Start Up No.1226: Twitter considers troll score, Pichai supports facial recognition pause, when anti-vaccine nuts go viral, OnePlus won’t fold, and more


Perhaps you didn’t know, but Children Of Men is set in 2020. CC-licensed photo by sparkynufc_86 on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Up, up, and away. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How science fiction imagined the 2020s • OneZero

Tim Maughan:

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that’s the most important thing to consider when evaluating science fiction about the future, whether old or new: to not get bogged down in the details, in the accuracy of its predictions, or whether it seems dated. Making accurate predictions about the future is not only an impossible task for science fiction but also one of its least interesting aims. It’s never really about the future, but the present, is an oft-repeated mantra for good reason: It’s impossible to remove art from the time in which it was created, and as such, stories about the future will obviously reflect the aspirations, concerns, and fears of the period in which they were first told.

Which is why so many themes in 2020s science fiction from the 1980s and ’90s seem to be repeated: A fear of economic collapse and inequality is understandable when your well-being seems tied to fragile cycles of boom-and-bust economies, and it’s not surprising to worry that technology might strip you of political control — or even your humanity — when there seem to be so many new, smaller, more powerful gadgets in the stores every week that you start to lose track. It was also the era when climate change started to make the news for the first time, and while it didn’t find its way into the public consciousness quickly enough, it certainly seemed to have grabbed the interest of science fiction writers.

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Lovely idea, and some fine books among those he examines. (Who’d have thought Rollerball, the film, is set in 2005 but Running Man, the book/film, is set in 2020?)
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Twitter is considering tipping via tweet, new identifiers for trolls and more • Social Media Today

Andrew Hutchinson:

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In a recent interview at CES, Twitter’s head of product Kayvon Beykpour gave an overview of where the company is at, where it’s looking, and what his key priorities are in the role.

One of the more interesting notes within that chat was Beykpour’s thoughts on trolls, and reducing the incentive for anti-social behavior in the app.

“Some prominent incentives that we have: the follower counts, the likes, the retweet, impressions. These mechanics all tend to incentivize content that gets a lot of reach and popularity. And sometimes outrage can get popularity and reach. […] Oftentimes, unhealthy content can get viral more easily precisely because of those mechanics. So one of the things we’ve been thinking about is whether we have the right balance of incentives within the core product experience. Putting our rules aside for a moment, just as an example, there isn’t really a disincentive today to being a total jerk on Twitter. And that’s a product problem.”

To address this, Beykpour noted that there may be a way to disincentivize such behavior through a rating system, similar to those in use by ride-share services.

“If you think about a service like Lyft or Uber, there is a disincentive to be a total jerk. As a passenger, I have a passenger rating. As a driver, I have a driver rating. And there’s an understanding within the marketplace that if you behave a certain way, that your reputation will be impacted in a way that can have adverse consequences.”

Beykpour didn’t necessarily suggest that a similar rating system would work on Twitter, but a “troll score”, which would delineate users based on their past activity, is something that Twitter is considering, at least in some form.

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Unmasking a company that wants to unmask us all • The New York Times

Kashmir Hill on how she learnt more about Clearview, the facial-recognition-of-everyone company:

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The website listed an office address, a few blocks from The Times building in Midtown Manhattan. I walked over, but the address didn’t exist. (The company later told me it was a typo.) Business filings that my colleague, Kitty Bennett, found listed an address for a building on the Upper West Side. When I went there, a doorman told me it was someone’s home and wouldn’t let me go up.

These red flags initially suggested that the technology could be fake, but police officers using the app said that wasn’t the case. (I reached out to the police departments that had turned over public records about Clearview as well as those that had Clearview AI as a line-item on their public municipal budgets.) Detectives in Florida, Texas and Georgia said it worked incredibly well and had helped them solve dozens of cases in just the few short months they had been using it. I wanted to see for myself how well it worked, so I asked a few officers if they would run my photo through the app and show me the results.

And that’s when things got kooky. The officers said there were no results — which seemed strange because I have a lot of photos online — and later told me that the company called them after they ran my photo to tell them they shouldn’t speak to the media. The company wasn’t talking to me, but it was tracking who I was talking to.

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All started from a tipoff. Persistence pays off.
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Why Google thinks we need to regulate AI • Financial Times

Sundar Pichai:

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there is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. It is too important not to. The only question is how to approach it.

That’s why in 2018, Google published our own AI principles to help guide ethical development and use of the technology. These guidelines help us avoid bias, test rigorously for safety, design with privacy top of mind, and make the technology accountable to people. They also specify areas where we will not design or deploy AI, such as to support mass surveillance or violate human rights.

But principles that remain on paper are meaningless. So we’ve also developed tools to put them into action, such as testing AI decisions for fairness and conducting independent human-rights assessments of new products. We have gone even further and made these tools and related open-source code widely available, which will empower others to use AI for good. We believe that any company developing new AI tools should also adopt guiding principles and rigorous review processes.

Government regulation will also play an important role. We don’t have to start from scratch. Existing rules such as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation can serve as a strong foundation. Good regulatory frameworks will consider safety, explainability, fairness and accountability to ensure we develop the right tools in the right ways. Sensible regulation must also take a proportionate approach, balancing potential harms, especially in high-risk areas, with social opportunities.

«

Lots of claims, but zero evidence. How can we audit those guidelines? And how does he distinguish mass surveillance from what Google does with the tracking in its phones? Is it somehow OK because the masses are identified personally?

All in all, it feels like an article that was written by an AI text generator; or, just as likely, someone in Google’s PR division. I’d be surprised if Pichai ever saw it.
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Alphabet CEO backs temporary ban on facial recognition; Microsoft disagrees • Reuters

Foo Yun Chee and John Chalmers:

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While [Sundar] Pichai cited the possibility that the technology could be used for nefarious purposes as a reason for a moratorium, Smith said a ban was akin to using a meat cleaver instead of a scalpel to solve potential problems.

“I think it is important that governments and regulations tackle it sooner rather than later and give a framework for it,” Pichai told a conference in Brussels organized by think-tank Bruegel.

“It can be immediate but maybe there’s a waiting period before we really think about how it’s being used,” he said. “It’s up to governments to chart the course” for the use of such technology.

Smith, who is also Microsoft’s chief legal officer, however cited the benefits of facial recognition technology in some instances such as NGOs using it to find missing children.

“I’m really reluctant to say let’s stop people from using technology in a way that will reunite families when it can help them do it,” Smith said.

“The second thing I would say is you don’t ban it if you actually believe there is a reasonable alternative that will enable us to, say, address this problem with a scalpel instead of a meat cleaver,” he said.

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So he said more definitive things there than in all of that FT article. Smith’s response demonstrates Kranzberg’s First Law of technology: it’s not good or bad, but neither is it neutral. But we also live in a world where a scalpel can be resized into a meat cleaver in a moment.
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Should the world be worried about the coronavirus in China? • The Guardian

Sarah Boseley:

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What are the symptoms caused by the Wuhan coronavirus?
The virus causes pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. Antiviral drugs may be used, but usually only lessen the severity of symptoms. If people are admitted to hospital, they may get breathing support as well as fluids. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system. Those who have died are known to have been already in poor health.

Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?
Human to human transmission has been confirmed by China’s National Health Commission in two cases of infection in Guangdong province, although it does not appear to be happening easily as was the case with Sars. As of 20 January the Chinese authorities had acknowledged 139 cases, double the number previously reported, and three deaths. Modelling carried out by Imperial College experts has suggested there may be more than 1,700 cases. Those that are mild may not be detected at all.

There are fears that the coronavirus may spread more widely and person to person during the Chinese new year holidays at the end of this month, when millions of people travel home to celebrate. At the moment, it appears that people in poor health are at greatest risk, as is always the case with flu. But the authorities will be keen to stop the spread and anxious that the virus will become more potent than so far appears.

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So far, “the authorities” are trying to stop the spread by not being straight about the number of cases – as happened with SARS. Should the world be worried? Yes – but only at arms’ length, for now.
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Vaccines: TikTok video of Cincinnati doctor Nicole Baldwin goes viral • USA Today

Erin Glynn:

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Nicole Baldwin, a paediatrician working in suburban Cincinnati, posted a TikTok video encouraging vaccination on Twitter Saturday evening.

It took less than 24 hours for the video to go viral on both TikTok, a video sharing app, and Twitter – and just another 48 hours before Baldwin was facing backlash from hundreds of thousands of people associated with the anti-vaccine movement.

The video shows Baldwin dancing to “Cupid Shuffle” and pointing to diseases that vaccines prevent. It ends with her pointing to the words “Vaccines don’t cause autism.”

Baldwin, 42, sees social media as a useful way to spread public health information to her patients. She maintains an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, and runs a blog with tips on keeping parents and children well. The Blue Ash, Ohio pediatrician said she created her TikTok account last week because she wanted to reach a different demographic than she does with her other accounts…

…Baldwin reached out to Todd Wolynn, a colleague she had met a couple of months earlier at an event in Columbus and CEO of a pediatric practice in Pittsburgh. Wolynn had dealt with his own intense online backlash from the anti-vaccine movement two years prior and started the organization Shots Heard Round the World as a result.

…Baldwin ended up with 11 people volunteering their services to monitor her social media pages and prevent the spread of inaccurate information about vaccines. By Thursday morning, the volunteers had banned over 5,000 anti-vaccine accounts on Facebook and the angry calls to Baldwin’s office had slowed. By Friday afternoon, Google Reviews had removed all fraudulent reviews of Baldwin’s practice.

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OK, but “hundreds of thousands of people associated with the anti-vaccine moment”? Doubt there are hundreds of thousands. And it’s not a “movement”; it’s an idiocracy, or if we’re being polite, a “grouping”. A movement is going somewhere. These people aren’t.
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TomTom closes deal with Huawei for use of maps and services: spokesman • Reuters

Bart Meijer:

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Dutch navigation and digital mapping company TomTom on Friday said it has closed a deal with China’s Huawei Technologies for the use of its maps and services in smartphone apps.

Huawei was forced to develop its own operating system for smartphones, after it was effectively blacklisted by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration last year out of concerns over national security.

This banned Huawei from using Google’s official Android operating system, along with widely used apps such as Google Maps, in new phones.

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Deal was made “some time ago”. TomTom also offers the navigation, though having the map and navigation doesn’t mean you’ve got all you need: points of interest and, crucially, the geocoder. (Highly recommend the geocoder article.)
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It’s time for Google to build a video editor for Chromebooks and Android • Android Police

Corbin Davenport:

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It takes a lot of applications to build an ecosystem. Google has all the essentials down — email, calendar, contacts, productivity applications, and so on — but the company has always struggled with creative tools. Most notably, Google is still lacking a proper video editor for its own operating systems, which is becoming even more of an issue as high-end Chromebooks gain momentum.

Let’s rewind a bit. Back in 2011, Google introduced a new app called ‘Movie Studio,’ as part of the Android Honeycomb update. It was a full-fledged video editor, complete with a timeline, transitions, audio importing, and multi-format exporting. The app turned out to be pretty awful, partially because of the meager hardware in the Motorola XOOM tablet, and also because it never received any significant updates after its introduction. Google never included it with the Nexus 7, and it was removed from AOSP at some later point.

That was more or less the only time Google ever tried to create a video editing application for Android.

«

I recall seeing that 2011 video editor being demoed. But of course Android tablets didn’t become A Thing (at least, not a content production Thing). Chromebooks should be capable of doing this now, but lack video acceleration.

And the commenters agree – including Android Police’s own staff, who have even more reason to be frustrated with this missing app (which should just be a feature of any modern OS).
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OnePlus foldable phone: here’s why it hasn’t happened yet • Android Authority

Adamya Sharma:

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OnePlus looked into foldable phones, but CEO Pete Lau is not a believer just yet. The Verge caught up with the OnePlus head on the sidelines of the OnePlus Concept One launch. In a podcast interview with the publication, Lau expressed that OnePlus hasn’t found significant value in making a foldable smartphone just yet.

He believes that the appeal of foldables is “outweighed by the shortcomings or the disadvantages of the current state of the technology.” Lau says he has qualms with the way creases appear on the displays of foldable phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Fold. Due to the plastic nature of current foldable displays, the screen can scratch easily and issues can occur at the point where the actual fold happens, Lau explains. “This isn’t something that I can accept in products that are built,” he adds.

Lau says that the technology needs to come to a level where display folds are crisp and don’t impact the potential usability of phones. He even shrugs off the redesigned Moto Razr. The executive says that even though it’s a different implementation, its display faces the same challenges as the Galaxy Fold.

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Love texting? You better skip that new Samsung foldable phone! • SamMobile

“Danny D”:

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This device is going to be a lot more compact than the original Galaxy Fold, even though it fits in your pocket just fine. However, it’s going to represent a challenge for you if you’re the kind of person who just loves texting. Since the cover display is absolutely tiny, you’ll have to unfold the device every single time you want to not only send a text but just to even see it. So if you’re sending out a hundred texts every day, that’s how many times you have to fold and unfold your device, unless you’re keeping it unfolded for extended periods of time. Just don’t sit on it accidentally, then, because you’re not going to like what happens next.

Sure, the Galaxy Flip Z is going to put a big display between the size of 6.7-6.9 inches in your pocket, but leaked photos of the device have shown that the cover display won’t be of much use besides showing notification icons. This isn’t a problem with the original Galaxy Fold. It has a 4.6-inch cover display that’s always accessible when the phone is folded. That’s obviously not possible in the first iteration of a clamshell foldable smartphone.

«

I consider myself warned. But I think Samsung might be setting itself up for trouble here. I’ve heard that texting and messaging is quite popular among smartphone users.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: yesterday’s link ranking companies by evilness was from Slate, not The Atlantic. (Thanks, Andrew B.)

8 thoughts on “Start Up No.1226: Twitter considers troll score, Pichai supports facial recognition pause, when anti-vaccine nuts go viral, OnePlus won’t fold, and more

  1. “Chromebooks should be capable of doing [video editing] now, but lack video acceleration. ”

    Untrue, again. Chromebooks have full video acceleration in ChromeOS. Just not always *under Linux*. It’s right there in that article.
    Doubly untrue, Chromebooks are full capable of doing video editing, the tool from Google to do so is just very entry-level probably not good enough for website editors. There are plenty 3rd-party tools. https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/video-editors-for-chromebook/
    Triply untrue, same for Android. Chris from video-heavy site Techtablets chose a Galaxy S11 over his iPad Pro mostly because of hardware (video editing is multicore, so the S11 was faster), a bit because of OS (easier to work with video files on SD cards), but finding an app was not an issue (he’s using Kinemaster). https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/5-best-video-editors-android/
    Quadruply untrue, Android tablets are “a thing”, with about 60% market share: https://dazeinfo.com/2019/08/23/tablet-os-market-share-worldwide-by-month-graphfarm/ . Probably not for content creation.

    Finally, of let’s say 20 people around me, *one* does occasional (2-3x/month) light video editing. Not sure that’s a basic required OS tool. For web journalists, sure. For regular people… I’d double check what usage is before committing resources over Google Photos’ basic “cut stabilize and rotate” features. A clue: OEMs aren’t doing it either, and they’re much more adept at spotting user needs and differentiation opportunities than Google.

    It’s already weird 100% of your ChromeOS and Android coverage is negative. Could you try to at least make it true and relevant ?

    • “Finally, of let’s say 20 people around me, *one* does occasional (2-3x/month) light video editing. Not sure that’s a basic required OS tool.”
      Read the comments on that article. Never seen so many people wailing for a video editing tool. Maybe you’re the one who’s atypical, and younger users actually see a need for it.
      Android tablets’ market share isn’t an indication of what they’re used for (or even if they’re used), only that they have sold. Lots of people have bought exercise bikes and ab rollers. Doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of them sitting under stairs gathering dust.
      The guy at Techtablets could have got an iPad Pro – USB-C works with SD cards (I have a dongle that offers that plus a ton of others). Then there’s a big selection of video editing apps for iOS, and the A-series chips on the iPad beat pretty much everything out there.
      OEMs, in general, write terrible software, but to dedicate a team to writing something that Google might just make obsolete in a year’s time would be the height of foolishness.

      • 1- Any app might be targeted by Google. Being paralyzed by that would maybe be even more foolish than trying if there’s a clear and present need. Google is not Apple and won’t ban competing apps (see child supervision apps etc..)
        2- Plenty of examples of such efforts anyway: Samsung KNOX (coopted by Google in the end), Samsung’s windowing (ditto) and pen support (ditto), Asus’ File Manager is nicer the Google’s, Chinese OEMs’ coordinated “AirShare” tool, Redmi and Realme’s clone-app tool… And of course the notorious duplication of already-existing Google stuff (browser, mail, gallery, keyboard, launcher, camera…) that so many whine about. OEM’s aren’t shy to try stuff or just duplicate for the sake of it, so if they’re not doing it for video, there’s probably a reason: I’d go with well-served niche market. The article doesn’t complain that video editing can’t be done, just that Google doesn’t provide a 1st-party app beyond barebones Photo.
        3- People on a video editing article interested in video editing ? You don’t say ? Maybe we shouldn’t take that population as representative ? People in a whiny article whining ? ditto…
        4- Android tablets: well, they’re probably “a thing” though. As in market leader and significant business. Sorry.
        5- Tell that to the Techtablet guy, he does serious video editing has both an iPad pro and S11 and chooses S11. That might be a “man bites dog” interesting story to report on ? I’ve mentioned it a few times already…

  2. (repost w/o link to Makeuseof’s list of ChromeOS and Android video editors, nor dazeinfo tablet market share data)

    “Chromebooks should be capable of doing [video editing] now, but lack video acceleration. ”

    Untrue, again. Chromebooks have full video acceleration in ChromeOS. Just not always *under Linux*. It’s right there in that article.
    Doubly untrue, Chromebooks are full capable of doing video editing, the tool from Google to do so is just very entry-level probably not good enough for website editors. There are plenty 3rd-party tools.
    Triply untrue, same for Android. Chris from video-heavy site Techtablets chose a Galaxy S11 over his iPad Pro mostly because of hardware (video editing is multicore, so the S11 was faster), a bit because of OS (easier to work with video files on SD cards), but finding an app was not an issue (he’s using Kinemaster).
    Quadruply untrue, Android tablets are “a thing”, with about 60% market share: Probably not for content creation.

    Finally, of let’s say 20 people around me, *one* does occasional (2-3x/month) light video editing. Not sure that’s a basic required OS tool. For web journalists, sure. For regular people… I’d double check what usage is before committing resources over Google Photos’ basic “cut stabilize and rotate” features. A clue: OEMs aren’t doing it either, and they’re much more adept at spotting user needs and differentiation opportunities than Google.

    It’s already weird 100% of your ChromeOS and Android coverage is negative. Could you try to at least make it true and relevant ?

  3. Galaxy Fold 2 and texting: Can we maybe wait until we have actual info before starting the not-Apple bashing ? There’s not one pic of that external screen, zero info about what the keyboard on it will look like, or if there’ll be a specific app to make things better.
    Also, about 75% of my texting is via voice (I’ve warned people and apologized in advance for its failings, I only correct the mistakes that prevent comprehension, not grammar), especially for the small/urgent stuff (“ok”, “be there at 5″…). I’m not into the market for a foldable yet, but not sure I care if I have to open it for more complex messages.

    Is that from the “dog might maybe bite some men, sometimes, starting next quarter” newsfile ?

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