A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jul 20, 2019

Why High Stakes AI Decisions Should Be Audited Automatically

Creators and users of AI have too many financial and operational incentives not to change their systems. JL

Oren Etzioni and Michael Li comment in Wired:

Automated auditing, at a massive scale, can systematically probe AI systems and uncover biases or other undesirable behavior patterns. Auditable AI has several advantages over explainable AI. Having a neutral third-party investigate these questions is a far better check on bias than explanations controlled by the algorithm's creator. Second, this means the producers of the software do not have to expose trade secrets of their proprietary systems and data sets. Auditing is complementary to explanations

Big Tech Claims It's Not Choking Competitors: The Data Beg To Differ

As former GE CEO Jack Welch once advised, " If you don't like your market share, redefine your market." JL

Shoshana Wodinsky reports in Ad Week:

Facebook controls 85% of social ad spend. The only company that challenges Facebook’s dominance in the ad market is Google. It still controls more than 37% of U.S. media spend. Amazon’s position as the third largest advertiser online and a stalwart competitor to Facebook and Google. That digital business is expected to bump up to roughly 7% of the U.S. market by 2020, earning the company $15 billion.

I Found Your Data. It's For Sale

It is now prudent to assume that whenever a person clicks anything on a phone, tablet or pc, the user is enabling data surveillance and retrieval. JL

Geoffrey Fowler reports in the Washington Post:

I found as many as 4 million people have been leaking personal and corporate secrets through Chrome and Firefox. The root of this privacy train wreck is browser extensions. Also known as add-ons and plug-ins, they’re little programs used by nearly half of all desktop Web surfers to make browsing better, such as finding coupons or remembering passwords. People install them assuming that any software offered in a store run by Chrome or Firefox has got to be legit. Not. At. All. Some extensions have a side hustle in spying.

Jul 19, 2019

What Would Alien Life Mean For Catholicism? The Vatican's Chief Astronomer Explains

Potential converts. JL

Byrd Pinkerton reports in Vox:

The Roman Catholic Church has its own astronomical observatory. The Vatican’s astronomical institution dates back to 1891. The reason we do science is because we believe in a universe that is consistent, and is logical, and that follows laws, and that is so good that it is worth spending our life studying. Even if I can’t come up with the dollars and cents answer for why it’s worth doing. And all of those are religious assumptions. "[Parts of scripture] say that we’re not the only intelligent things made by God. That’s already built into the system."

Let's Face It - People Want To Be Seen

Is technology adapting more to humanity, or is humanity adapting more to technology? JL

Colin Horgan reports in Medium:

The tech giants who own and control the platforms and tools that mediate our lives didn’t just monetize human behavior — they helped shape it. In adopting the new tech platforms, accepting and incorporating their underlying algorithms into our everyday lives, we have simultaneously been acclimatized to not just their operations, but the overlying expectations these tools carry. Primary among those expectations is not only that we should be seen, but that we should want to be seen.

The New Ways Companies Are Spying On and Evaluating the Workforce

Before putting such intrusive and judgemental tools to work, managers might want to consider how they will look on the wrong end of a public lawsuit challenging the efficacy of the systems in use. JL

Sarah Krouse reports in the Wall Street Journal:

The tone of your voice in a meeting. How often you’re away from your desk. How quickly you respond to emails. Where you roam in the office. What’s on your computer screen. To be an employee of a large company now means becoming a workforce data generator—from the first email sent from bed in the morning to the Wi-Fi hotspot used during lunch to the new business contact added before going home. Employers are parsing those interactions to learn who is influential, which teams are most productive and who is a flight risk. Critics warn that the proliferating tools may not be nuanced enough to result in fair, equitable judgments.

Does A Viral Russian-Based Photo App Confirm Worst Fears About Consumers' Obliviousness?

Wait. There was ever a question about that? JL

Ashley Carman reports in The Verge:

If you want to see what you could look like at 80 years old, you have to forfeit your photo, which includes your face. FaceApp isn’t doing anything unusual in its code or its network traffic. There are a bunch of other apps on your phone doing the same thing. Still, the conversation does bring attention to standard tech practices that might be more invasive than users realize. Simply basing the app in Russia could expose your photos to the country’s security services. Similar claims could be made for apps based in China or the US, but it doesn’t make the exposure any less troubling.