Web/Tech

Yes the Chinese are ahead of us in many ways, here is one bit from an excellent article by Connie Chan:

#11 QR code as call box and information kiosk

Remember those emergency call boxes on the side of freeways? In Nanjing, China, smart street signs with QR codes provide the names and contact info for the local police. They also provide sightseeing guidance with directions, and information on how to handle a residence permit.

And:

Since people in China believe that QR codes are here to stay, even tombstones are engraved with QR codes that memorialize the life-story — through biographies, photographs, and videos — of the deceased. From the leadership of the China Funeral Association: “In modern times, people should commemorate their deceased loved ones in modern ways”.

There is much more at the link.

The slope gets more slippery

by on August 18, 2017 at 12:45 am in Law, Music, Web/Tech | Permalink

Apple, LinkedIn, Spotify and Twitter have joined a growing chorus of technology companies to hit out at the far right and Donald Trump’s attempt to put white supremacists and leftwing counter-demonstrators at Saturday’s Charlottesville protest on the same moral plane.

Following the lead of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google, Go Daddy and others, Apple CEO Tim Cook pledged $1m donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Anti-Defamation League and sent a strongly worded memo to staff, quoting Martin Luther King, about the violence in Charlottesville on Saturday.

“We must not witness or permit such hate and bigotry in our country, and we must be unequivocal about it,” Cook wrote. “This is not about the left or the right, conservative or liberal. It is about human decency and morality.

Amid the ongoing fallout from the violence that saw a civil rights activist killed, music subscription service Spotify began removing so-called white power music, flagged by the SPLC as racist “hate bands”.

A Spotify spokesperson said: “Illegal content or material that favours hatred or incites violence against race, religion, sexuality or the like is not tolerated by us. Spotify takes immediate action to remove any such material as soon as it has been brought to our attention.

“We are glad to have been alerted to this content – and have already removed many of the bands identified, while urgently reviewing the remainder.”

What would Camille Paglia say?  Here is the article.  And here is a hate symbols database, to keep you on your toes.

Addendum: Some of you have given me grief over my posting of yesterday defending PayPal’s decision to stop serving some political groups.  I see it this way: giving PayPal its way passes a freedom of association test, and it also passes what I call a “first order Coasean test,” namely that Paypal and its affiliates wish to stop the relationship more than the cut off parties are willing to pay to maintain it.  Of course this development might have troublesome secondary consequences, due to slippery slopes, and also due to the spread of the practice to more monopolized sectors of the American economy.  Still, until major negative consequences emerge in verifiable and durable form…I am going to stick with the Coasean and freedom of association metrics for policy evaluation.  Should I have to deal with “extremist” groups if I don’t wish to?  No.  Is there a prima facie case for extending this same freedom to PayPal?  Yes.  But absolutely, I am all for vigilance to keep an eye on whether things start to go wrong in a big way.  And no, I don’t count all these “day after” reactions as nearly sufficient to establish that conclusion.

PayPal, the popular online payment platform, announced late Tuesday night that it would bar users from accepting donations to promote hate, violence and intolerance after revelations that the company played a key role in raising money for a white supremacist rally that turned deadly.

The company, in a lengthy blog post, outlined its long-standing policy of not allowing its services to be used to accept payments or donations to organizations that advocate racist views. PayPal singled out the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacist groups or Nazi groups — all three of whom were involved in last weekend’s Charlottesville rally.

“Intolerance can take on a range of on-line and off-line forms, across a wide array of content and language,” the company wrote. “It is with this backdrop that PayPal strives to navigate the balance between freedom of expression and open dialogue — and the limiting and closing of sites that accept payments or raise funds to promote hate, violence and intolerance.”

Here is the full Wonkblog article by Tracy Jan.

So far I see the backlash to recent events as very much harming the noxious elements behind the Charlottesville protests.  I wonder how many businesses — including those who do not supply essential services to such groups (or maybe not any services at all) — will move to make similar announcements.  I feel the country has reached a tipping point where businesses will not find neutrality across extremist or fringe or possibly violent groups a profitable or acceptable attitude in the public eye.  I applaud this move from PayPal, as I don’t think we are close to a “slippery slope” point where it becomes problematic to decide who should be banned from PayPal services and who not.  Nonetheless I do wonder what it will look like when American business gets to the more difficult cases of judgment.  Sooner or later, the ideological computational burden placed on businesses will rise considerably, as Twitter and Facebook and YouTube discovered not long ago, and are still struggling to deal with.  It will be a kind of mandate placed on business, but put there by public opinion and social media, rather than government.  I’ve yet to see a good, data-based research paper on that topic, but it seems that boycotts and refusal to deal are headed back into the public limelight.

This very nice article covers “…a line of people wrapped around the block outside a newly opened restaurant”:

…Surkus, an emerging app that allowed the restaurant to quickly manufacture its ideal crowd and pay the people to stand in place like extras on a movie set. They’ve even been hand-picked by a casting agent of sorts, an algorithmic one that selects each person according to age, location, style and Facebook “likes.”

They may look excited, but that could also be part of the production. Acting disengaged while they idle in line could tarnish their “reputation score,” an identifier that influences whether they’ll be “cast” again. Nobody is forcing the participants to stay, of course, but if they leave, they won’t be paid — their movements are being tracked with geolocation.

Here is the WaPo Peter Holley piece, interesting throughout.  Note that women are often paid more than men, and comedians are starting to use it to fill seats in the nightclub.

The mostly male crowd that participated in Friday night’s tiki-torch-lit rally did not cover their faces, and they were widely photographed. A Twitter account, @YesYoureRacist, began posting photographs of participants and uncovering their identities. White was among the first it named. The account would soon identify students enrolled at the University of Nevada and Washington State University, leading both of the schools to issue statements condemning racism.

And:

A white nationalist who participated in the torch-lit march through the University of Virginia’s campus this weekend has lost his job at a Berkeley, Calif., hot dog restaurant after Twitter users posted his photo and place of employment. The employee, Cole White, was identified online after he was photographed among a shouting and torch-wielding mob during the march Friday night in Charlottesville.

Effective social monitoring, or dangerous slippery slope?  Or both?  Sometimes the undercover sleuths are wrong (NYT).  Many colleges are being asked to expel those students.

Here is the full article, via Michael Rosenwald.

ICE’s hope is that this privately developed software will help go far beyond matters of legality to matters of the heart. The system must “determine and evaluate an applicant’s probability of becoming a positively contributing member of society, as well as their ability to contribute to national interests” and predict “whether an applicant intends to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States.” Using software to this end is certainly in line with Trump’s campaign rhetoric — during a rally in Phoenix, he described how “extreme vetting” would make sure the U.S. only accepts “the right people,” using “ideological certification to make sure that those we are admitting to our country share our values and love our people.”

That is from The Intercept, by Sam Biddle and Spencer Woodman.  Here is Wikipedia on China’s proposed social credit score system, currently in experimental form.  What would Patrick McGoohan say?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Alt coins may be effective hedges for at least two reasons. First, the value of the coin may depend on how well the original rules for the coin were written, or how well it is governed in the case of managed coins like Ethereum or Ripple. Those factors may be fairly independent of what’s driving returns in traditional stocks and bonds, which in turn creates an opportunity for diversification.

Under these scenarios, alt coins are primarily stores of value rather than media of exchange. There is a notable tendency for exchange media to consolidate into a dominant currency in a given geographic region. But the very large number of financial assets in the world shows that thousands of stores of value can coexist and compete without much consolidation.

Second, alt coins to some extent are used for money laundering. If you think the world might be moving toward greater authoritarianism, the demand for money laundering could go up, to evade capital controls or asset restrictions. The value of alt coins would rise in turn, and that means alt coins would provide partial insurance against this very possible but unpleasant future path.

There is much more at the link.  Overall I believe it is a mistake to focus too much on the medium of exchange function of such coins (“Can I use it in the store?  I heard there are some food trucks taking Bitcoin!”, etc.).  Instead think of them in terms of services offered.  A new coin also may back, complement, and introduce a new protocol, though I didn’t have space to cover that in the column.

A few of you have asked me about the recent Bitcoin fork, here is one technical look at the issues.

I am struck by the notion that, of the two forked assets, the old-style, slow, and “immutable” Bitcoin retained most of the market value and trading interest.  While that happened for a few reasons, I wonder if the market isn’t telling us that, at least when it comes to selecting the most dominant asset, it prefers a “rigid coin” to a coin managed by a company such as Ethereum or Ripple, or to a coin “managed” by votes and forks.  In other words, the governance problems with coins may be larger than we had thought, and voting may deepen rather than solve those problems.  The market seems to like fairly rigid constitutions.  And for all the pledges made by company-run coins, is there really no way for those companies — in their post-founder futures if not now — to pursue their own interests over those of other coin holders and users?  Since Benjamin Klein (1974) or earlier, we have known that is a classic problem with non-convertible private monies.

To what extent does the market prefer the “dogmatism” of classic Bitcoin to the discretion of private management?  Not long ago, I had edged toward the view that Ethereum and its neat properties will displace Bitcoin, but now I suspect both kinds of coins will persist.

The brilliant Matt Levine will make your head spin.

1. Turkey $1200

2. Brazil $1,115

3. Russia, $1,086

4. Greece $1,028

5. Poland $1,005

6. Italy $995

7. Czech Republic $994

8. Norway $993

9. Denmark $986

10. Sweden $982

See the whole list, but the United States is cheapest at $815, tied with Japan, with Hong Kong next at $821.  One lesson is that having crummy, overregulated retailing is worse for some of your prices than being an expensive country.

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, basically I defend Apple.  Here is one excerpt:

Those remarks are unfair to Apple, which in difficult circumstances probably did the right thing. China has already shown Facebook Inc. and Google parent Alphabet Inc. that it is willing to do without their services. How would it help the world to have Apple join that list, either partially or in full? I don’t approve of Chinese censorship, but the VPNs are in fact illegal. It hardly seems unreasonable for a major company to follow the laws of the country it is operating in, even if those laws are unjust or imprudent.

Go back to the banned status of Bloomberg View in China, which is also a ban on some of my writings. (My educational videos are also blocked because they are on YouTube.) Does that mean I should stop having my books translated into Chinese, or that I should refuse to speak at Chinese universities, on the grounds that they do not present all of my written product? No, hardly anyone behaves that way, nor should they. I prefer to try to communicate with the Chinese — including listening to and learning from them — as much as I plausibly can.

There is much more at the link.

That is Dave Rubin the comedian.  It is thirty minutes long, no transcript or video, audio only right here.  We covered comedy and political correctness, which jokes should not be told, the economics of comedy, comedy in Israel and Saudi Arabia, comedy on campus, George Carlin, and the most underrated Star Wars installment, among other topics.  Here is one excerpt:

Cowen: How much do you think comedy is what’s sometimes called ‘a winner take all’ market? So another way to phrase the question is 20 years from now do you think there will be more or fewer professional comedians? You might say, for instance, “Well, you’re on YouTube, you’re real ly funny, I don’t need to go to a comedy club.” There’s this fellow in South Korea, Robert Kelly, he did an interview, he was trying not to be funny doing the interview, his two kids ran into the room, his wife pulled the kids back, it created a viral video, one of the funnier things I saw all year.

Rubin: Yeah.

Cowen: Maybe not a funny guy, he was trying to keep it serious, so it was hilarious, and I can find those through my filters, through Twitter, through search. What’s the role of a professional comedian when an amateur’s best moment from a guy who isn’t even funny goes so viral?

Rubin: Well, the role is always there because the commentary on society is always gonna be there, so the moments like… Of course, I saw that video and it’s hilarious and it’s in the moment and it’s a beautiful thing. By the way, there was an outrage to that, because a lot of people were saying that the woman who came in was his nanny because I think she was Asian but it was actually his wife so then that created… So even that, just a pure moment of something hilarious happening became part of the outrage machine too. But the role for the critic of society, it’ll always be there, but it’s just not gonna to come from the clubs anymore, I think. I think that unfortunately… Comedy in its rawest form of standing in front of a group of people with a microphone and connecting to them that way, it’s as beautiful as it gets, there’s nothing in between you and the audience. It’s like painting, if you were a great painter and every stroke you had to go, “Was that okay? Was that okay?” Well, that would make you kinda crazy as a painter, but in stand up up you have to do it that way, every line you have to make sure is funny. I have not been funny here today at all, maybe we have to do something else.

Cowen: There’s less live music in New York City today than in the 1970s, is there less live comedy?

I enjoyed doing the interview very much.

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column.  Electric cars, insofar as they limit climate change, are an example of defensive innovation.  Here is further explanation:

Defensive innovation is when you create a new product or capability to protect yourself against an impending disaster, such as the worst scenarios for climate change. It’s important, of course, to practice defensive innovation, but don’t confuse it with progress. The defense only stops your living standards from falling.

The military response to foreign threats is another example of defensive innovation. The risk and potential costs of cyberwarfare are escalating rapidly, and terrorist threats seem worse than they did in the 1980s or 1990s. The best case scenario is that we come up with better means of tracking and hindering cyber and terrorist attacks — by cutting off funding or by tracing and halting potential perpetrators. Those too will be defensive innovations, aimed mostly at preserving capabilities we already have.

The American military might someday develop better protection against the new threat of North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles, which might be capable of delivering nuclear weapons to U.S. cities, possibly even New York and Washington. Imagine something akin to Israel’s “Iron Dome,” but protecting a broader geographic area against a greater diversity of weapons. That would be an impressive achievement, but would be an essentially defensive innovation.

Here is the uh-oh sentences:

Note that in the earlier stages of economic growth, there is usually less defensive innovation, if only because there is less to defend.

Do read the whole thing.

The latest instance of the musical death and resurrection show is none other than Ronnie James Dio, who died in 2010. Thanks to a hologram (actually a high-tech version of an old parlor trick), the former Black Sabbath frontman will start touring Europe the November 30th before hitting the States next spring. “His” set will change nightly, according to Rolling Stone, and audio recordings were pulled from his entire career. “He” will play each night with a backing band and some dates will have singers Tim “Ripper” Owens (Judas Priest) and Oni Logan (Racer X) on stage as well.

Here is more, via the excellent Samir Varma.  How about Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher as the warm-up act?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:

…consider the general logic of labor substitution. Machines and software are often very good at “making stuff” and, increasingly, at delivering well-defined services, such as when Alexa arranges a package for you. But machines are not effective at persuading, at developing advertising campaigns, at branding products or corporations, or at greeting you at the door in a charming manner, as is done so often in restaurants, even if you order on an iPad. Those activities will remain the province of human beings for a long time to come.

How much is this shift of labor into marketing a step forward? To be sure, a lot of commercial persuasion is useful. Marketing informs consumers about new products and their properties, or convinces them that one product is better for them than another. It was marketing that got me to stop watching baseball and switch to the more exciting NBA. Sometimes the very existence of an ad — even apart from any direct informational value — makes a product more enjoyable. If a particular basketball sneaker is associated with LeBron James, through an endorsement and TV commercials, some people will enjoy wearing that sneaker more.

That all said, a lot of marketing is a zero- or negative-sum game. Each business tries to pull customers away from the other brands, and while the final matching of customers to products is usually closely attuned to what people want, more is spent on these business battles than is ideal for social efficiency. My bank might make me feel better about being a customer there, but its services just aren’t much superior to those of the nearest competitor, if at all. Maybe Coke really is better than Pepsi, or vice versa, but it’s not that much better — and billions are spent trying to persuade consumers to make one switch or the other.

I don’t take the Galbraithian view, but still consumers only enjoy extra marketing so much.  I conclude with this:

Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of robots in daily life, and in news stories, but not huge productivity gains in the published statistics. That’s exactly the American economy right now.

Do read the whole thing.

1. For the population of the average county, 62.8% of friends live within 100 miles.

2. Over distances of less than 200 miles, the elasticity of friends to distance is about – 2.0, and about – 1.2 for distances greater than 200 miles.

3. Conditional on distance, social connectedness is significantly stronger within state lines.

4. “Counties with a higher social capital index have less geographically concentrated social networks.”

5. Social connectedness predicts trade flows, even after controlling for distance, and it also predicts patent citations.

That is all from a new NBER working paper by Bailey, Cao, Kuchler, Stroebel, and Wong.  Here is an ungated version.

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit from it:

In a recent Financial Times interview, Sherry Turkle, a professor of social psychology at MIT, and a leading expert on cyber interactions, criticized robot education. “The robot can never be in an authentic relationship,” she said. “Why should we normalize what is false and in the realm of [a] pretend relationship from the start?” She’s opposed to robot companions more generally, again for their artificiality.

Yet K-12 education itself is a highly artificial creation, from the chalk to the schoolhouses to the standardized achievement tests, not to mention the internet learning and the classroom TV. Thinking back on my own experience, I didn’t especially care if my teachers were “authentic” (in fact, I suspected quite a few were running a kind of personality con), provided they communicated their knowledge and radiated some charisma.

And:

My biggest concern about robot education, by the way, involves humans. Children sometimes trust robots too much. Teachers and administrators could use robots to gather confidential information about children and their families, as the children may think they are talking to a robot only, rather than creating a database for future scrutiny. This could be addressed by comprehensive privacy standards, probably a good idea in any case.

Do read the whole thing.