Start Up: here come the neo-luddites, advertisers flee Infowars, who’s meeting Trump on games?, and more

You see sheep; an AI may well see flowers. Howcome? Photo by Tim Parkinson on Flickr

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A selection of 10 links for you. Thank you for all the thoughts and prayers. They turned a seven-day illness into one that lasted only one week. Well done everyone! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why I quit Google to work for myself • MTLynch

Michael Lynch became frustrated at trying to make an impact inside Google:


It was the third time in six months that my manager had reassigned me midway through a project. Each time, he assured me that it had nothing to do with the quality of my work, but rather some shift in upper management strategy or team headcount.

At this point, I took a step back to assess what was happening from a high level. Forget my manager, forget his managers, forget the promotion committee. What if I boiled it down to just me and just Google? What was happening in our “business relationship?”

Well, Google kept telling me that it couldn’t judge my work until it saw me complete a project. Meanwhile, I couldn’t complete any projects because Google kept interrupting them midway through and assigning me new ones.

The dynamic felt absurd.

My career was being dictated by a shifting, anonymous committee who thought about me for an hour of their lives. Management decisions that I had no input into were erasing months of my career progress.

Worst of all, I wasn’t proud of my work. Instead of asking myself, “How can I solve this challenging problem?” I was asking, “How can I make this problem look challenging for promotion?” I hated that.

Even if I got the promotion, what then? Popular wisdom said that each promotion was exponentially harder than the last. To continue advancing my career, I’d need projects that were even larger in scope and involved collaboration with more partner teams. But that just meant the project could fail due to even more factors outside my control, wasting months or years of my life.


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AI breakthrough: app can transcribe your meetings in real time, for free • ZDNet

Jason Hiner:


When we sat down to talk about it in a tiny meeting room in the back corner of Fira Barcelona’s Hall 2, Sam Liang placed his iPhone on the table and tapped the record button in the Otter app. As the CEO of AISense – the company behind – Liang started explaining how the 15-person startup from Los Altos, CA took a different approach to understand audio data than Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and the other companies working on speech recognition.

As Liang gave his pitch, Otter started spitting out text – with roughly a 2-3 second delay. And since Liang had set up our meeting in the app beforehand, the software automatically recognized when his teammate Seamus McAteer chimed in with his own comments or I interrupted with follow-up questions.

While Otter’s natural language processing wasn’t perfect by any means – punctuation is missing, words are misunderstood, speakers are sometimes misidentified – it’s remarkably close, especially considering its speed and the fact that the app is free.

“Our technology is quite different,” said Liang, in his interview with ZDNet. “We call it ‘Ambient Voice Intelligence’ and we use the word ambient to indicate that this is working in the background… Your brain can only remember 10-20% of the information [from a meeting]… So we thought we can help people capture that information and then search for it really fast.”

The search is the best feature. Once the recording is finished, the app’s machine learning automatically creates about 10 keywords so that you know what the meeting was about. And you can start searching the full text right away. Also useful is that once you hone in on a keyword, you can hit the play button to listen to the section of the audio where it occurred.

The next best feature of the app is that you can share recorded meetings. So, if you have a meeting and a colleague can’t attend, you can send them the transcript and audio afterward, so that they can find the stuff that’s relevant to them.


This is the holy grail for journalists who don’t want to do tedious, tedious transcription of important (and unimportant) interviews. Search in particular is really big. It’s on the App Store.
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Global wearables market grows 7.7% in 4Q17 and 10.3% in 2017 as Apple seizes the leader position • IDC


“The 10.3% year-over-year growth in 2017 is a marked decline from the 27.3% growth we saw in 2016,” said Ramon T. Llamas, research director for IDC’s Wearables team. “The slowdown is not due to a lack of interest – far from it. Instead, we saw numerous vendors, relying on older models, exit the market altogether. At the same time, the remaining vendors – including multiple startups – have not only replaced them, but with devices, features, and services that have helped make wearables more integral in people’s lives. Going forward, the next generation of wearables will make the ones we saw as recently as 2016 look quaint.”

Apple, meanwhile, suddenly finds itself atop the wearables market. “Interest in smartwatches continues to grow and Apple is well-positioned to capture demand,” added Llamas. “User tastes have become more sophisticated over the past several quarters and Apple pounced on the demand for cellular connectivity and streaming multimedia. What will bear close observation is how Apple will iterate upon these and how the competition chooses to keep pace.”


Fitbit is in real trouble; its sales are shrinking and it isn’t getting users to upgrade. Xiaomi, well, it has the whole of China to sell to. I bet a lot of those who left the market were in the Android Wear space. It’s Huawei and nobody else there just now.
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Eight years later, Google Fiber is a faint echo of the disruption we were promised • Motherboard

Karl Bode on how Google has moved on from wired to planning wireless broadband:


Google’s “pause” [on bringing Fiber to new cities] is driven largely by executive frustrations with fiber deployment costs and a fascination with the potential of next-generation wireless.

The company has been conducting trials in the 71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz millimeter wave bands, and is also conducting a variety of different tests in the 3.5 GHz band, the 5.8 GHz band and the 24 GHz band. And while these technologies show promise, it’s going to take a while for Google to figure out the best combination of technologies to aid its deployment.

And while Google Fiber has focused on wireless as an alternative to deploying fiber, those efforts have faced stiff headwinds as well. In July of 2016 Google acquired Webpass, a wireless ISP focused largely on urban apartment building deployments. But there too Google Fiber’s ambitions appear to be shrinking with the recent news the service would be leaving Boston.

Since Google executives don’t appear to actually know what these evolved wireless efforts will look like yet, the company’s public relation apparatus has been left with little more than a rotating crop of non-answers, sowing further frustration among cities trying to get on the other side of the nation’s vast digital divide.

Users In the company’s initial launch market of Kansas City were frustrated to find their scheduled installations cancelled after years of waiting. Other cities, like Portland, state that they were strung along for more than a year only to be left standing at the altar. Some rumored target markets like San Francisco have decided to move forward on their own.


Better chance with wireless than wired. The latter is sunk costs, literally. However, you’re still challenging for something which is not a Google core competence (putting individual things in every home/business) against companies which got there years earlier. Why?
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Do neural nets dream of electric sheep? • AI Weirdness



Are neural networks just hyper-vigilant, finding sheep everywhere? No, as it turns out. They only see sheep where they expect to see them. They can find sheep easily in fields and mountainsides, but as soon as sheep start showing up in weird places, it becomes obvious how much the algorithms rely on guessing and probabilities.

Bring sheep indoors, and they’re labeled as cats. Pick up a sheep (or a goat) in your arms, and they’re labeled as dogs.

Paint them orange, and they become flowers.

Put the sheep on leashes, and they’re labeled as dogs. Put them in cars, and they’re dogs or cats. If they’re in the water, they could end up being labeled as birds or even polar bears.

And if goats climb trees, they become birds. Or possibly giraffes. (It turns out that Microsoft Azure is somewhat notorious for seeing giraffes everywhere due to a rumored overabundance of giraffes in the original dataset)


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Will 2018 be the year of the neo-luddite? • The Guardian

Jamie Bartlett:


the whole of society seems to have woken up to the fact there is a psychological cost to constant checking, swiping and staring. A growing number of my friends now have “no phone” times, don’t instantly sign into the cafe wifi, or have weekends away without their computers. This behaviour is no longer confined to intellectuals and academics, part of some clever critique of modernity. Every single parent I know frets about “screen time”, and most are engaged in a struggle with a toddler over how much iPad is allowed. The alternative is “slow living” or “slow tech”. “Want to become a slow-tech family?” writes Janell Burley Hoffmann, one of its proponents. “Wait! Just wait – in line, at the doctor’s, for the bus, at the school pickup – just sit and wait.” Turning what used to be ordinary behaviour into a “movement” is a very modern way to go about it. But it’s probably necessary.

I would add to this the ever-growing craze for yoga, meditation, reiki and all those other things that promise inner peace and meaning – except for the fact all the techies do it, too. Maybe that’s why they do it. Either way, there is a palpable demand for anything that involves less tech, a fetish for back-to-basics. Innocent Drinks have held two “Unplugged Festivals”, offering the chance of “switching off for the weekend … No wifi, no 3G, no traditional electricity”. Others take off-grid living much further. There has been an uptick in “back to the land” movements: communes and self-sustaining communities that prefer the low-tech life. According to the Intentional Community Directory, which measures the spread of alternative lifestyles, 300 eco-villages were founded in the first 10 months of 2016, the most since the 1970s. I spent some time in 2016 living in an off-grid community where no one seemed to suffer mobile phone separation anxiety. No one was frantically checking if their last tweet went viral and we all felt better for it.


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Why are there few women in tech? Watch a recruiting session • Wired

Jessi Hempel:


In 2012 and 2013, researchers attended 84 introductory sessions held by 66 companies at an elite West Coast university. (They never explicitly name Stanford, but…) Roughly a quarter of attendees at these one-hour sessions were women, on average. The researchers documented an unwelcoming environment for these women, including sexist jokes and imagery, geeky references, a competitive environment, and an absence of women engineers—all of which intimidated or alienated female recruits. “We hear from companies there’s a pipeline problem, that there just aren’t enough people applying for jobs. This is one area where they are able to influence that,” says Wynn. They just don’t.

The chilling effect, according to Wynn, starts with the people companies send to staff recruiting sessions. As students entered, women were often setting up refreshments or raffles and doling out the swag in the back; the presenters were often men, and they rarely introduced the recruiters. If the company sent a female engineer, according to the paper, she often had no speaking role; alternatively, her role was to speak about the company’s culture, while her male peer tackled the tech challenges. Of the sessions Wynn’s research team observed, only 22% featured female engineers talking about technical work. When those women did speak, according to the sessions observed, male presenters tended to interrupt them.

Similarly, the follow-up question-and-answer periods were often dominated by male students who commandeered the time, using it to show off their own deep technical know-how in a familiar one-upmanship. Rather than acting as a facilitator for these sessions, male presenters were often drawn into a competitive volley. Wynn and Correll describe one session in which men asked 19 questions and women asked none.


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Advertisers flee Infowars founder Alex Jones’ YouTube channel • CNN

Paul P. Murphy and Gianluca Mezzofiore:


A Nike spokesperson said the company was “disturbed to learn that we appeared on [The Alex Jones Channel].” It has since asked YouTube to address why the channel wasn’t flagged by a filter it had enabled.

Nike, like some of the other brands, opted in to a “sensitive subject exclusion” filter to better control where its ads appear. The exclusion filters include, according to YouTube: “Tragedy and Conflict;” “Sensitive Social Issues;” “Sexually Suggestive Content;” “Sensational & Shocking;” and “Profanity & Rough Language.”

YouTube did not respond to questions from CNN about whether the channels should have been excluded by any of those filters.

“We have a filter and brand safety assurances from Google our content would never run around offensive content,” a Paramount Network spokesperson said, adding that the company is trying to find out what “went wrong.”

An Acer spokesperson confirmed the company also had reached out to its partners at YouTube, saying its “existing filters should have prevented this.” The spokesperson said the company has set up additional filters to further block its ads from appearing on “divisive channels in the future.”


What went wrong? YouTube never expected there would be unfactual content like this. Simply wasn’t built into it.
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A new, huge review of gun research has bad news for the NRA • Vox

German Lopez:


RAND’s report does not come out in favor of more or less gun control. Instead, the team compiled the best research that’s available so far into charts and in-depth evaluations — the result of a review of dozens of studies, focused on 13 policies and eight outcomes. Here are the overall findings, which only included studies that met RAND’s rigorous standards:

The RAND report emphasizes that much of the research on gun policy is still in its infancy. You can see that in the chart above in all the white and gray space — we still don’t have answers to a lot of important questions when it comes to gun policy, including the effects on defensive gun use, hunting and recreation, and police shootings.

But the answers we do have point in one direction. On the gun control front, there’s moderate evidence that background checks reduce suicide and violent crime, limited evidence that prohibitions associated with mental illness reduce suicide, moderate evidence that those prohibitions reduce violent crime, and supportive evidence that child-access prevention laws reduce suicides and unintentional injuries and deaths.


Data! What the argument is lacking so far. And here are the RAND conclusions, very briefly summarised, from its executive summary:
• Supportive evidence
-Child-access prevention laws may decrease suicide.
-Child-access prevention laws may decrease unintentional injuries and deaths.

• Moderate evidence
– Background checks may decrease suicide.
– Background checks may decrease violent crime.
– Prohibitions associated with mental illness may decrease violent crime.
– Stand-your-ground laws may increase violent crime.

• Limited evidence
– Bans on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines may increase the price of banned firearms.
– Concealed-carry laws may increase unintentional injuries and deaths.
– Concealed-carry laws may increase violent crime.
– Minimum age requirements may decrease suicide.
– Prohibitions associated with mental illness may decrease suicide.
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Entertainment Software Association: White House has not invited it or any member company to meet Trump • Venturebeat

Jeff Grubb:


If President Trump is going to meet with the gaming industry next week [ie this week, beginning 5 March], the gaming industry doesn’t know about it. The Entertainment Software Association, gaming’s biggest lobbying group, says that it had no knowledge of a meeting next week. During a question-and-answer session with the media, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced that Trump is meeting with the gaming industry next week, but she did not say who would attend that event.

“The ESA and our member companies have not received an invitation to meet with President Trump,” ESA media relations boss Dan Hewitt told GamesBeat in an email.

ESA member companies include Capcom, Epic Game, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Nintendo, and Microsoft. The ESA is also the primary point of contact between corporate game makers and Washington D.C. If the White House has not invited any of the companies in that group, then who did it invite?

I’ve reached out to the White House for a comment.

I reached out to Hewitt and the ESA as well as several major publishers after Sanders revealed the alleged meeting earlier today. A couple of companies said they didn’t have a comment at the time, which is odd. This is typically the kind of thing that every company would have prepared statements for. I expected to get back something simple like, “Johnny’s Big Game Conglomerate is looking forward to speaking with the president about the dynamic and rich world of gaming at the White House next week.”


For the games industry, there’s no benefit in turning up – since Trump will just want to use it to blame them for school shootings.

Unless of course one of them is able to ask “we sell these exact same games in Australia, the UK and elsewhere. They don’t have school shootings. What’s your explanation for that?”
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

1 thought on “Start Up: here come the neo-luddites, advertisers flee Infowars, who’s meeting Trump on games?, and more

  1. 2 things bug me:

    1- I’m in the market for a Pebble, so are most people around me: a purely “notifications” smartwatch, with no fitness functions but a nice look and long battery life, probably e-Ink. Maybe just a watch with a ticker for messages from key contacts (“can’t pick up the kids today !”). How come you can get the opposite (a fitness tracker w/o Google Wear for general utility) but not this ?

    2- The NRA is internally inconsistent. If guns make us safer, and more powerful guns make us more safer, and the constitution’s amendments are sacred genius texts, then the only right thing to do is to give all white males an AR for their 16th birthday. Not women, not “coloureds” (sorry for that word, I should actually have used the n one to respect the text’s epoch), but all the rest. Anything else than that reaches the level of hypocrisy of that thrice-divorced clerk who won’t sign off on gay marriage paperwork because bible.

    PS: Glad to know you’re back on your feet.

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