Category: Web/Tech

My Conversation with Mark Zuckerberg and Patrick Collison

Facebook tweets:.

@patrickc, CEO of Stripe, and @tylercowen, economist at George Mason University, sit down with our CEO, Mark Zuckerberg to discuss how to accelerate progress.

Video, audio, and transcript here, part of Mark’s personal challenge for the year, an excellent event all around.  This will also end up as part of CWT.

Japanese hotel markets in everything

A Japanese hotel offers a room that costs only $1 per night, but there’s a catch — the guest’s entire stay is livestreamed on YouTube.

Tetsuya Inoue, who took over the Asahi Ryokan hotel in Fukuoka from his grandmother last year, said he was looking for ways to boost business and was inspired by a British YouTuber who livestreamed his time at the hotel.

“This is a very old ryokan and I was looking into a new business model,” Inoue told CNN. “Our hotel is on the cheaper side, so we need some added value, something special that everyone will talk about.”

Inoue said room No. 8 is now equipped with cameras that are always livestreaming on his YouTube channel, One Dollar Hotel. He said the feed is video only and the cameras are pointed away from the bathroom area to give guests some privacy.

“Young people nowadays don’t care much about the privacy,” Inoue said. “Some of them say it’s OK to be [watched] for just one day.”

He said the hotel loses money with the $1 stays, but once his YouTube channel reaches 4,000 view hours, he will be able to monetize the scheme with ads.

Here is the link, via Ashish K. and the excellent Samir Varma.

Is Elon Musk Prepping for State Failure?

FuturePundit on twitter has an interesting theory of Elon Musk’s technology portfolio, namely a lot of it will be very valuable for living in a failed state.

Solar panels, for example, are a necessity when the state can’t deliver power reliably, as is now the case in California.

Solar panels plus the Tesla give you mobility, even if Saudi Arabia goes up in smoke and world shipping lines are shut down.

Starlink, Musk’s plan for 12,000 or more cheap, high-speed internet satellites, will free the internet from reliance on any terrestrial government.

Musk’s latest venture, the truck, certainly fits the theme and even if the demonstration didn’t go as well as planned isn’t it interesting that the truck is advertised as bulletproof. Mad Max would be pleased.

Image result for musk truck

And what will you be carrying in your Tesla truck? One of these for sure.

Finally, the Mars mission is the ultimate insurance policy against failed states.

Do social media drive the rise in right-wing populism?

Abstract: Many observers are concerned that echo chamber effects in digital media are contributing to the polarization of publics and in some places to the rise of right-wing populism. This study employs survey data collected in France, the United Kingdom, and United States (1500 respondents in each country) from April to May 2017. Overall, we do not find evidence that online/social media explain support for right-wing populist candidates and parties. Instead, in the USA, use of online media decreases support for right-wing populism. Looking specifically at echo chambers measures, we find offline discussion with those who are similar in race, ethnicity, and class positively correlates with support for populist candidates and parties in the UK and France. The findings challenge claims about the role of social media and the rise of populism.

That is from a new paper by Shelley Boulianne, Karolina Koc-Michalska, and Bruce Bimber, via somebody on Twitter.

$1 billion in talent identification and support from Schmidt Futures

Eric Schmidt, that is:

Rise cohort members, who will apply between the ages of 15 and 17, will be eligible for various types of support. They will be invited to attend a residential fellowship before their final year of high school that will support them as they consider how to serve others, how to become leaders, and how to transition to higher education and careers. Participants may also receive scholarships to continue their education, mentorship and other assistance tailored to their specific needs and interests, and a variety of career services as part of the Rise network.

To encourage service, Rise will invite its community members to make service commitments together and develop a platform to match network members with common interests. Among a range of pursuits, we envision that Rise winners will create policy, build new enterprises that benefit the public, catalyze new interdisciplinary areas of study, and develop new solutions to the world’s hardest problems.

Here is more information.

Imperfect optimization

Paul Ohm, a former prosecutor in the Justice Department’s computer crime and intellectual property section, said the laws governing child sexual abuse imagery were among the “fiercest criminal laws” on the books.

“Just the simple act of shipping the images from one A.I. researcher to another is going to implicate you in all kinds of federal crimes,” he said.

Here is more from Dance and Keller at the NYT.

Facial recognition isn’t just about China and airports

The child labor activist, who works for Indian NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan, had launched a pilot program 15 months prior to match a police database containing photos of all of India’s missing children with another one comprising shots of all the minors living in the country’s child care institutions.

He had just found out the results. “We were able to match 10,561 missing children with those living in institutions,” he told CNN. “They are currently in the process of being reunited with their families.” Most of them were victims of trafficking, forced to work in the fields, in garment factories or in brothels, according to Ribhu.

This momentous undertaking was made possible by facial recognition technology provided by New Delhi’s police. “There are over 300,000 missing children in India and over 100,000 living in institutions,” he explained. “We couldn’t possibly have matched them all manually.”

Locating thousands of missing children is just one of the challenges faced by India’s overstretched police force in a nation of 1.37 billion people.

In spite of these practical benefits, I still do not favor facial recognition systems at the macro level.  India seems to be planning a big one:

…India’s government now has a much more ambitious plan. It wants to construct one of the world’s largest facial recognition systems. The project envisions a future in which police from across the country’s 29 states and seven union territories would have access to a single, centralized database.

Here is the full article with much more detail about the plans.

Can an Artificial Intelligence Write A Good Blog Post?

A blog post by an artificial intelligence that has just been taught to write about an artificial intelligence is still far from being a good blog post by any human being.

There are many reasons why a blog post by an artificial intelligence is unlikely to be a good blog post by any human being.

First, the post is still a huge piece of written material, so it will be a big task for the AI to read it all. This is similar to reading a huge, long book, which is a huge task for you as an author.

Second, it is likely that the AI will use its knowledge about writing to create a very bad, misleading, or otherwise nonsensical blog post. In this case, the AI will be writing a blog post about its own stupidity.

Third, even if the blog post is not written by a computer but rather by a human author, the human author will not understand it and will not be able to correct it. This is because the blog post will include very basic, incorrect, or outdated knowledge about writing,

Effort: The Unrecognized Contributor to US Income Inequality

That is a new paper by J. Rodrigo Fuentes and Edward E. Leamer:

This paper provides theory and evidence that worker effort has played an important role in the increase in income inequality in the United States between 1980 and 2016. The theory suggests that a worker needs to exert effort enough to pay the rental value of the physical and human capital, thus high effort and high pay for jobs operating expensive capital. With that as a foundation, we use data from the ACS surveys in 1980 and 2016 to estimate Mincer equations for six different education levels that explain wage incomes as a function of weekly hours worked and other worker features. One finding is a decline in annual income for high school graduates for all hours worked per week. We argue that the sharp decline in manufacturing jobs forces down wages of those with high school degrees who have precious few high-effort opportunities outside of manufacturing. Another finding is that incomes rose only for those with advanced degrees and with weekly hours in excess of 40. We attribute this to the natural talent needed to make a computer deliver exceptional value and to the relative ease with which long hours can be chosen when working over the Internet.

I like that last sentence in particular.

The fall of women’s share in computer science

“Engineering the gender gap: Fall of Women’s Share in Computer Science”

Download Job Market Paper (PDF)

No college major is inherently male or female. In this paper, I explore how gender traditions in the U.S influence women’s academic preferences today. I make two arguments. First, the scientific fields which involve more women today coincide with those science subjects included in home economics, an exclusively feminine field. Second, the percentage of women in computer science decreases when this major relocates to the Engineering School, a traditionally masculine domain. I argue that shaping computer science into an engineering subject has constrained women’s ability to reallocate their human capital in response to the technology shock brought by personal computers.

That is from Yiling Zhao, who is on the job market this year from Northwestern.

Facts about YouTube

From a new and very important paper by Kevin Munger and Joseph Phillips from Penn State:

The most extreme branches of the AIN (the Alt-Right and Alt-Lite) have been in decline since mid-2017.

However, the Alt-Right’s remaining audience is more engaged than any other audience, in terms of likes and comments per view on their videos.

The bulk of the growth in terms of both video production and viewership over the past two years has come from the entry of mainstream conservatives into the YouTube marketplace.

…despite considerable energy, Ribeiro et al. (2019) fail to demonstrate that the algorithm has a noteworthy effect on the audience for Alt-Right content.  A random walk algorithm beginning at an Alt-Lite video and taking 5 steps randomly selecting one of the ten recommended videos will only be recommended a video from the Alt-Right approximately one out every 1,700 trips.  For a random walker beginning at a “control” video from the mainstream media, the probability is so small that it is difficult to see on the graph, but it is certainly no more common than one out of every 10,000 trips.

That authors suggest (p.24) that if anything the data suggest deradicalization as a more plausible baseline hypothesis.

Of course this is not the final word, but in the meantime so much of what you are reading about YouTube would appear to be wrong or at least off-base.

My Conversation with Henry Farrell

An excellent episode, here is the audio and transcript.  We ranged far and wide, starting with Huawei and weaponized interdependence, moving later to the Facebook supreme court, Karl Polanyi, Ireland, and Gene Wolfe and Philip K. Dick.  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Arguably, dominant firms are easier to regulate. And since you seem to favor some kinds of additional regulation on the major tech companies, does this mean we’re too worried about monopoly, that we actually want to keep around a few dominant firms, and that if we split them up into many small parts, there would be more chaos or more fake news or more privacy violations?

If some parts of what they do are bad, and you get more competition in the bad, don’t we just want to put in GDPR barriers to entry, not quite public utilities, but keep them big and fat and happy and somewhat not so dynamic, yes or no?

FARRELL: It depends on what you value.

COWEN: But what you value.

FARRELL: Yeah. Let me put the tradeoff to you this way. If you value security, if the highlight is on security, then the answer is, you probably want to keep big companies around because you’re going to want to impose broad standards. You’re going to want to create collective security goods, and the only actors that can really do that in a substantial way are big businesses of one sort or another.

If, alternatively, you value things like privacy and other kinds of rights, then you probably want to move towards an equilibrium in which there are far, far fewer big firms. So that’s where I see the fight being played out. I see the fight being played out between people who value security and people who value privacy. I think they point in somewhat different directions.

COWEN: And where are you on that spectrum?

FARRELL: Well, it depends on the time of the day, and I find myself —

COWEN: It is 2:22 p.m.

And:

FARRELL: Well, I guess the question for me is — and again, this is a wide open question because we simply don’t have enough good empirical research — but what is the relationship and the broader ecology between companies like 8chan and companies like Facebook? I suspect that companies like 8chan will be far, far less successful if there weren’t much bigger platforms like Facebook that they could effectively grow upon.

So here are the arguments, something as follows. If you think about 8chan, and if you think about 4chan before it, they were basically meme factories. They were basically these places where these bored individuals hung out. You also created these memes in a kind of process of frenzied Darwinian evolution, where you desperately want to make sure that whatever you had said was on the front page because otherwise it would disappear forever. So you’ve got this survival-of-the-fittest thing, where incredibly valuable or incredibly effective memes go out and begin to populate the entire space.

But you need two things for that to work. First of all, you need a process of generation, and secondly, you need some kind of process of dissemination. You need other platforms which have far greater reach, which can then allow for these memes to propagate through the atmosphere.

I suspect that if we were in a world in which everything was at the scale of 8chan, rather than having a mixture of companies at the scale of 8chan and companies at the scale of Facebook, that the likelihood of this stuff spreading and becoming epidemic across the entire community of internet users would be far, far less. Obviously, we would have other problems then. But I think that the problems that we would face would be a very, very different set of problems from the problems that we face in the current environment.

Finally:

FARRELL: Yes. [Gene] Wolfe misleads us systematically, and clearly Severian is not a reliable narrator, but then neither is Proust’s narrator either. I think that if you really want to understand where Wolfe comes from, it really is Proust. His writing style is Proustian. His concern with time, with how it is that time works, is quintessentially Proustian.

And you don’t look to Wolfe any more than you look to other science fiction for characterization. I don’t think that’s the particular strength. What you do look for is a kind of a sense of the world. And in Wolfe, in particular, he provides this real understanding of how it is that the workings of society, and interestingly, conservative understanding of the workings of society.

I think of him almost as being Proust in reverse. Proust is describing a world in which the modern world is overtaking aristocracy. And that clearly is one of the great problems of Proust, what is happening on the social level. You have all of these aristocratic understandings: the Merovingian, all of these histories, all of these castles, all of this wonderful art, and they are being replaced by the modern world with its telephones, with its electric lighting, and so on.

And how do you think about this? How would you try to preserve what was happening in the past? What Wolfe does, which I think is an extraordinarily interesting thing, which would be impossible for anybody who is not a science fiction writer, is to take that and to reverse this and to imagine a world in which modernity has disappeared.

Recommended!