  Moreover, the dynamics of these new markets are highly interactive. As the Potts group put it, “a social network is defined as a connected group of individual agents who make production and consumptions decisions based on the actions (signals) of other agents on the social network: a definition that gives primacy to communicative actions rather than connectivity alone.”  Almost by definition, this process rules out conventional manufacturing or professional services. Instead, the networks generate value through production and consumption of network-valorized choices.”

The beauty is that much of what is online now is free––seeming to arrive just in time in a tight economy. While a lot of the “free” stuff available online is user-generated (selfies, birthday announcements, anecdotal postings, etc.), a huge volume of material comes from other sources (news outlets, filmmakers, commercial music producers, artists). On the surface it looks like old Marxist doctrines are being reversed as items seem to be “decommodified” in the sharing economy. This idea has become an anthem of resistance in some circles. The Burning Man Festival, to take one example, has stated: “When we commodify we seek to make others, and ourselves, more like things, and less like human beings.  ‘Decommodification,’ then, is to reverse this process.  To make the world and the people in it more unique, more priceless, more human.”  This may be all well-and-good in the real-life sharing of food and weed at Burning Man. But when things get virtual, it’s usually a large corporation that owns the websites, servers, and networks that make sharing possible. Continue reading “The Big Data vs Artists and Everyone Else”

The Twitter and Google boy’s clubs

From PC Magazine: “Twitter’s global workforce is about as diverse as those of its big-name peers in the tech biz, which is to say, not very diverse at all. The microblogging site, following the lead of companies like Google and Yahoo, on Wednesday released some raw numbers about the gender and ethnic makeup of its roughly 3,000 employees. As with those companies, it turns out that Twitter’s workforce skews very heavily male and white.images

“To wit, Twitter’s workforce is 70 percent male and 30 percent female. That disparity grows even more pronounced in tech-related jobs at the company, which are held by nine times as many men as women, while leadership roles at Twitter come in at 79 percent for men and 21 percent for women.

“Google, which released its own diversity data in May, reported the same 70-to-30 ratio of men to women among its own roughly 52,000-strong workforce. Yahoo reported last month that the gender diversity among its more than 12,000 employees also skews male but not as much—the company’s worldwide workforce is 62 percent men and 37 percent women.
Facebook also recently released a breakdown of gender and ethnic diversity in its workforce, reporting similar numbers to Twitter, Google, and Yahoo.

“If gender disparities at Twitter and other Silicon Valley companies are striking, the lack of ethnic diversity at those outfits is just as pronounced, if not more so, going by the self-reported numbers.
Before Twitter joined the party, both Google and Yahoo reported that their workforces were predominantly white and Asian— 91 percent at Google (61 percent white, 30 percent Asian) and 89 percent at Yahoo (50 percent white, 39 percent Asian). African-Americans and Latinos combined to make up just 5 percent of the employees at Google and just 6 percent at Yahoo.
Twitter’s workforce came in at 59 percent white and 29 percent Asian, with African-Americans, Latinos, and people with other ethnicities representing just a fraction of those numbers.

“The current numbers may be stark, but Twitter, like Google and Yahoo before it, pledged to work to better diversify its workforce going forward.”[R]esearch shows that more diverse teams make better decisions, and companies with women in leadership roles produce better financial results. But we want to be more than a good business; we want to be a business that we are proud of,” Janet Van Huysse, vice president of Diversity and Inclusion at Twitter, wrote in a blog post.
“To that end, we are joining some peer companies by sharing our ethnic and gender diversity data. And like our peers, we have a lot of work to do.”Van Huysse didn’t lay out any specific plans for enacting more diverse hiring at Twitter but did list some “employee-led groups putting a ton of effort into the cause” at the company. These include affinity groups like WomEng (women in engineering), SWAT (super women at Twitter), TwUX (Twitter women in design), Blackbird (Tweeps of color), TwitterOpen (LGBTQ folks), and Alas (Latino and Latina employees), she said.”

 

More at: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2461300,00.asp

Google vs the gender gap

Google has promised to do all it can to recruit more women into Silicon Valley, and now the company is putting its money where its PR is. On Thursday, it launched a $50 million initiative to teach young girls how to code.images

Just last month, Google announced that only 17% of its tech employees are women. The gender disparity is a dire issue for all tech companies. There will be 1.4 million computing jobs available in 2020, but only 400,000 computer-science graduates from U.S. universities to fill them. Part of the problem is that only 12% of computer-science degrees go to women, and in order for Silicon Valley to survive and thrive, it must be able to recruit more engineering talent from the other 50% of the population.

“Coding is a fundamental skill that’s going to be a part of almost everything,” Megan Smith, VP of Google[x], tells TIME. “So for kids to really at a minimum just be able to express themselves in code and make things and feel confident, that would be important — no matter what their career is.”

Google has invested a lot more than just money in the project. The company conducted research to determine why girls are opting out of learning how to code: the number of female computer-science majors has dropped dramatically since 1984, when 37% of computer-science degrees went to women. How do we get them back into computer-science classrooms?

Google found that most girls decide before they even enter college whether they want to learn to code — so the tech world must win them over them at a young age. They also found that there were four major factors that determined whether girls opted into computer science: social encouragement, self-perception, academic exposure and career perception.  Continue reading “Google vs the gender gap”

Erasing your Google history

he European Union’s high court ruled Tuesday that users should have the opportunity to remove old, irrelevant and even embarrassing links from Google’s search engine.images But while the extent of the new mandate is unclear, it has already spurred questions about whether it might hamper free speech in Europe and abroad.

The European Court of Justice’s decision makes it so that, in some cases, users can request Google to remove particular links, such as newspaper articles or even legal documents, from search results. Rather than permanently erasing content, the webpages will still exist but instead will be much harder to find through Google. The EU’s decision reverses last year’s preliminary court opinion, which sided with Google, saying that the company wouldn’t have to remove links to comply with privacy laws. Other search engines, such as Yahoo, weren’t affected by the court’s decision.

But while Tuesday’s decision ends a years-long tug-of-war between Google and the EU over the Internet giant’s data collection practices, it raises practical and privacy concerns. “One of the unusual things about this case is that the [petitioned article] could stay up, but Google couldn’t link to it. [But] is it OK if Google linked to it from the U.S.? We don’t know yet,” Parker Higgins, an Electronic Frontier Foundation activist and spokesperson, told ThinkProgress. Continue reading “Erasing your Google history”

Google and evil

Last week, another distasteful use of your personal information by Google came to light:

The company plans to attach your name and likeness to advertisements delivered across its products without your permission.

Reported today in The Atlantic, “As happens every time the search giant does something unseemly, Google’s plan to turn its users into unwitting

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endorsers has inspired a new round of jabs at Google’s famous slogan “Don’t be evil.” While Google has deemphasized the motto over time, it remains prominent in the company’s corporate code of conduct, and, as a cornerstone of its 2004 Founder’s IPO Letter, the motto has become an inescapable component of the company’s legacy.

“Famous though the slogan might be, its meaning has never been clear. In the 2004 IPO letter, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin clarify that Google will be “a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains.” But what counts as “good things,” and who constitutes “the world?” The slogan’s significance has likely changed over time, but today it seems clear that we’re misunderstanding what “evil” means to the company. For today’s Google, evil isn’t tied to malevolence or moral corruption, the customary senses of the term. Rather, it’s better to understand Google’s sense of evil as the disruption of its brand of (computational) progress.

“Of course, Google doesn’t say so in as many words; the company never defines “evil” directly. But when its executives talk about evil, they leave us clues. In a 2003 Wired profile of the company, Josh McHugh noted that while other large companies maintain lengthy corporate codes of conduct, Google’s entire policy was summarized by just those three words, “Don’t be evil.” While there’s some disagreement about its origins, Gmail creator Paul Buchheit reportedly conceived of the slogan, calling it “kind of funny” and “a bit of a jab at a lot of the other companies, especially our competitors, who at the time, in our opinion, were kind of exploiting the users to some extent.” Continue reading “Google and evil”

Invisibility cloaks

Clothing to make you invisible to to digital snoops?images

The term “stealth wear” sounded cool, if a bit extreme, when I first heard it early this year, reports today’s New York Times .”It’s a catchy description for clothing and accessories designed to protect the wearer from detection and surveillance. I was amused. It seemed like an updated version of a tinfoil hat, albeit a stylish one.

“Fast-forward a few months. Flying surveillance cameras, also known as drones, are increasingly in the news. So are advances in facial-recognition technology. And wearable devices like Google Glass — which can be used to take photographs and videos and upload them to the Internet within seconds — are adding to the fervor. Then there are the disclosures of Edward Snowden, the fugitive former government contractor, about clandestine government surveillance.

“It’s enough to make countersurveillance fashion as timely and pertinent as any seasonal trend, like midriff tops or wedge sneakers. Adam Harvey, an artist and design professor at the School of Visual Arts and an early creator of stealth wear, acknowledges that countersurveillance clothing sounds like something out of a William Gibson novel.

“The science-fiction part has become a reality,” he said, “and there’s a growing need for products that offer privacy.”Mr. Harvey exhibited a number of his stealth-wear designs and prototypes in an art show this year in London. His work includes a series of hoodies and cloaks that use reflective, metallic fabric — like the kind used in protective gear for firefighters — that he has repurposed to  reducea person’s thermal footprint. In theory, this limits one’s visibility to aerial surveillance vehicles employing heat-imaging cameras to track people on the ground.

“He also developed a purse with extra-bright LEDs that can be activated when someone is taking unwanted pictures; the effect is to reduce an intrusive photograph to a washed-out blur. In addition, he created a guide for hairstyling and makeup application that might keep a camera from recognizing the person beneath the elaborate get-up. The technique is called CV Dazzle — a riff on “computer vision” and “dazzle,” a type of camouflage used during World War II to make it hard to detect the size and shape of warships.”

More at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/30/technology/stealth-wear-aims-to-make-a-tech-statement.html?ref=todayspaper&_r=0

Rediscovering the library

When I started teaching, books were easier to find than articles, whose references were buried deep in voluminous, thin-paged indexes. Students took different paths in their research and came up with wildly different sets of texts, states a piece in ths weeks Chronicleof Higher Education:  imgres

“Some checked out the better books early, leaving the others to scrounge for what was left. Sure, there was overlap, but students often ended up with individualized research materials, exercising their critical abilities to integrate what they found into a coherent, cohesive discussion. As periodical-search engines blossomed, students, ever adaptable, started using more articles. While the electronic card catalog remained more or less static, the search engines became increasingly user-friendly. It became so difficult to get students to use books in their research that I started stipulating that they use a minimum number in my assignments.

“Then the development of Google and of electronic journals essentially converged. Why bother with books and the stacks when you can search full-text articles online? The process has become even more alluring with database products like Discover (which our libraries enthusiastically characterize as “the scholarly version of Google!”). It searches millions of entries, including all of the library catalog, the most-used journal databases, and local historical collections. Like Google, Discover ranks findings according to relevance. With the aid of our reference librarians, students easily set up their searches to obtain exactly what they think they’ll need, usually in the form of full-text articles.

“Consequently, my students hardly ever consult books. Circulation statistics support this impression. In 2005 our libraries checked out or renewed 86,807 books or other media. That number has been steadily declining. By 2012, the number had dropped to 45,394, down 48 percent in seven years.

Why am I bothered by these developments? Well, partly because modern library design mirrors student preferences. Increasingly, libraries are social spaces—with Wi-Fi, study nooks, coffee shops, chat areas, and movable furniture—and not homes for books, which are relegated to off-site repositories, save for a few recent acquisitions. If a student wants a book, she can requisition it. I cannot imagine students already deterred by the stacks having much patience for the repository.”

 

Full article at: http://chronicle.com/article/Unintentional-Knowledge/139891/

Translation software gender problems

Google Translate is the world’s most popular web translation platform, but one Stanford University researcher says it doesn’t really understand sex and gender. Londa Schiebinger, who runs Stanford’s Gendered Innovations project, says Google’s choice of source databases causes a statistical bias toward male nouns and verbs in translation. In a paper on gender and natural language processing, Schiebinger offers convincing evidence that the source texts used with Google’s translation algorithms lead to unintentional sexism.images-2 As Fast Company reports:

“In a peer-reviewed case study published in 2013, Schiebinger illustrated that Google Translate has a tendency to turn gender-neutral English words (such as the, or occupational names such asprofessor and doctor) into the male form in other languages once the word is translated. However, certain gender-neutral English words are translated into the female form . . . but only when they comply with certain gender stereotypes. For instance, the gender-neutral English terms a defendant and a nurse translate into the German as ein Angeklagter and eine Krankenschwester. Defendanttranslates as male, but nurse auto-translates as female.

“Where Google Translate really trips up, Schiebinger claims, is in the lack of context for gender-neutral words in other languages when translated into English. Schiebinger ran an article about her work in the Spanish-language newspaper El Pais into English through Google Translate and rival platform Systran. Both Google Translate and Systran translated the gender-neutral Spanish words “suyo” and “dice” as “his” and “he said,” despite the fact that Schiebinger is female.

“These sorts of words bring up specific issues in Bing Translate, Google Translate, Systran, and other popular machine translation platforms. Google engineers working on Translate told Co.Labs that translation of all words, including gendered ones, is primarily weighed by statistical patterns in translated document pairs found online. Because “dice” can translate as either “he said” or “she said,” Translate’s algorithms look at combinations of “dice” in conjunction with neighboring words to see what the most frequent translations of those combinations are. If “dice” renders more often in the translations Google obtains as “he says,” then Translate will usually render it male rather than female. In addition, Google Translate’s team added that their platform only uses individual sentences for context. Gendered nouns or verbs in neighboring sentences aren’t weighed in terms of establishing context.”

 

More at: http://www.fastcolabs.com/3010223/google-translates-gender-problem-and-bing-translates-and-systrans?partner=rss

The global technological state

Once upon a time, Google concerned itself with seemingly benign, profit-driven things: the optimal position of online ads for erectile dysfunction drugs, mapping the location of every sports bar in America, churning out free services to further cement a quasi-monopoly in global search, writes Mya Fraser in today’s Slate.comimages-1

“But these are no longer the comfortable, well-established guardrails around Google.

“More than two years ago, as governments on two continents were preparing to launch anti-trust investigations against it, Google began moving aggressively onto the turf of states. Today, Google is arguably one of the most influential nonstate actors in international affairs, operating in security domains long the purview of nation-states: It tracks the global arms trade, spends millions creating crisis-alert tools to inform the public about looming natural disasters, monitors the spread of the flu, and acts as a global censor to protect American interests abroad. Google has even intervened into land disputes, one of the most fraught and universal security issues facing states today, siding with an indigenous group in the Brazilian Amazon to help the tribe document and post evidence about intrusions on its land through Google Earth. Continue reading “The global technological state”

Jailbreak the Binary

Tired of that nasty M/F gender thing? How about all binary thinking?

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A new Google Chrome app will replace any gender-specific pronoun with a neutral one and will deal with a lot of other words as well.

We installed “Jailbreak the Binary” and tested in out by searching the words “woman” and “man,” coming up with the following hits: “Person (Wikipedia),” “People.com,” “Top 99 People of 2013,” “People’s Issues, Advice and Personal Stories,”, “People’s Basketball”…  Okay, so you get the idea. Then we tried the words like “maid,” “father,” and, once again, no gender whatsoever. And when we went to look up one of our favorite newsgroups, “Feminist Philosophers,”  the search yielded the correct link, but translated it as “Androgynous Philosophers.”

We think it’s great someone came up with this. The only problem is that you need to remember to turn the thing off when you need to return to the gendered world. The description from Google reads:

View the world without gender.

Based off of “Jailbreak the Patriarchy” by Danielle Sucher, but with gender neutral pronouns and as many gender neutral other words as well.   Takes all instances of ‘male’, ‘female’, ‘he’, ‘she’, and as many other gendered words and swaps them for gender neutral versions.   When ‘OFF’ is displayed on the icon then the extension is off.

Find it at: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/jailbreak-the-binary/mmdlclbfhplmbjfefngjbicmelpbbdnh

“Make Me Asian” app

Thousands of people have downloaded two apps from the Google Play Store that are now generating accusations of racism and stereotyping.

“Make me Asian” and “Make me Indian” apps allow Android smartphone users to transform a portrait by superimposing characteristics supposedly appropriate to such identities.

The apps have caused a firestorm online, with outrage spreading on Facebook and Twitter. Petition campaigns are now urging Google to remove the apps from its store.Unknown

“The Make me Asian app manipulates pictures to give the subject yellow-tinged skin, narrow eyes, a conical rice-paddy hat and a Fu Manchu mustache taken from a fictional Chinese villain,” reports NPR Continue reading ““Make Me Asian” app”

Nineteen eighty-four on crack

Here is the scenario: An invisible menacing force is trying to get you, everywhere you go. A malevolent secret organization wants to take over the world by sneaking into your mind. Walk too near the wrong trash can or tree, and it could zap your brain.  And by the way, it already has possessed loads of the people around you, even your most trusted friends.

“The world around you is not what it seems,” the promotion for Google’s new Ingress phone game says, “It’s happening all around you. They aren’t coming. They are already here.”

Game news website CNET describes Ingress like this: “Ingress begins with a series of training missions designed to orient new players. Quickly it introduces you to its quirky lexicon. Around town you will find various “portals”; the point of Ingress (at least so far) is to control them. To control portals you have to “hack” them, which is akin to a check-in on Facebook or Foursquare. Hacking portals rewards you with various items, the most important of which are portal keys and resonators. Portal keys allow you to link portals together; resonators power them up and can protect them from being stolen from your rivals. Linking three portals together creates a “field,” which is more powerful than a portal, and is apparently essential for world domination.

“The game takes the form of a free mobile app, now available on the Google Play store for Androiddevices. It is the second product from Niantic Labs, a startup accelerator within Google. Niantic is run by John Hanke, the former head of product management for Google’s “Geo” division, which includes Maps, Earth and Local, among other divisions. Niantic’s first project was Field Trip, an Android app for discovering the world around you. Released in September, Field Trip sends notifications to a smartphone whenever a person passes an area of possible interest — a landmark, a park, a highly rated restaurant. In my use, it’s been a fun way of exploring new cities and unfamiliar neighborhoods.