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Fact over Fiction

Machine Learning Blog - Sat, 2017-04-22 15:23

Politics is a distracting affair which I generally believe it’s best to stay out of if you want to be able to concentrate on research. Nevertheless, the US presidential election looks like something that directly politicizes the idea and process of research by damaging the association of scientists & students, funding for basic research, and creating political censorship.

A core question here is: What to do? Today’s March for Science is a good step, but I’m not sure it will change many minds. Unlike most scientists, I grew up in a a county (Linn) which voted overwhelmingly for Trump. As a consequence, I feel like I must translate the mindset a bit. For the median household left behind over my lifetime a march by relatively affluent people protesting the government cutting expenses will not elicit much sympathy. Discussion about the overwhelming value of science may also fall on deaf ears simply because they have not seen the economic value personally. On the contrary, they have seen their economic situation flat or worsening for 4 decades with little prospect for things getting better. Similarly, I don’t expect history lessons on anti-intellectualism to make much of a dent. Fundamentally, scientists and science fans are a small fraction of the population.

What’s needed is a campaign that achieves broad agreement across the population and which will help. One of the roots of the March for Science is a belief in facts over fiction which may have the requisite scope. In particular, there seems to be a good case that the right to engage in mass disinformation has been enormously costly to the United States and is now a significant threat to civil stability. Internally, disinformation is a preferred tool for starting wars or for wealthy companies to push a deadly business model. Externally, disinformation is now being actively used to sway elections and is self-funding.

The election outcome is actually less important than the endemic disagreement that disinformation creates. When people simply believe in different facts about the world how can you expect them to agree? There probably are some good uses of mass disinformation somewhere, but I’m extremely skeptical the value exceeds the cost.

Is opposition to mass disinformation broad enough that it makes a good organizing principle? If mass disinformation was eliminated or greatly reduced it would be an enormous value to society, particularly to the disinformed. It would not address the fundamental economic stagnation of the median household in the United States, but it would remove a significant threat to civil society which may be necessary for such progress. Given a choice between the right to mass disinform and democracy, I choose democracy.

A real question is “how”? We are discussing an abridgment of freedom of speech so from a legal perspective the basis must rest on the balance between freedom of speech and other constitutional rights. Many abridgements exist like censuring a yell of “fire” in a crowded theater unnecessarily.

Voluntary efforts (as Facebook and Twitter have undertaken) are a start, but it seems unlikely to go far enough as many other “news” organizations have made no such commitments. A system where companies commit to informing over disinforming and in return become both more trusted and simultaneously liable for disinformation damages (due to the disinformed) as assessed by civil law may make sense. Right now organizations are mostly free to engage in disinformation as long as it is not directed at an individual where libel laws apply. Penalizing an organization for individual mistakes seems absurd, but a pattern of errors backed by scientific surveys verifying an anomalously misinformed status of viewers/readers/listeners is cause for action. Getting this right is obviously a tricky thing—we want a solution that a real news organization with an existing mimetic immune system prefers to the status quo because it curbs competitors that disinform. At the same time, there must be enough teeth to make disinformation uneconomical or the problem only grows.

Should disinformation have criminal penalties? One existing approach here uses RICO laws to counter disinformation from Tobacco companies. Reading the history, this took an amazing amount of time—enough that it was ineffective for a generation. It seems plausible that an act directly addressing disinformation may be helpful.

What about technical solutions? Technical solutions seem necessary for success, perhaps with changes to law incentivizing this. It’s important to understand that something going before the courts is inherently slow, particularly because courts tend to be deeply overloaded. A significant increase in the number of cases going before courts makes an approach nonviable in practice.

Would we regret this? There is a long history of governments abusing laws to censor inconvenient news sources so caution is warranted. Structuring new laws in a manner such that they cannot be abused is an important consideration. It is obviously important to leave satire fully intact which seems entirely possibly by making the fact that it is satire unmistakable. This entire discussion is also not relevant to individuals speaking to other individuals—that is not what creates a problem.

Is this possible? It might seem obvious that mass disinformation should be curbed but there should be no doubt that powerful forces will work to preserve mass disinformation by subtle and unethical means.

Overall, I fundamentally believe that people in a position to inform or disinform have a responsibility to inform. If they don’t want that responsibility, then they should abdicate the position to someone who does, similar in effect to the proposed fiduciary rule for investments. I’m open to any approach towards achieving this.

Edit: also at CACM.

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The Decision Service is Hiring

Machine Learning Blog - Wed, 2017-04-12 09:31

The Decision Service is a first-in-the-world project making tractable reinforcement learning easily used by developers everywhere. We are hiring for devel opers, data scientist, and a product manager. Please consider joining us to do something interesting this life

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Web 2: But Wait, There's More (And More....) - Best Program Ever. Period.

Searchblog - Thu, 2011-10-13 13:20
I appreciate all you Searchblog readers out there who are getting tired of my relentless Web 2 Summit postings. And I know I said my post about Reid Hoffman was the last of its kind. And it was, sort of. Truth is, there are a number of other interviews happening... (Go to Searchblog Main)
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Help Me Interview Reid Hoffman, Founder, LinkedIn (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

Searchblog - Wed, 2011-10-12 12:22
Our final interview at Web 2 is Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and legendary Valley investor. Hoffman is now at Greylock Partners, but his investment roots go way back. A founding board member of PayPal, Hoffman has invested in Facebook, Flickr, Ning, Zynga, and many more. As he wears (at... (Go to Searchblog Main)
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Help Me Interview the Founders of Quora (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

Searchblog - Tue, 2011-10-11 13:54
Next up on the list of interesting folks I'm speaking with at Web 2 are Charlie Cheever and Adam D'Angelo, the founders of Quora. Cheever and D'Angelo enjoy (or suffer from) Facebook alumni pixie dust - they left the social giant to create Quora in 2009. It grew quickly after... (Go to Searchblog Main)
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Help Me Interview Ross Levinsohn, EVP, Yahoo (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

Searchblog - Tue, 2011-10-11 12:46
Perhaps no man is braver than Ross Levinsohn, at least at Web 2. First of all, he's the top North American executive at a long-besieged and currently leaderless company, and second because he has not backed out of our conversation on Day One (this coming Monday). I spoke to Ross... (Go to Searchblog Main)
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I Just Made a City...

Searchblog - Mon, 2011-10-10 14:41
...on the Web 2 Summit "Data Frame" map. It's kind of fun to think about your company (or any company) as a compendium of various data assets. We've added a "build your own city" feature to the map, and while there are a couple bugs to fix (I'd like... (Go to Searchblog Main)
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Help Me Interview Vic Gundotra, SVP, Google (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

Searchblog - Mon, 2011-10-10 14:03
Next up on Day 3 of Web 2 is Vic Gundotra, the man responsible for what Google CEO Larry Page calls the most exciting and important project at this company: Google+. It's been a long, long time since I've heard as varied a set of responses to any Google project... (Go to Searchblog Main)
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Help Me Interview James Gleick, Author, The Information (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

Searchblog - Sat, 2011-10-08 21:16
Day Three kicks off with James Gleick, the man who has written the book of the year, at least if you are a fan of our conference theme. As I wrote in my review of "The Information," Gleick's book tells the story of how, over the past five thousand or... (Go to Searchblog Main)
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I Wish "Tapestry" Existed

Searchblog - Fri, 2011-10-07 15:34
(image) Early this year I wrote File Under: Metaservices, The Rise Of, in which I described a problem that has burdened the web forever, but to my mind is getting worse and worse. The crux: "...heavy users of the web depend on scores - sometimes hundreds - of services,... (Go to Searchblog Main)
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Help Me Interview Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

Searchblog - Fri, 2011-10-07 13:17
Day Two at Web 2 Summit ends with my interview of Steve Ballmer. Now, the last one, some four years ago, had quite a funny moment. I asked Steve about how he intends to compete with Google on search. It's worth watching. He kind of turns purple. And not... (Go to Searchblog Main)
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Me, On The Book And More

Searchblog - Thu, 2011-10-06 13:05
Thanks to Brian Solis for taking the time to sit down with me and talk both specifically about my upcoming book, as well as many general topics.... (Go to Searchblog Main)
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Help Me Interview Michael Roth, CEO of Interpublic Group (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

Searchblog - Thu, 2011-10-06 12:37
What's the CEO of a major advertising holding company doing at Web 2 Summit? Well, come on down and find out. Marketing dollars are the oxygen in the Internet's bloodstream - the majority of our most celebrated startups got that way by providing marketing solutions to advertisers of all stripes.... (Go to Searchblog Main)
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Help Me Interview Mary Meeker of KPCB (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

Searchblog - Wed, 2011-10-05 15:00
For the first time in eight years, Mary Meeker will let me ask her a few questions after she does her famous market overview. Each year, Mary pushes the boundaries of how many slides she can cram into one High Order Bit, topping out at 70+ slides in ten or... (Go to Searchblog Main)
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Help Me Interview Dennis Crowley, CEO, Foursquare (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

Searchblog - Wed, 2011-10-05 13:06
Foursquare co-founder and CEO Dennis Crowley will give his first 1-1 interview on the Web 2 stage on the conference's second day, following a morning of High Order Bits and a conversation on privacy policy with leaders from government in both the US and Canada. After Crowley will be a... (Go to Searchblog Main)
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Help Me Interview Michael Dell, CEO, Dell (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

Searchblog - Tue, 2011-10-04 12:35
Not unlike Steve Jobs back in the 1990s, Michael Dell returned to the helm of his company at a crucial moment, when his namesake was seemingly rudderless. Back in 2007, Dell was losing marketshare to HP, Apple had not yet proven the monster it has since become in mobile, and... (Go to Searchblog Main)
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FM Welcomes Lijit to the Family

Searchblog - Tue, 2011-10-04 11:04
Today Federated Media Publishing announced it has acquired Lijit Networks, a world-class business partner to online publishers based in Boulder, Colorado. This combination is the result of literally months of work, including a ton of strategic thinking that dates back to Federated's acquisitions of Foodbuzz, Big Tent, and TextDigger... (Go to Searchblog Main)
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Help Me Interview Dick Costolo, CEO, Twitter (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

Searchblog - Tue, 2011-10-04 00:40
Our dinner conversant at  Web 2 Summit is Dick Costolo, the CEO of Twitter. Why pick Costolo for dinner? Because he's pretty damn funny, besides being the CEO of Twitter, that's why. And when it comes to dinner, you need some levity. Not that Twitter doesn't have some serious issues to... (Go to Searchblog Main)
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Help Me Interview Marc Benioff, CEO, Salesforce.com (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

Searchblog - Mon, 2011-10-03 11:51
As usual, this year's Web 2 Summit is packed with CEO interviews. Next up, after Pincus and Donahoe, is Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com. Marc and I go way, way back - he was one of my best sources when I was a cub reporter in the 1980s... (Go to Searchblog Main)
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Help Me Interview John Donahoe, CEO, eBay (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

Searchblog - Sun, 2011-10-02 22:30
Next up on the Web 2 Summit interview docket is John Donahoe, President and CEO of eBay. This marks a return of sorts for eBay to the Summit stage, it's been four years since former CEO Meg Whitman joined us. Much has changed - eBay faces significant competition in its... (Go to Searchblog Main)
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