Start Up: Huawei’s no-Mate, illegal deepfaking?, Facebook’s Group problem, Cape Town’s true water trouble, and more

Centaurs! They’re the future, at least if you want humans to get on with AI. Photo by Mike S on Flickr

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 10 links for you. Reflective. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How to become a centaur • MIT Journal of Design and Science

Nicky Case on the idea of “centaurs” – humans using AI, for example in chess tournaments where the human, advised by the AI, picks a move:


won’t AI eventually get better at the dimensions of intelligence we excel at? Maybe. However, consider the “No Free Lunch” theorem, which comes from the field of machine learning itself. The theorem states that no problem-solving algorithm (or “intelligence”) can out-do random chance on all possible problems: instead, an intelligence has to specialize. A squirrel intelligence specializes in being a squirrel. A human intelligence specializes in being a human. And if you’ve ever had the displeasure of trying to figure out how to keep squirrels out of your bird feeders, you know that even squirrels can outsmart humans on some dimensions of intelligence. This may be a hopeful sign: even humans will continue to outsmart computers on some dimensions.

Now, not only does pairing humans with AIs solve a technical problem — how to overcome the weaknesses of humans/AI with the strengths of AI/humans — it also solves that moral problem: how do we make sure AIs share our human goals and values?

And it’s simple: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!

The rest of this essay will be about AI’s forgotten cousin, IA: Intelligence Augmentation. The old story of AI is about human brains working against silicon brains. The new story of IA will be about human brains working with silicon brains. As it turns out, most of the world is the opposite of a chess game:

Non-zero-sum — both players can win.


link to this extract

Huawei Mate 10 Pro review: software sadness • The Verge

Dan Seifert:


as with any phone, the hardware is only half the story, and software is generally what makes or breaks an experience. In the case of the Mate 10 Pro, Huawei’s software breaks it.

The Mate 10 Pro runs Android 8.0 Oreo with Huawei’s EMUI user interface on top of it, and it’s wildly different from the version of Android you find on a Pixel or other modern phones. The best way I can describe it is a poorly made knockoff of iOS.

Huawei has customized almost everything about Android, and often, not in a good way. For example, you can’t expand notifications on the lock screen, so deleting an email or marking a to-do complete can’t be done without unlocking the phone. The settings menu, messaging app, and share sheet have been lifted right out of iOS and shoehorned onto Android. For some reason, most of the apps in the share sheet are hidden by default, forcing extra taps and swipes just to see them all.

Sure, you can change some of these things by downloading a different launcher or messaging app, but you can’t change things like the quick settings menu that doesn’t match the rest of the notification shade or that awful share sheet. You can’t turn on an option to make notifications on the lock screen more useful. On top of that, there are frustrating bugs — even when I downloaded another launcher and attempted to use that, the Mate 10 would frequently reset itself to Huawei’s own launcher.

This isn’t the kind of software experience anyone should have on an $800 phone, especially when there are already so many better options available. It’s bad enough that I honestly think nobody should buy the Mate 10 Pro because of its software, especially not at this price.


link to this extract

Tool for journalists: Flourish, for creating data visualisations without coding •


What is it? A platform for data visualisation and storytelling, without the need for the user to code.

Cost: Free, with premium services priced at £39 per month. Flourish is working with Google News Lab to offer newsrooms free premium accounts, which include features such as HTML downloads, private projects and custom templates.

How is it of use to journalists? Although it may be true that journalists in 2018 are expected to be jacks of all trades, able to report, film, take and edit photos, produce podcasts and on top of that be social media hacks, there are many tools out there designed to help reporters with their work.

Web development is a sought after skill in newsrooms, but coding can seem daunting to journalists who haven’t had any training in basic programming.

Flourish, which was previously available in private beta but has recently opened to the public, aims to remove the complex nature of coding, helping journalists produce with data visualisations without having to enlist the help of programmers to design interactive stories for them.

After creating an account with their email address, users get access to core templates, like a variety of maps and charts. They can insert the data either directly into the webpage or by uploading an Excel, CSV or TSV file, before being able to download and embed the creations on their websites for public view.

The visualisations can be produced on mobile and desktop, and can also be saved for offline use, useful if you want to add them to a project on social media or to an offline conference presentation.


Looks interesting, and having something to do visualisations easily is always welcome.
link to this extract

US lawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology • The Hill

Ali Breland:


Senator Ron Wyden (Democrat, Oregon), one of the most vocal members of Congress on tech issues, painted a grim picture about what the advances could mean for the future of discerning truth in media. 

“Since we can’t rely on the responsibility of individual actors or the platforms they use, I fully expect there will be a proliferation of these sorts of fictions to a degree that nearly drowns out actual facts,” Wyden told The Hill.

“For those who value real information, there will still be some reliable publications and news outlets, and their credibility will need to be guarded all the more intently by professional journalists,” he added.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat (Dem, NY), who has targeted fake news in the past through legislation, also told the The Hill that he’s concerned. 

Espaillat said that he is worried about the potential for foreign governments to use counterfeit audio and videos to manipulate the American public.

Lawmakers’ fears are backed up by concern from experts, who say that manipulated videos are another dangerous addition to the rising trend of fake news.

“Democracy depends on an informed electorate, and when we can’t even agree on the basics of what’s real, it becomes increasingly impossible to have the hard conversations necessary to move the country forward,” said Renee DiResta, one of the first researchers to sound the alarm on how social media platforms were being manipulated by foreign actors. 
“The cumulative effect of this is a systemic erosion of trust, including trust between people and their leaders,” she added.


Encouraging that they’re trying to get in front of this. That hardly ever happens. And Renee DiResta is always worth seeking out – she sounded the alarm over anti-vaccine idiots on Facebook, and how its echo chamber enabled them.
link to this extract

Like Peter Thiel, tech workers feel alienated by Silicon Valley ‘echo chamber’ • WSJ

Douglas MacMillan:


Sometimes Silicon Valley venture-capital investors and startup founders “have a certain way of thinking, and if you don’t fit into that way of thinking you’re not in the cool club,” said Ms. Kasireddy, who declined to state her political beliefs but said they didn’t influence her decision to move. She also said she realized many of the resources she needed to build her next project—a blockchain startup—didn’t require her to be in Silicon Valley.

Apart from ideological issues, many are being driven away from the Bay Area by soaring housing costs and increasing traffic congestion, a 2016 survey by the Bay Area Council suggested. Of the 1,000 registered voters from the nine counties making up the Bay Area, 40% said they were considering leaving the region, citing the cost of living, traffic and a lack of availability of housing.

Still, there are signs that the political discussions pervading workplaces over the past two years have alienated a section of the workforce. According to a recent survey by Lincoln Network, an advocacy group for conservatives and libertarians in the tech sector, 31% of the 387 tech workers polled said they know someone who didn’t pursue or left a career in tech because they saw a conflict in viewpoints with their employer or colleagues. Among respondents who identified themselves as “very conservative,” that number was 59%.

Dan Hackney, a 31-year-old who describes his political views as adhering to Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy, said he left his job as a software engineer at Alphabet Inc.’s Google in January, after growing frustrated with what he saw as a lack of tolerance for conservative views at the company.

He said he was surprised when, shortly after Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016, the firm canceled a companywide product demonstration and instead held an all-hands meeting to talk about the results of the election.

Mr. Hackney said he doesn’t support Mr. Trump, but added that he worried that Google’s co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who attended the meeting, were setting a tone that it was OK to exclude certain types of political views from the dialogue in the workplace.


Libertarians and conservatives need advocacy in Silicon Valley? I thought it was the heartland of rapacious libertarian capitalism.
link to this extract

Why the iPhone is losing out to Chinese devices in Asia • WSJ

Newley Purnell:


In China, Apple’s market share is roughly 8% now from 13% in 2015, research firm Canalys says. In India—which last year overtook the US to become the world’s second-biggest smartphone market—Apple has had just a 2% market share since 2013. Apple’s shipments to India fell last quarter compared with the year before, a rare contraction, Canalys says.

The iPhone maker’s market share in Indonesia, home to some 260 million people, has fallen to 1% from 3% in 2013. Apple’s market share has also dropped in the Philippines and Thailand, and has remained static in Malaysia and Vietnam.

Meanwhile, Apple’s Chinese rivals are gobbling up customers. Beijing-based Xiaomi has jumped to 19% of India’s market today from just 3% in 2015. While much of that rise has been on the back of inexpensive phones, increasingly it is putting more expensive devices on the market that offer the look, feel and functionality of iPhones and even a few extra features.

Chitra Patricia, a 27-year-old Jakartan, picked an Oppo over Apple for its selfie features.

Oppo’s “selfie expert” F3 offers options such as a front-facing camera for selfies with wide angle that lends itself to “wefies,” or group shots with several people crammed into the frame. The phone also has a “beautify” function that smooths out users’ selfies, making them appear younger and more glamorous.

“It can capture around a dozen people in one ‘wefie,’” making it great for gatherings, said Ms. Patricia.

Xiaomi has an edge in many markets because it can customize for each country while Apple creates the same products for everyone, said Jai Mani, Xiaomi’s product manager for India.


The debate is whether those people who buy Xiaomi or OPPO or vivo now are lost to Apple forever, or if there’s some possibility that they will shift to it in the future. That requires software and apps that they want (the hardware is a wash). The signs there are mixed, at best.
link to this extract

The Mueller indictment exposes the danger of Facebook’s focus on Groups • The Verge

Casey Newton:


Last year, Facebook said 100 million people are in what the company calls “very meaningful” groups, or groups that are a primary part of the user’s social networking experience and extend to offline interactions. A parenting group might be very meaningful to a young family, for example. In his post last year, Zuckerberg said Facebook hoped to increase the number of people in very meaningful groups to 1 billion.

But what if those very meaningful groups are run by foreign actors working to make the country more polarized? It’s impossible to say how “meaningful” the groups Russia created were to its members, but the troll farms worked to create pages around subjects that generate the maximum level of emotion. Often, they were tied to identity. For immigration matters, there was a page called “Secured Borders.” For Black Lives Matter, there was “Blacktivist.” For religion, there were “United Muslims of America” and “Army of Jesus.” By 2016, those pages collectively had hundreds of thousands of American followers…

… the dark side of “developing the social infrastructure for community” is now all too visible. The tools that are so useful for organizing a parenting group are just as effective at coercing large groups of Americans into yelling at each other. Facebook dreams of serving one global community, when in fact it serves — and enables —countless agitated tribes. The more Facebook pushes us into groups, the more it risks encouraging the kind of polarization that Russia so eagerly exploited.


link to this extract

Facebook turned its two-factor security ‘feature’ into the worst kind of spam • Gizmodo

Kate Conger:


Sometimes, Facebook will send emails to users warning them that they’re having problems logging into their accounts, Bloomberg reported last month. “Just click the button below and we’ll log you in. If you weren’t trying to log in, let us know,” the emails reportedly read. Other times, Facebook will ask for a user’s phone number to set up two-factor authentication—then spam the number with notification texts.

I’ve been getting these text-spam messages since last summer, when I set up a new Facebook account and turned on two-factor authentication. I created the new profile with somewhat vague intentions of using it for professional purposes—I didn’t like the idea of messaging sources from my primary Facebook account, where they could flip through pictures of my high school prom or my young nephews. But I didn’t end up using the profile often, and I let it sit mostly abandoned for months at a time.

At first, I only got one or two texts from Facebook per month. But as my profile stagnated, I got more and more messages. In January, Facebook texted me six times—mostly with updates about what my ex was posting. This month, I’ve already gotten four texts from Facebook. One is about a post from a former intern; I don’t recognize the name of one of the other “friends” Facebook messaged me about.

The texts are a particularly obnoxious form of spam, and instead of making me want to log into Facebook, they remind me why I’m avoiding it. It’s painful to see my ex’s name popping up on my phone all the time, and while my intern was great at her job, I’m not invested in keeping up with her personal life.


The texts will actively turn people away from using 2FA, which is a really bad move. (You can use the Authenticator app to do 2FA for Facebook, rather than letting them text. They still haven’t figured out how to spam you there.)
link to this extract

What’s actually behind Cape Town’s water crisis • The Atlantic

Richard Poplak explains that lack of rain is only part of it:


Since 2009, the Western Cape, of which Cape Town is the capital, has been governed by the Democratic Alliance (DA), the official opposition to the African National Congress (ANC). (A DA-led coalition won Cape Town from the ANC in 2006. They now run the city outright.) The DA is a strange beast, a party with a white-dominated federal executive, and, until 2015, a white leader. There’s a longstanding perception that the party serves the white population’s agenda, described by its enemies as maintaining economic apartheid at the expense of black advancement—a notion that Cape Town’s spatial divisions reinforce. (The party’s former leader, Helen Zille, who has also served as Cape Town’s executive mayor, has a habit of posting tweets extolling the benefits of colonialism, which hasn’t helped matters much.) Culturally and politically, the Cape is a world apart from the rest of South Africa.

Accordingly, the DA has long pitched itself to voters as a “clean” version of the horrifically corrupt ANC—it self-identifies as a liberal, social-democratic party in the stodgy German mold. Back when the ANC ran Cape Town, the rains fell mostly on schedule, and planning for the worst took a back seat to systemic corruption. The DA promised that it would do better. Instead, it has been bad, but in its own special ways. Its near-messianic adherence to fiscal rectitude has meant that local bureaucrats have tended to ignore repeated warnings from civil engineers and climate scientists, who insisted that Cape Town’s water infrastructure, which relies exclusively on six dams in parched catchment areas, would not be able to meet demand should rainfall patterns change due to climate change. Theewaterskloof Dam, the biggest and most vital feeder site, is in an area of the Western Cape that has been subject to creeping desertification for at least a decade. It is currently at 11.7% to 12.5% of its capacity, and effectively unusable.

The drought is so severe that planning for it would take genuine governmental prescience. But over the years, the Cape Town government has studiously ignored reams of data and studies readily available in the public domain.


When economic dogma reigns… in the short term, expect unrest and disease. In the less short term, higher food prices and unrest. Climate change has consequences.
link to this extract

Where is Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster with Starman? • Where Is Roadster

Ben Pearson (who isn’t anything to do with Tesla), using data from Nasa’s JPL Horizons:


where is this vehicle? The current location is 2,295,742 miles (3,694,640 km, 0.025 AU) from Earth, moving away from Earth at a speed of 6,732 miles/hour (10,835 km/hour, 3.01 km/s).

A plot of the Tesla Roadster's path through space
The Tesla Roadster (space edition) is on the green path; the picture shows its closest approach to Mars for a while – in 2020.

The car is 137,198,709 miles (220,799,988 km, 1.476 AU) from Mars, moving toward the planet at a speed of 42,967 miles/hour (69,149 km/hour, 19.21 km/s).


All those numbers are out of date now. Visit again regularly! And note from his graphic that it looks like its closest approach to Mars will be October 2020. Not quite close enough to, er, park though.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.