Start Up No.1970: Internet Archive loses ebook lending case, Tory MPs froth at Google Bard, Twitter’s value collapse, and more

Two American schoolgirls say they have a new proof of Pythagoras’s theorem which doesn’t use so-called circular reasoning. CC-licensed photo by zeevveez on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Circular triangles? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. On Mastodon: Observations and links welcome.

The Internet Archive has lost its first fight to scan and lend e-books like a library • The Verge

Jay Peters and Sean Hollister:


In his ruling, Judge Koetl considered whether the Internet Archive was operating under the principle of Fair Use, which previously protected a digital book preservation project by Google Books and HathiTrust in 2014, among other users. Fair Use considers whether using a copyrighted work is good for the public, how much it’ll impact the copyright holder, how much of the work has been copied, and whether the use has “transformed” a copyrighted thing into something new, among other things.

But Koetl wrote that any “alleged benefits” from the Internet Archive’s library “cannot outweigh the market harm to the publishers,” declares that “there is nothing transformative about [Internet Archive’s] copying and unauthorized lending,” and that copying these books doesn’t provide “criticism, commentary, or information about them.” He notes that the Google Books use was found “transformative” because it created a searchable database instead of simply publishing copies of books on the internet.

Koetl also dismissed arguments that the Internet Archive might theoretically have helped publishers sell more copies of their books, saying there was no direct evidence, and that it was “irrelevant” that the Internet Archive had purchased its own copies of the books before making copies for its online audience. According to data obtained during the trial, the Internet Archive currently hosts around 70,000 e-book “borrows” a day.

The lawsuit came from the Internet Archive’s decision to launch the “National Emergency Library” early in the covid pandemic, which let people read from 1.4 million digitized books with no waitlist. Typically, the Internet Archive’s Open Library program operates under a “controlled digital lending” (CDL) system where it can loan out digitized copies of a book on a one-to-one basis, but it removed those waitlists to offer easier access to those books when stay-at-home orders arrived during the pandemic.


The Verge article embeds the judgment, which from p18 contains the findings. They’re pretty damning of the Archive’s arugments. Every single “fair use” argument it put forward was knocked down, and so it’s difficult to see how there are any grounds for appeal. (Personally I’ve always thought the uncontrolled lending scheme was a bad idea on the Archive’s part: the copyright problem was obvious.)
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Tory MPs accuse Google’s new AI of left-wing bias, fearing tool could dent election hopes • Daily Mail Online

Mark Hookham and Glen Owen:


Google was at the centre of a row over political bias last night after tests of its new artificial intelligence ‘chatbot’ produced results with a pronounced Left-wing slant.

An investigation by The Mail on Sunday into Google Bard, which is designed to answer questions like a human by analysing data from the internet, produced results that condemned Brexit as a ‘bad idea’ and described Jeremy Corbyn as having ‘the potential to be a great leader’.

The ‘bot’ has been hailed as part of the biggest technological breakthrough since the launch of the printing press. But early results have caused alarm among senior Conservatives, who fear that if Google does not change its search algorithms before the next General Election it could boost the chances of Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour.

They say simple factual errors have already been spotted in searches about Tory MPs.

When this newspaper asked Bard, which was launched last week, about Brexit, it ignored the views of the 17 million voters who backed Britain quitting the EU to declare: ‘I think Brexit was a bad idea… I believe the UK would have been better off remaining in the EU.’


It’s both hilarious and exhausting that you can produce a story like this for a Sunday paper and get tons of people to quote for it. There’s a sort of intentional refusal to understand the limits of Bard – though at the same time, it’s correct to ask those questions because that’s exactly how the vast majority of people will approach it. And that is the real problem here: too few red flags flying around the user interface to tell people that this is not a search of the web, but the equivalent of getting your phone to generate a message by starting it and letting it “guess” the next thing to say.
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Gettr is controlled by Guo Wengui, ex employees say • The Washington Post

Joseph Menn:


An exiled Chinese tycoon indicted in New York earlier this month in a billion-dollar fraud case controls the conservative social media platform Gettr and used it to promote cryptocurrencies and propaganda, former employees have told The Washington Post.

They said the arrested expatriate, Guo Wengui, and his longtime money manager, William Je, called the shots at the company while Donald Trump senior adviser Jason Miller was its chief executive and public face. Miller served in that capacity from before Gettr’s July 4, 2021, launch until this month, when he returned to work on his third Trump presidential campaign.

Gettr doled out tens of thousands of dollars to right-wing figures including Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon, sent money to contractors affiliated with Guo, and altered information on Gettr users that law enforcement agencies had sought, according to the former employees and internal company documents obtained by The Post.

The revelations show that a man accused of massive fraud on two continents climbed high into Trump’s political sphere and dictated messaging at a social media site that reaches millions of Americans.


Shocked, shocked, I tell you, that someone accused of massive fraud on two continents could be high in Trump’s political sphere. Usually it’s only one continent.
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Elon Musk values Twitter at $20bn • The New York Times

Kate Conger and Ryan Mac:


Elon Musk said Twitter is now worth about $20bn, according to an email he sent the company’s employees on Friday, a significant drop from the $44bn that he paid to buy the social network in October.

The email, which was viewed by The New York Times, was sent to employees to announce a new stock compensation program. In it, Mr. Musk warned workers that Twitter remained in a precarious financial position and, at one point, had been four months away from running out of money. He said “radical changes” at the company, including mass layoffs and cost cutting, were necessary to avoid bankruptcy and streamline operations.

“Twitter is being reshaped rapidly,” Mr. Musk wrote, adding that the company could be thought of as “an inverse start-up.”

Twitter’s value has declined as Mr. Musk has dramatically overhauled the company. In October, Mr. Musk took Twitter private, which means it is no longer obligated to provide transparency about its finances. But the billionaire has indicated publicly that the company lost revenue as advertisers fled the platform after his takeover, and suggested that Twitter was in danger of bankruptcy.

The $20bn figure values Twitter slightly higher than Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, which has recently struggled with an advertising slump and predicted its revenue would fall. Snap, which has a market capitalization of about $18bn, has about 375 million daily active users, compared with Twitter’s 237.8 million in the company’s final public disclosure before it went private.


OK, everyone said that Musk was overpaying wildly, but when Twitter floated, in November 2013, it priced the stock at $26, which valued it at about $14bn. You could say it’s about 3% compound increase in value annually. That missing $24bn from the purchase price? Spread among all the former Twitter shareholders, many of them big names.
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At Apple, rare dissent over a new product: interactive goggles • The New York Times

Tripp Mickle and Brian X Chen:


When Apple held a corporate retreat in California’s Carmel Valley about five years ago to discuss its next major product, Jony Ive, its longtime design chief, captivated a room of the company’s 100 top executives with a concept video as polished as an Apple commercial.

The video showed a man in a London taxi donning an augmented reality headset and calling his wife in San Francisco. “Would you like to come to London?” he asked, two people who saw the video said. Soon, the couple were sharing the sights of London through the husband’s eyes.

The video excited executives about the possibilities of Apple’s next business-altering device: a headset that would blend the digital world with the real one.

But now, as the company prepares to introduce the headset in June, enthusiasm at Apple has given way to skepticism, said eight current and former employees, who requested anonymity because of Apple’s policies against speaking about future products. There are concerns about the device’s roughly $3,000 price, doubts about its utility and worries about its unproven market.

That dissension has been a surprising change inside a company where employees have built devices — from the iPod to the Apple Watch — with the single-mindedness of a moon mission.

Some employees have defected from the project because of their doubts about its potential, three people with knowledge of the moves said. Others have been fired over the lack of progress with some aspects of the headset, including its use of Apple’s Siri voice assistant, one person said.

Even leaders at Apple have questioned the product’s prospects. It has been developed at a time when morale has been strained by a wave of departures from the company’s design team, including Mr. Ive, who left Apple in 2019 and stopped advising the company last year.


Even leaders? I’ll question its prospects too, if “showing what you’re seeing” is all it does. You can do that with a video call where you use the back camera. The Watch displaces essential content (messages, time). Would this really replace it? I just don’t see it.
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US teens say they have new proof for 2,000-year-old mathematical theorem • The Guardian

Ramon Antonio Vargas:


The 2,000-year-old theorem established that the sum of the squares of a right triangle’s two shorter sides equals the square of the hypotenuse – the third, longest side opposite the shape’s right angle. Legions of schoolchildren have learned the notation summarizing the theorem in their geometry classes: a2+b2=c2.

As mentioned in the abstract of Calcea Johnson and Ne’Kiya Jackson’s 18 March mathematical society presentation, trigonometry – the study of triangles – depends on the theorem. And since that particular field of study was discovered, mathematicians have maintained that any alleged proof of the Pythagorean theorem which uses trigonometry constitutes a logical fallacy known as circular reasoning, a term used when someone tries to validate an idea with the idea itself.

Johnson and Jackson’s abstract adds that the book with the largest known collection of proofs for the theorem – Elisha Loomis’s The Pythagorean Proposition – “flatly states that ‘there are no trigonometric proofs because all the fundamental formulae of trigonometry are themselves based upon the truth of the Pythagorean theorem’.”

But, the abstract counters, “that isn’t quite true”. The pair asserts: “We present a new proof of Pythagoras’s Theorem which is based on a fundamental result in trigonometry – the Law of Sines – and we show that the proof is independent of the Pythagorean trig identity sin2x+cos2x=1.” In short, they could prove the theorem using trigonometry and without resorting to circular reasoning.


Hope that their paper stands this up: how wonderful if a pair of teenagers could show that they can fill gaps in maths. (A discussion on Reddit suggests they’ve used infinite series; I couldn’t access the US TV station that has a video report.)
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Axios fires reporter for calling out Ron DeSantis event as “propaganda” • Esquire

Charles Pierce:


On Wednesday, Axios fired Ben [Montgomery, who is a friend of Pierce’s]. From the Washington Post:


The news release sent Monday afternoon said DeSantis, a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, had hosted a roundtable “exposing the diversity equity and inclusion scam in higher education.” It also called for prohibiting state funds from being used to support DEI efforts. “We will expose the scams they are trying to push onto students across the country,” DeSantis said in the statement. Montgomery, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, replied to the email three minutes after getting it. “This is propaganda, not a press release,” he wrote to the Department of Education press office. About an hour after that, the Education Department’s communication officer, Alex Lanfranconi, shared Montgomery’s reply on Twitter, where it has since been viewed more than 1 million times. Montgomery said the news release had “no substance,” adding that he “read the whole thing and it was just a series of quotes about how bad DEI was.”


Here’s the news release. If anything, Montgomery understated his case.

I have enough problems with upper echelons’ knuckling reporters for their activity on social media in their off-hours. (I have a long-standing hatred for the rules of “objectivity” when they are used as an excuse for timidity and professional ass-covering by said echelons.) But this was a private communication between a reporter and a government official that the official shared in a public forum. Even the most hidebound traditional journalism ethics don’t touch this. It’s the apparatchik who should be fired for sharing a private communication for, yes, propaganda purposes.


So much wrongness here. First: mistake on the part of the reporter responding to the email. Just delete it and move on. (It’s probably a blessing for me that PR companies never chose to post some of my responses to them on social media. Though I did try to be constructive.) Second: it’s not in the least surprising that a state department would be pushing propaganda. Third: unsurprising but classic jerk move by the Propaganda Department to put Montgomery’s response on Twitter, since that gives it a lever. Fourth: behold social warming, where social media is used as a lever to pry your (potential) enemies out of jobs.

Pierce might wish for the apparatchik to be fired, but that’s less likely than the sun rising in the west.
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Cheating is all you need • Sourcegraph

Steve Yegge:


One of the craziest damned things I hear devs say about LLM-based coding help is that they can’t “trust” the code that it writes, because it “might have bugs in it”.

Ah me, these crazy crazy devs.

Can you trust code you yeeted over from Stack Overflow? NO!

Can you trust code you copied from somewhere else in your code base? NO!

Can you trust code you just now wrote carefully by hand, yourself? NOOOO!

All you crazy MFs are completely overlooking the fact that software engineering exists as a discipline because you cannot EVER under any circumstances TRUST CODE. That’s why we have reviewers. And linters. And debuggers. And unit tests. And integration tests. And staging environments. And runbooks. And all of goddamned Operational Excellence. And security checkers, and compliance scanners, and on, and on and on!

So the next one of you to complain that “you can’t trust LLM code” gets a little badge that says “Welcome to engineering, mofo”. You’ve finally learned the secret of the trade: Don’t. Trust. Anything!

Peeps, let’s do some really simple back-of-envelope math. Trust me, it won’t be difficult math.

You get the LLM to draft some code for you that’s 80% complete/correct. You tweak the last 20% by hand.

How much of a productivity increase is that? Well jeepers, if you’re only doing 1/5th the work, then you are… punches buttons on calculator watch… five times as productive. 😲

When was the last time you got a 5x productivity boost from anything that didn’t involve some sort of chemicals?

I’m serious. I just don’t get people. How can you not appreciate the historic change happening right now?


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A new pandemic origin report is stirring controversy. Here are key takeaways • Science

Jon Cohen:


In their report, Débarre and colleagues say 49 of those samples infected with SARS-CoV-2 RNA also contained mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) that clearly identified five mammals: the common raccoon dog, Malayan porcupine, Amur hedgehog, masked palm civet, and hoary bamboo rat.

They also found other DNA, as well as RNA from the mammals. “The co-occurrence of SARS-CoV-2 virus and susceptible animal RNA/DNA in the same samples, from a specific section of the Huanan market, and often at greater abundance than human genetic material, identifies these species, particularly the common raccoon dog, as the most likely conduits for the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in late 2019,” the authors wrote. The group produced a “heat map” that shows the density of SARS-CoV-2 was “hottest” in market areas near stalls that sold the mammals.


Why are raccoon dogs receiving so much attention? Experiments have shown SARS-CoV-2 easily infects raccoon dogs—commonly raised for fur in China, but also sold for meat in “wet” markets like the one in Wuhan—and that they shed high levels of the virus. The report describes finding raccoon dog mtDNA in six samples from two different stalls in the Wuhan market.


This is, as you’d expect, a very complex subject, with peculiar behaviour from Chinese researchers and a virology database whose administrators are frustrated with those researchers.
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Samsung’s photo ‘remaster’ knows what this baby pic is missing: teeth • The Verge

Mitchell Clark:


Samsung’s recently caught some flak after widespread reports that its camera software fakes zoom pictures of the Moon, but things may be about to get way more unsettling. A Verge reader wrote in on Wednesday to tell us that the company’s software is adding teeth to pictures of their seven-month-old daughter.

This reader says they recently got an S23 Ultra and decided to try out the Remaster feature in Samsung’s photo-viewing app, Gallery. (It’s the default photo app for the phone, and the feature is available inside the camera if you visit your photo roll.)

They expected something like what Google Photos does, suggesting specific adjustments and filters, unbluring pictures, and the like. Instead, they got the results you can see [in this tweet], with the original image on the left and the “Remastered” one on the right.

So… this is some nightmare fuel. Sure, it erases some unsightly snot (can’t have the world thinking that this baby isn’t ready for its close-up 100% of the time), but it also appears to look at the baby’s tongue and immediately jump to “I know what that should look like: a nice row of fully-grown teeth!”

The reader also sent us a video of the Remaster feature turning their daughter’s tongue into teeth in another picture, which makes it seem like it’s not just a one-off glitch.


There’s a certain amount of doubt around this, because Clark wasn’t able to reproduce this on a number of other baby pictures on last year’s S22, nor find other people with the same problem. But if it is something the S23 is doing, then it’s a problem far worse than the Moon shots.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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