My latest Guardian column is "There's no way to stop children viewing porn in Starbucks," a postmortem analysis of the terrible debate in the Lords last week over a proposed mandatory opt-out pornography censorship system for the UK's Internet service providers.
In order to filter out adult content on the internet, a company has to either look at all the pages on the internet and find the bad ones, or write a piece of software that can examine a page on the wire and decide, algorithmically, whether it is inappropriate for children.
Neither of these strategies are even remotely feasible. To filter content automatically and accurately would require software capable of making human judgments – working artificial intelligence, the province of science fiction.
As for human filtering: there simply aren't enough people of sound judgment in all the world to examine all the web pages that have been created and continue to be created around the clock, and determine whether they are good pages or bad pages. Even if you could marshal such a vast army of censors, they would have to attain an inhuman degree of precision and accuracy, or would be responsible for a system of censorship on a scale never before seen in the world, because they would be sitting in judgment on a medium whose scale was beyond any in human history.
Think, for a moment, of what it means to have a 99% accuracy rate when it comes to judging a medium that carries billions of publications.
Consider a hypothetical internet of a mere 20bn documents that is comprised one half "adult" content, and one half "child-safe" content. A 1% misclassification rate applied to 20bn documents means 200m documents will be misclassified. That's 100m legitimate documents that would be blocked by the government because of human error, and 100m adult documents that the filter does not touch and that any schoolkid can find.
There's no way to stop children viewing porn in Starbucks
After years of speculation and wrangling over his remains, Kennewick Man turns out to be closely related to contemporary, local Native Americans after all. Discovered near Kennewick, Wash., in 1996, the skeleton ended up in a tug of war between tribes in the pacific northwest who wanted to bury the remains, and scientists who wanted […]
Yesterday, Esquire published this satirical column by @ProfJeffJarvis, a Fake Steve-style parody of journalism professor and media visionary Jeff Jarvis. The real Jarvis did what any self-respecting open-culture advocate would: he issued a vague legal threat and got it removed, thereby ensuring that something humorless and obscure was read by a far larger audience than […]
Bill Cosby’s attempt to avoid facing a sexual assault charge was ended Monday by a Pennsylvania appeals court. The entertainer, who claimed that an old deal with prosecutors not to charge him in the 2004 case should be honored, will now be criminally prosecuted. Cosby, 78, is facing trial over a 2004 encounter at his […]
Isn’t it about time to stretch what your Mac can do? I mean, you’ve got plenty of great programs now…but don’t you think you could use some new tools to get your creative, analytical and organizational juices really flowing? It’s spring, so we cleaned up a whole bunch of super-cool apps lying around and packaged […]
In the world of app development, there’s no greater arena to find success than with Android users. About 80% of the smartphones in use today worldwide operate on the Android operating system, so if you build a great app that Android users love, you’re an international rock star. You’ll be able to make sure your […]
Unless you’re a programmer or webmaster, the term SQL probably doesn’t mean much to you. But for those looking to understand more about how and why the web works the way that it does, know this – SQL and its process of managing and presenting large data sets is everywhere…and it’s the most in-demand programming […]