Quicksilver is a machine-learning tool from AI startup Primer: it used 30,000 Wikipedia entries to create a model that allowed it to identify the characteristics that make a scientist noteworthy enough for encyclopedic inclusion; then it mined the academic search-engine Semantic Scholar to identify the 200,000 scholars in a variety of fields; now it is systematically composing draft Wikipedia entries for scholars on its list who are missing from the encyclopedia.
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Yesterday's bombshell article in the Guardian about the way that Cambridge Analytica was able to extract tens of millions of Facebook users' data without their consent was preceded by plenty of damage control on Facebook's part: they repeatedly threatened to sue news outlets if they reported on the story and fired the whistleblower who came forward with the story.
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Redditors' convention of tagging their sarcastic remarks is a dream come true for machine learning researchers hoping to teach computers to recognize and/or generate sarcasm. Read the rest
Greyball is Uber's codename for a program that tries to predict which new signups are secretly cops, regulators or investigators who could make trouble for the company, deployed in "Boston, Paris and Las Vegas, and in countries like Australia, China and South Korea" where the company was fighting with the authorities. Read the rest
Twitter is a great place for bots. Botherders like Shardcore produce amazing, politics, artistic bots that mine Twitter, inject useful information into Twitter, or just frolic on Twitter, making it a better place. Twitterbots produce entries in imaginary grimoires, conduct sociological research, produce virtual model railroads, alert the public when governments try to make bad news disappear, and much, much more. Read the rest
On August 6, artist Todd Vaziri observed that all of Trump's angry tweets come from the Twitter client for Android, while the more presidential, less batshit ones come from an Iphone; Vaziri speculated that the latter were sent by a staffer. Read the rest
In Evaluating the privacy properties of telephone metadata, a paper by researchers from Stanford's departments of Law and Computer Science published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors analyzed metadata from six months' worth of volunteers' phone logs to see what kind of compromising information they could extract from them. Read the rest
Today we travel to a future full of spreadsheet approved lives. A future where everything we do is tracked and quantified: calories, air quality, sleep, heart rate, microbes, brain waves, finances, happiness, sadness, menstrual cycles, poops, hopes and dreams. Everything.
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This episode is longer than our usual 20 minute jaunts to the future, because the future of quantified self is so huge. We cover everything from biased algorithms, to microbiomes (again), to the future of the calorie, and more.
▹▹Full show notes
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John Mininno is an ex-malpractice lawyer who raised money from a Wall Street angel and founded the National Healthcare Analysis Group, which uses public data sources to uncover Medicare fraud, then does further data-mining to predict which current or ex-employees will turn whistleblower, cold calls them, and splits the bounty the government offers for whistleblowing with them. Read the rest
Writing in Slate, Cathy "Weapons of Math Destruction" O'Neill, a skeptical data-scientist, describes the ways that Big Data intersects with ethical considerations. Read the rest
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is an EU-US "trade agreement" that will allow corporations to sue governments in secret tribunals to force them to repeal their safety, environmental and labor laws. Read the rest
Gaffer is a graph database "optimised for retrieving data on nodes of interest" developed by the notorious UK spy agency GCHQ, and now you can download, run and improve it because they've posted it to Github under the permissive, free/open Apache license. Read the rest
When electronics retailer Radio Shack filed for bankruptcy, the chain proposed selling customers' personal data to raise cash and repay creditors. That's not gonna happen, and the news is seen as a win for the right to privacy. Read the rest
James Siddle has analysed the voting records of the incumbent MPs in the UK parliament to see how often they rebel against the party line, and who they side with then they do. Read the rest
UK sex-toy retailer Lovehoney allowed researcher Jon Millward to data-mine its huge database of over 1,000,000 sex-toy purchases and 45,000 reviews, in order to see what he could infer about Britons' sexual proclivities from the things they bought. Read the rest
Michael Rigley created this beautiful animation, titled "Network," for his BFA design thesis project at the California College of Art. It's about personal data captured by cell phone providers and is quite relevant this week. Read the rest
In the New York Times, Charles Duhigg takes a creepy look at how Target mines its customer data to predict major life-changes, like pregnancy, so that they can send coupons that guide customers into thinking of Target as the go-to place for all their prenatal and child-rearing needs. The researcher quoted (who was later silenced by his employer) describes the measures the company takes to keep the wily pregosaurs from figuring out that they're being tracked and categorized, tricking them into thinking that the flood of prenatal coupons in the post were just a coincidence. It's grounded in some neuroscience research and the theory is that if you can be guided or coerced into forming automatic "shopping habits" that involve Target, you'll buy things there literally without thinking about it.
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One Target employee I spoke to provided a hypothetical example. Take a fictional Target shopper named Jenny Ward, who is 23, lives in Atlanta and in March bought cocoa-butter lotion, a purse large enough to double as a diaper bag, zinc and magnesium supplements and a bright blue rug. There’s, say, an 87 percent chance that she’s pregnant and that her delivery date is sometime in late August. What’s more, because of the data attached to her Guest ID number, Target knows how to trigger Jenny’s habits. They know that if she receives a coupon via e-mail, it will most likely cue her to buy online. They know that if she receives an ad in the mail on Friday, she frequently uses it on a weekend trip to the store.