In the New Yorker, an essay by Gary Marcus on the ethical and legal implications of Google's driver-less cars which argues that these automated vehicles "usher in the era in which it will no longer be optional for machines to have ethical systems."
Your car is speeding along a bridge at fifty miles per hour when errant school bus carrying forty innocent children crosses its path. Should your car swerve, possibly risking the life of its owner (you), in order to save the children, or keep going, putting all forty kids at risk? If the decision must be made in milliseconds, the computer will have to make the call.
The cheaper Chromebooks that Google introduced last month don’t deserve credit for being a cheap way to read e-mail and surf the web: any smartphone meets that specification. But the $249 Samsung model I’ve been testing for the past two weeks also plausibly replaces a low-end laptop.Read the rest
- Eastern US braces for "Frankenstorm" Sandy's strike - Boing Boing
- Rainy day fun project: Help scientists gather data on Hurricane Sandy
- Another rainy day fun project: Hurricane Hackers - Boing Boing
- Epic hurricane is epic - Boing Boing
- Building an indoor hurricane at the University of Miami - Boing Boing
Normally, I'm pretty blase about Google Doodles, but today's Doodle pays homage to Winsor McCay's Little Nemo, with a beautiful, pitch-perfect animated series of "Adventures in Google-Land" that you really must see (even the large graphic excerpt here doesn't do it justice, you have to get the animations to get the full effect).
The gigantic Little Nemo collections (Little Nemo in Slumberland and Little Nemo in Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays) remain two of my most cherished collections, revealing the full majesty of McCay's imagination by reproducing his original strips at full size. The Google Doodle isn't as humongous as the books, but what it lacks in size it makes up for with lovely animation.
If you're a McCay fan, don't miss the Little Sammy Sneeze collection.
A landmark fair use ruling: a judge in the Southern District Court of New York has ruled that Google's program of scanning books for libraries, and giving them copies to use for full-text search is fair use. The suit was brought by the Authors' Guild against the Hathitrust Digital Library, which holds the digital books for the library. Timothy B Lee does a good job summing up the judgment and its implications for Ars Technica:
"The use to which the works in the HDL are put is transformative because the copies serve an entirely different purpose than the original works: the purpose is superior search capabilities rather than actual access to copyrighted material," wrote Judge Baer. "The search capabilities of the HDL have already given rise to new methods of academic inquiry such as text mining." Similarly, Judge Baer noted, the scanning program allows blind readers to read the books, something they can't do with the original.
Also key is the fourth factor: the impact on the market for the works. While a book search engine obviously doesn't undermine the market for paper books, the authors had argued that a finding of fair use would hamper their ability to earn revenue by selling the right to scan their books. But Judge Baer rejected this argument as fundamentally circular. He quoted a previous court decision that made the point: "Were a court automatically to conclude in every case that potential licensing revenues were impermissibly impaired simply because the secondary user did not pay a fee for the right to engage in the use, the fourth factor would always favor the copyright owner."
Here's a thought:
"It takes about the same amount of computing to answer one Google Search query as all the computing done — in flight and on the ground — for the entire Apollo program."
(Quote from Seb Schmoller’s "Learning technology – a backward and forward look," attributed to Peter Norvig and Udi Mepher of Google on hearing of the death of Neil Armstrong)
I remember hearing that the processor in a singing greeting card had more capacity than all the electronic computers on Earth at the time of Sputnik's launch, though I can't find a cite for it at the moment. Exponential processor improvements are pretty wild.
(via Memex 1.1)
Robert Cringely speculates on the reasoning behind Google's decision to continue hosting the controversial "Innocence of Muslims" clip despite a request from the State Department to remove it. Cringely believes that Google worries that if it were to begin removing videos, it would lose access to the "Safe Harbor" defense of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which exempts it from liability for copyright violations by its users, provided that it does not police the users' uploads (except to ensure compliance with its terms of service). Thus if Google were to begin removing videos from US view on non-copyright/non-terms-of-service grounds, it could be liable for $150,000 copyright fines for every infringing video in the YouTube collection.
Grant Shapps is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Welwyn Hatfield and the new co-chair of the UK Conservative Party. He's also co-owner (with his wife) of a spam factory called HowToCorp, which markets a product called TrafficPaymaster, a program that scrapes blogs/RSS/search results, runs the text through a thesaurus (seemingly to avoid copyright infringement charges) and pastebombs the resulting word-salad onto pages slathered in display ads, in the hopes of tricking search engines into returning them as results for highly ranked queries and racking up accidental click money.
Danny Sullivan explains the workings of "spinner" software like TrafficPaymaster, and documents the tricks that the Shappses' company uses to market its wares, including a web of aliases and elaborate, misleading accounts of how Google views products like TrafficPaymaster and its useless output (here's a sample of the material the Shappses' program outputs: "A free of charge golf swing lesson appears a very little as well superior to be accurate." Here's another: "So the to begin with phase to getting a quality golfer is to order some clubs that match you.")
It’s high-profile, of course, because it’s fairly hard to believe that the new co-chair of the UK’s ruling political party (mostly ruling, the Conservatives share power with the much smaller Liberal Democrat party) is behind software that “plagiarizes” content to spam Google.
Technically, I’m not sure if the spinning is plagiarism, but both UK papers I’ve mentioned are running with that angle. They’re also big on this quote posted on Warrior Forum that appears to be from the aforementioned Sebastian Fox:
Google may or may not like a particular approach, but the real question is whether there are any signs about how a page has been created. If the answer is no, well then it doesn’t much matter what Google officially thinks.
The Guardian cites that as if the quote is dismissive of “Google’s attempts to police the internet,” whereas The Telegraph suggests that it means “Google would be unable to stop the copying of websites.”
The reality is that the claim isn’t some type of gauntlet being thrown down against Google. It’s simply meant to reassure a prospective buyer of what I covered above, that Google probably can’t tell that the page was created using automation, so even if Google has official rules against that (it does), TPM users probably won’t get caught.
Danny finishes: "The Conservatives came under accusations that they were too close to Google earlier this year. Having the party run by someone who created, and still seems associated with, a business designed to help people spam Google probably will serve as a nice balance to that."
From the Google Maps blog:
September 12th is 'Space Day' in Japan, and we are celebrating by releasing new, comprehensive Street View imagery for two of Japan’s top scientific institutions: the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan). With panoramic imagery in and around these locations now available via the Street View feature of Google Maps, space enthusiasts around the world have a more complete and accurate sense of what it’d be like to virtually swap places with an astronaut.
More here. (Thanks, Nate Tyler!)
Hey, Trekkies: Google has treated us all to a really fun, interactive doodle to celebrate the 46th anniversary of the network premiere of Star Trek! From today until tomorrow -- September 8, the actual air date in 1966 -- you will get to set your cursors to "stun" and maybe mess with a Redshirt (hint: the worried-looking one shaped like an "e") when you visit Google's main page and start clicking your way into a miniature episode featuring characters from the original series. (The hair on the O-Kirk is glorious, I tell you.) StarTrek.com has an interview with the doodle's creator (and Trekkie), Ryan Germick. Live long and prosper, Star Trek!
Celebrating 46 Years with a Google Doodle [StarTrek.com]
Remember the bogus takedown of NASA's YouTube footage of the Curiosity landing? It gets worse. Lon Seidman uploaded some clips from the Curiosity landing to his Google+ hangout, only to have them taken down by five takedown requests from various scumbags who play the YouTube content matching system to force people to accept ads on their personal videos, payment from which goes to said scumbags:
Wow now I'm really getting angry over this Content ID disaster from +YouTube regarding the Mars landing. On Sunday night I hosted a live broadcast with contributors from CTTechJunkie.com and NASASpaceflight.com to watch the landing live. We brought in footage provided by NASA, including their live feed of the landing. NASA footage is released into the public domain and can be freely used by anyone.
I just came home to my inbox filled with dispute claims from no less than FIVE news organizations claiming this footage as their own. BS. It's mine. And now Youtube says it might start running ads against content I created and handing that money over to these crooks who are essentially bigger players with the ability to claim rights to content they do not own.
The worst part is that Google clearly is not requiring these "rightsholders" prove they actually own the content. But it's somehow incumbent upon me to prove my innocence. This is outright theft of my content - plain and simple.
I don't know what the best words ever written in the English language are, but I'm willing to put "Top of Launch Pad 39A, Address is Approximate" up there on the short list.
Among the images you can now explore online with the click of your mouse are the space shuttle launch pad, Vehicle Assembly Building and Launch Firing Room #4. Gaze down from the top of the enormous launch pad, peer up at the towering ceiling of the Vehicle Assembly Building (taller than the Statue of Liberty) and get up close to one of the space shuttle’s main engines, which is powerful enough to generate 400,000 lbs of thrust. And even though they recently entered retirement, you can still get an up-close, immersive experience with two of the Space Shuttle Orbiters—the Atlantis and Endeavour.
I'm not sure when this went live, but it's seriously phenomenal. And it's part of a larger series of special Street View galleries with geeky appeal. There are sets for Antarctica (see Shackleton's shack!), historic Italy (wander around the Colosseum!), and UNESCO World Heritage Sites (includes Pompeii!). In general, discovering this could be a major time-suck for me, if I'm not careful.
Google announced today that it had acquired Sparrow, the OS X email app much-loved for its uncluttered layout and minimal user experience. This HOWTO will help get you ready for all the enhancements and developments to come as it is integrated into Google's established mail and messaging services.
Daniel Russell is a search guru in the employ of Google. He addressed a crowd of journalists with a lecture on the super-advanced search techniques, and posed this riddle: "What’s the phone number of the office where this picture was snapped?" (solution here).
John Tedesco from the San Antonio Express-News took excellent notes on Russell's speech, and has summarized it for the rest of us. I consider myself a very proficient searcher, but Russell's tips were often surprising and enlightening for me. Here's a great one:
Force Google to include search terms.
Sometimes Google tries to be helpful and it uses the word it thinks you’re searching for — not the word you’re actually searching for. And sometimes a website in the search results does not include all your search terms.
How do you fix this?
Typing intext:[keyword] might be Google’s least-known search operations, but it’s one of Russell’s favorites. It forces the search term to be in the body of the website. So if you type:
intext:”San Antonio” intext:Alamo
It forces Google to show results with the phrase “San Antonio” and the word Alamo. You won’t get results that are missing either search term.
My latest Guardian column is "Google admits that Plato's cave doesn't exist," a discussion of how Google has changed the way it talks about its search-results, shifting from the stance that rankings are a form of pure math to the stance that rankings are a form of editorial judgment.
Google has, to date, always refused to frame itself in those terms. The pagerank algorithm isn't like an editor arguing aesthetics around a boardroom table as the issue is put to bed. The pagerank algorithm is a window on the wall of Plato's cave, whence the objective, empirical world of Relevance may be seen and retrieved.
That argument is a convenient one when the most contentious elements of your rankings are from people who want higher ranking. "We have done the maths, and your page is empirically less relevant than the pages above it. Your quarrel is with the cold, hard reality of numbers, not with our judgement."
The problem with that argument is that maths is inherently more regulatable than speech. If the numbers say that item X must be ranked over item Y, a regulator may decide that a social problem can be solved by "hard-coding" page Y to have a higher ranking than X, regardless of its relevance. This isn't censorship – it's more like progressive taxation.
Google believes that it can distinguish run-of-the-mill hack-attacks on Gmail accounts from state-sponsored spies trying to gain access to dissidents' email. When it detects the latter, it will display a warning for the legitimate owner to see, "We believe that state-sponsored attackers may be attempting to compromise your account or computer." The warning comes with a link to instructions for improving your password security.
You might ask how we know this activity is state-sponsored. We can’t go into the details without giving away information that would be helpful to these bad actors, but our detailed analysis—as well as victim reports—strongly suggest the involvement of states or groups that are state-sponsored.
For many years, Google has published a "Transparency Report" with the number of non-copyright-related takedown notices it receives from governments, police, courts, individuals and corporations. Now, the company have added copyright takedowns to the mix. Sadly (and weirdly), this part of the report isn't searchable, as Alan at Copyfight notes: "I cannot search to see if someone has requested that, say, material owned by me be removed from any domain. This is important because in the past organizations that didn't actually own copyrights sent takedown notices. Only a copyright holder should be entitled to do that. Like any other 'big data' source the uses to which these data could be put are varied, but lack of search will hamper most efforts."
Today we’re expanding the Transparency Report with a new section on copyright. Specifically, we’re disclosing the number of requests we get from copyright owners (and the organizations that represent them) to remove Google Search results because they allegedly link to infringing content. We’re starting with search because we remove more results in response to copyright removal notices than for any other reason. So we’re providing information about who sends us copyright removal notices, how often, on behalf of which copyright owners and for which websites. As policymakers and Internet users around the world consider the pros and cons of different proposals to address the problem of online copyright infringement, we hope this data will contribute to the discussion.
For this launch we’re disclosing data dating from July 2011, and moving forward we plan on updating the numbers each day. As you can see from the report, the number of requests has been increasing rapidly. These days it’s not unusual for us to receive more than 250,000 requests each week, which is more than what copyright owners asked us to remove in all of 2009. In the past month alone, we received about 1.2 million requests made on behalf of more than 1,000 copyright owners to remove search results. These requests targeted some 24,000 different websites.
As TechDirt points out, many of the takedown notices that Microsoft sent to Google were for sites that were not removed from Bing, Microsoft's competing search engine.
Update: A day after this story broke in the LA Weekly, NBC LA runs a contradictory report, and the Weekly says Google's still scheduled to start renting in July 2014, but according to staff writer Simone Wilson, "They just might let Gold's stay in the space, strangely. (Kind of a sublet deal?) And Google won't comment on the other 170,000 square feet." (via Brad at YoVenice)
The nerds finally beat the jocks. The historic Gold's Gym location in Venice Beach, "mecca of bodybuilding" where former governator and movie star Arnold Schwarzenneger once trained, will soon be occupied by Google. This gym site opened in the late 1960s (and, to be honest, it was somewhat shabby in recent years—I was a member for some time). Ahnold is shown in the vintage stock reel here, along with other beefy Gold's Gym dudes of the seventies.
Update: Bret of the micro-local Yo Venice blog, which covers all things Venice, corrects my Gold's Gym location history, below.
A Google-commissioned legal paper on the constitutionality of regulating search results concludes that the such a regulation would violate the First Amendment. "First Amendment Protection for Search Engine Search Results" was written by eminent legal scholar Eugene Volokh and attorney Donald Falk, who argued that search-results are like the table of contents in a magazine, reflected protected expression in the form of editorial judgment.
In the case of a magazine, the articles are selected by a human editor. In the case of Google, the search results are selected by an algorithm, but the algorithm is created and managed by engineers who apply editorial judgment to the results. I absolutely agree with this conclusion.
However, I'm surprised to see Google in accord with me on this one. In all my discussions with googlers on this subject to date, I've always been told that search-results represent a kind of abstract "relevance," not anything as sticky and human as "judgment." It was as though Google's sorting algorithm provided a wormhole from the walls of Plato's cave straight into your browser.
Up until now, all the arguments against regulating search results I've heard have turned on this notion of search results being untouched by human hands. The reason that an unflattering "sucks" site appears at the top the search for a company's name is that the offending site is "relevant" according to some infallible mathematics of significance. To order Google to rearrange its search results is like ordering a parachute company to change the constant it uses in calculating gravity.
I've always hated this argument. Google regularly "tweaks" its ranking algorithm to provide "better, more relevant" results. These tweaks' success are measured by how "right" they appear, both to Google and to its users. They are, in other words, judgments.
I think that the editorial right to exercise judgment is much more widely understood than the sacred infallibility of robotic sorting. I certainly support it more. But I wonder if Google appreciates that it will now have to confront people who are angry about their search rankings by saying, "I'm sorry, we just don't like you very much" instead of "I'm sorry, our equations put you where you belong." And oy, the libel headaches they're going to face.
Here's Timothy B Lee reporting at Ars Technica:
The authors argue that this selection process is no different, constitutionally speaking, from a newspaper editor selecting wire stories to run, a guidebook deciding which attractions to feature, or a parade organizer choosing which floats to include. The courts have ruled that all of these editorial processes are fully protected by the First Amendment.
Moreover, the paper argues, the courts have held that First Amendment rights generally trump antitrust law—something of increasing concern to a dominant company like Google. "Antitrust law cannot be used to require a speaker to include certain material in its speech product," Volokh and Falk write. They point to a 1945 case in which the courts found the Associated Press had violated antitrust laws, but stressed that its ruling did not "compel AP or its members to permit publication of anything which their 'reason' tells them should not be published." Newspaper editors have the right to decide which stories should be included in their newspapers and which ones make the front page. This suggests that Google has similarly wide discretion to decide which links and other content will appear, and in which order, in response to any given search query.
Here's a quote from the paper itself:
Scholar: regulating Google results would violate First Amendment
In this respect, each search engine’s editorial judgment is much like many other familiar editorial judgments:
* newspapers’ daily judgments about which wire service stories to run, and whether they are to go “above the fold”;
* newspapers’ periodic judgments about which op-ed columnists, lifestyle columnists, business columnists, or consumer product columnists are worth carrying regularly, and where their columns are to be placed;
* guidebooks’ judgments about which local attractions, museums, stores, and restaurants to mention, and how prominently to mention them;
* the judgment of sites such as DrudgeReport.com about which stories to link to, and in what order to list them.
All these speakers must decide: Out of the thousands of possible items that could be included, which to include, and how to arrange those that are included? Such editorial judgments may differ in certain ways: For example, a newspaper also includes the materials that its editors have selected and arranged, while the speech of DrudgeReport.com or a search engine consists almost entirely of the selected and arranged links to others’ material. But the judgments are all, at their core, editorial judgments about what users are likely to find interesting and valuable. And all these exercises of editorial judgment are fully protected by the First Amendment.
That is so even when a newspaper simply makes the judgment to cover some particular subject matter: For instance, when many newspapers published TV listings, they were free to choose to do so without regard to whether this choice undermined the market for TV Guide. Likewise, search engines are free to include and highlight their own listings of (for example) local review pages even though Yelp might prefer that the search engines instead rank Yelp’s information higher. And this First Amendment protection is even more clearly present when a speaker, such as Google, makes not just the one include-or-not editorial judgment, but rather many judgments about how to design the algorithms that produce and rank search results that — in Google’s opinion — are likely to be most useful to users.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin gave an interview to The Guardian in which he expressed his fear that the rise of walled gardens like Apple's iOS ecosystem and Facebook, combined with increased state action (even in so-called "liberal" western states) to spy on and control the Internet, that the Internet faces a real existential crisis. The interview is part of a larger series in the Guardian on the subject of the Internet's future, and the whole thing is worth your time.
He said he was most concerned by the efforts of countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to censor and restrict use of the internet, but warned that the rise of Facebook and Apple, which have their own proprietary platforms and control access to their users, risked stifling innovation and balkanising the web.
"There's a lot to be lost," he said. "For example, all the information in apps – that data is not crawlable by web crawlers. You can't search it."
Brin's criticism of Facebook is likely to be controversial, with the social network approaching an estimated $100bn (£64bn) flotation. Google's upstart rival has seen explosive growth: it has signed up half of Americans with computer access and more than 800 million members worldwide.
Brin said he and co-founder Larry Page would not have been able to create Google if the internet was dominated by Facebook. "You have to play by their rules, which are really restrictive," he said. "The kind of environment that we developed Google in, the reason that we were able to develop a search engine, is the web was so open. Once you get too many rules, that will stifle innovation."
He criticised Facebook for not making it easy for users to switch their data to other services. "Facebook has been sucking down Gmail contacts for many years," he said.
Later in the interview, Brin talks about the measures that Google takes to avoid turning over its vast storehouse of personal information to snooping US authorities, but there's no evidence that anyone asked him the obvious question: "Why not collect less information, and delete it more often?"
In this video, Videocrab demonstrates a very odd typographical Easter-egg embedded in Google Chat. I have no idea if this is real or shooped, but it's cute nevertheless.
2012-04-06_21-10-36_872 (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
I really dig creative work that turns a sense of place into art. That's why I'm really getting a kick out of WoodcutMaps.com, which uses Google Maps to create really great geometric art—some clearly map-like, others much more abstract.
It all depends on what view of the map you choose to have turned into a woodcut. You can do a tight crop, or wide pull-out. Basically, you choose the view that matters to you. They make it art. Above is what my neighborhood in Minneapolis would look like as a woodcut.
At $100 for an 8x8 square, this isn't cheap. But it is very cool and strikes me as something that would make a nice housewarming gift for a special friend, or an anniversary gift for parents who've lived in the same place for decades.
DOJ asks Court to keep secret any partnership between Google and NSA, not that one exists, definitely not
The Washington based advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center sued in federal district court here to obtain documents about any such agreement between the Internet search giant and the security agency.
The NSA responded to the suit with a so-called “Glomar” response in which the agency said it could neither confirm nor deny whether any responsive records exist. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington sided with the government last July.
James from New America Foundation sez, "Mike Masnick has done an incredible job covering copyright issues and the SOPA debates at Techdirt but today he had a troubling post: an important post on why SOPA/PIPA are misguided has been removed from Google over a DCMA request. Mike writes:"
Key Techdirt SOPA/PIPA Post Censored By Bogus DMCA Takedown Notice (Thanks, James!)
We've talked a lot about how copyright law and the DMCA can be abused to take down legitimate, non-infringing content, interfering with one's free speech rights. And we're always brushed off by copyright maximalists, who insist that any complaints about taking down legitimate speech are overblown.
So isn't it interesting that we've just discovered that our own key anti-SOPA blog post and discussion... have been blocked thanks to a bogus DMCA takedown?