Yesterday, time and energy were consumed by the semiannual meeting of the Robert Lehman Foundation, my sole remaining institutional connection, a board I’ve been on since the Foundation’s establishment some 45 years ago. We do good work in the service of art history and the arts generally, from high scholarship to bringing the arts to underserved communities and constituencies.
Let’s start with this: http://www.businessinsider.com/healthcare-costs-could-spur-the-next-recession-2017-10?utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=57483842&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–3zClSJxbcLtsn1bA5xkoQtV_XrGrZDD1noT8yCl1M3aaVLG5okerOVePqkAIkx47T2Y9FUTVxv102zxdzhCvsXriC2w&_hsmi=57483842
I must say, it is funny how life works. There’s definitely a point at which the signs are clear that one is superfluous to requirements. when no one really gives a damn what you think or have to say and is therefore unencumbered by common small courtesies. For me, that point has obviously been reached. For instance, I recently completed an article at my normal length (1500-2000) words and was promptly advised that 800-1000 words was what is wanted. The cut was easy. I write in a baroque style, with trills and ornamentation, so I simply cut these out. My emails go unanswered. This is in its way sad-making, except for…
The time it provides to read. I was curious about Jennifer Egan’s new novel Manhattan Beach. It was strongly reviewed in NYTBR by Amor Towles, a writer I admire. It’s about World War II in NY Harbor and that summoned up resonances of October, 1945, when my brother and I, age 9 and 7 respectively, went on board the great carrier Wasp, our “honorary uncle” Joe Clifton commanding, when it arrived at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for postwar refitting to bring troops back from the Pacific. I can only say this. Manhattan Beach is wonderful. ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL! Read it, I beg you! They don’t make novels like this any more.
From “Bloomberg Technology”:
“Tracking TV “viewers” was simpler when there were only three U.S. networks, although Nielsen’s statistical techniques have been questioned even in the relatively prosaic TV era. It is clear that as internet entertainment fragments how people spend their leisure time, it is simply tougher to track all the things we watch. And companies including Netflix can benefit from the confusion.
“In advertising, too, the migration of audience and advertising to the web hasn’t fulfilled the promise of clarity. The rough and probably wildly wrong ad metrics from magazines and TV have been replaced by specific metrics that drown people in information about “engagement” and “likes” but don’t necessarily make it clear which half of their advertising is wasted.
“And then there’s a whole industry built around fleecing companies that purchase ads. My Bloomberg colleagues wrote a great article a couple of years ago about how fraudulent advertising works on the internet, and it’s worth re-reading. Suffice it to say, lots of companies are paying for advertisements that no human being ever sees. BuzzFeed also detailed this week a complex ad fraud ring.
“Yep, the internet sure is great. Or at least it’s great at lies, damn lies and statistics.” Compare this to your own views. I skip or click past 90% of the ads that pop up on my screens. 90% of what I buy on Amazon has been recommended elsewhere, usually in print media.
Why I always read Michel Hudson. https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/10/michael-hudson-socialism-land-banking-2017-compared-1917.html
Interesting – from an unlikely source: https://theweek.com/articles/729324/why-america-coming-apart-seams
Theodore Dalrymple, a writer I greatly admire, addresses a subject that has fascinated (and appalled) me for years: the saturative prevalence of tattoos. Obviously in some societies and orders, tattoos have a quasi-religious significance or utility. In our secular religion – the cult of “me” – the same would appear to apply. A few years back, I urged Arnold Lehman, a good friend and then Director of the Brooklyn Museum, to do a universal tattoo exhibition. A better venue for this than Brooklyn I could not imagine. Didn’t get done. I believe it might have drawn a million.Anyway, see what you think: https://www.newcriterion.com/issues/2000/6/exposing-shallowness
At the risk of jail time, I’m reprinting this from WSJ (the paper operates behind a paywall, but based on how much I have to pay for my WSJ subscription and the limited readership of my own gratis website I feel a modicum of guilt but no fear). It’s a first-rate piece by Christopher Mims about Facebook’s master algorithm. What I find interesting is the author’s emphasis on the essentiality of human inputs to the equation, which is driven by Artificial Intelligence:
Instagram engineers faced a Herculean task in early 2016. Fearing that people would miss the most important posts, Instagram’s leadership asked the engineers to transform the chronological photo feed into a curated list of posts based on users’ individual preferences.
Development of a similar algorithm for Facebook ’s News Feed, which determines what 2 billion Facebook users see, required an enormous investment of time by some of the world’s most highly compensated engineers.
At Instagram, three or four engineers got the job done in less than five weeks, says Joaquin Candela, Facebook’s head of applied machine learning. The team was able to clone the existing News Feed algorithm, then tweak it to suit Instagram.
However much Instagram’s engineers tweaked it, the fact that most of what powers Instagram came straight from Facebook’s News Feed shows the dominance and success of this basic engine of social media. Think of it—and the endless, modular chunks of AI that go into it—as Facebook’s master algorithm (my words, not Facebook’s).
If telling us what to look at next is Facebook’s raison d’être, then the AI that enables that endless spoon-feeding of content is the company’s most important, and sometimes most controversial, intellectual property. A sorted, curated feed tuned for engagement is the product of a device that may someday be viewed by historians as a milestone on par with the steam engine.
Only this engine, built to capture human attention, has shown itself to be exploitable by bad actors and possibly detrimental to our democracy, even when it is functioning as advertised. This has prompted congressional hearings for Facebook and other tech companies, scheduled for November. Facebook has been a vessel for Russian influence and the spread of fake news, and a potential cause for envy and unhappiness. The personalization of content that Facebook’s master algorithm allows, and the hyperpartisan news sites that have risen to feed it, have created, for many users, personalized “filter bubbles” of what is essentially nonoverlapping reality.
At the same time, the company’s announcement that it is hiring more humans to screen ads and filter content shows there is so much essential to Facebook’s functionality that AI alone can’t accomplish.
AI algorithms are inherently black boxes whose workings can be next to impossible to understand—even by many Facebook engineers. “If you look at all the engineers at Facebook, more than one in four are users of our AI platform,” says Mr. Candela. “But more than 70% [of those] aren’t experts.”
How so many Facebook engineers can use its AI algorithms without necessarily knowing how to build them, Mr. Candela says, is that the system is “a very modular layered cake where you can plug in at any level you want.” He adds, “The power of this is just hard to describe.” Pieces of that platform are performing all kinds of “domain-specific” tasks across Facebook’s properties, from translation to speech recognition.
Information Butler, or Time Vampire?
Every time one of Facebook’s two billion monthly users opens the Facebook app, a personalization algorithm sorts through all the posts that a person could theoretically see, and dishes up the fraction it thinks she or he would like to see first. The system weighs hundreds of frequently updated signals, says Mr. Candela. Without AI, many of these signals would be impossible to analyze.
An example of updated signals would be Facebook’s recent fight against clickbait—links to stories that are “misleading, sensational or spammy.” Training the algorithm takes human labor: A team analyzed hundreds of thousands of posts in 10 languages, flagging offending headlines that either withheld information (“Here’s the one thing…”) or exaggerated (“…will blow your mind”). The resulting system autonomously scans links, suppressing the ones that match what it learned from the human-generated data.
Facebook’s master algorithm now also can extract additional meaning from our posts and photos, Mr. Candela says.
The “recommendations” feature, for instance, allows a person to ask what to check out on a trip to Barcelona. Because Facebook’s AI actually “knows” what La Sagrada Familia is and where it is located, anyone who recommends it in a comment will see it pop up on a map above the post.
These capabilities are versatile enough that Facebook users have repurposed them in unexpected ways, Mr. Candela says. When Hurricane Irma hit Florida, people used Facebook to build a map of stores with bottled water for sale. The person who created the post activated the “recommendations” feature; others added to it simply by commenting on the post with retailers’ addresses.
Mr. Candela says teams add new features to Facebook’s master algorithm to “add value to social interactions.” Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg recently said the company’s goal was to “bring the world closer together.”
However it is phrased, it is measured in the way people engage with Facebook’s apps and networks, whether that is increasing the number of posts they like or comment on, or how useful they find machine-translated posts, or how often they use M, Facebook’s Messenger-based smart assistant, Mr. Candela says.
Time spent on Facebook’s various properties correlates with the company’s revenue, and that number was going up at last report: In April 2016, Facebook said it was capturing on average 50 minutes of every American’s day, up from 40 minutes in July 2014.
The unstated assumption behind the work of Facebook’s more than 20,000 employees is that getting people to use Facebook more is a good thing. It is certainly hard to imagine a world without it, given how it has become central to the way we connect, find news and keep up with friends and family.
But given what we have learned over the past year, it is worth asking whether the intentions of the hugely powerful Oz that is Facebook’s master algorithm are ultimately benevolent or malign.
Well, so it’s not going to be a replay of the Dodgers-Yankees World Series that punctuated the Octobers of my boyhood (Yankee victories in 1947, 1949, 1952,1953 with Dem Bums finally breaking the string in 1955). Somewhere in there I went from being a rabid Yankee fan to a Yankee-hater, a “surprising conversion” worthy of Robert Lowell’s poem on the subject, but now I’ve reconverted to the Bronx Bombers. You just can’t not root for these kids! As Dodger fans declared (it seemed) every autumn: “wait ’til next year!”
As a character in Fixers asks, “Whatever happened to compassion in this country?” http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2017/10/20/spreading-trump-salt-every-wound/a3PYAsgUnyhDqxzUH9DsyI/story.html?et_rid=1758184608&s_campaign=todaysheadlines:newsletter
It may be true that pigs can’t fly, but they can tweet! http://www.trumptwitterarchive.com/
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yadayada. AMZ isn’t killing independent bookstore, realty is. https://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/why-amazons-headquarters-are-plotnick-diamond.html
For 18 years, I have lived in DUMBO, in Brooklyn, a “neighborhood” (sic) in which there are none of the small shops that support an urban existence, but a plenitude of overpriced food outlets and tourist traps. The two groceries within walking distance are basically lunch counters with shelves, and have very eccentric inventories. I should add that I have published nine novels, with six of the most esteemed names in the business, and without exception these books have been marketed with a mixture of bad faith and incompetence, the same way they handle small bookstores. I buy a lot of books, and the breadth of AMZ’s stock, the speed of delivery and – of course! – the prices matter a great deal to me.
Why I quit Facebook. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/10/what-facebook-did/542502/