Good Taste Cannot Be Coded

On the Media is a superb program, one of very few programs whose analysis is always constructive, pithy and correct, to the extent that the correct conclusion is drawn based on all available facts. The superb interview linked below is one of very few instances where OTM gets so close to the heart of the matter but fails to state it or examine it:

Algorithms do not have taste. Algorithms cannot mimic taste. No guise of algorithm–AI, machine learning, etc.–will ever serve as the purveyor of good taste.

Let’s take, for example, KCRW’s rise to the most powerful radio station in the world was founded on good taste. Since its founding in the 70s, its mission has been the opposite of that of commercial radio stations. As commercial radio consolidated and converged on a seemingly singular playlist of “hits”, legendary KCRW djs like Tom Schnabel and Chris Douridas scoured the planet to find music that was as rich in cultural expression as it was pleasant to hear. (This was not limited to highly refined acts. During Spaceland’s hayday in the mid 1990s, Douridas obtained rough cuts of Beck’s first album and played them on the air.) In the same manner that the purveyor of good taste provides the chef with ingredients that represent the best of the cumulative science and art of agriculture, the calling of a true dj is to find and to promote music that captures the best of the craft, culture and art of musical composition and performance. This essence of good taste can not be encoded by algorithms, especially by what is termed Artificial Intelligence, AI.

The widespread lamentation that Chris Chayka documents in Filterworld (link below) is captured wholly in this single word: taste. The only thing that algorithms can capture is the shared ignorance of the masses and impose them upon the individual. This is the complete opposite of what Schnabel and Douridas do in countering the ignorance of the masses by exposing individuals to new and foreign expressions that place the listener’s life in a different context by creating momentary awareness of the different ways people exist and think in the world.

AI can only guess the user’s taste by comparing its analysis of the user’s music to that of the cohort in which it places the user. Thus, the cohort never really grows because AI merely amplifies and imposes the cohort’s predispositions on the cohort ad infinitum. AI has no awareness of what the music conveys and whether the user wants to have his or her boundaries expanded. AI seeks only to keep the user “engaged”, glued to the device in order to take in more of what the algorithm can serve up to keep the user engaged. Schnabel and Douridas had fixed two-hour sets. They had a limited time every day within which to present an argument to their listeners that there are more expressions of beauty outside the listeners’ limited sphere of cultural awareness. Algorithms work 24 hours a day to keep the user confined to the cohort in which the algorithm has placed the user.

Thus, fundamentally, KCRW fulfills a value proposition and AI does not. KCRW’s value proposition is grow rich in awareness and knowledge through new music. The AI model offers no value proposition to the user because it only promises stagnation in exchange for the user’s time. AI’s value proposition is only to the corporation that uses it in the corpus of a captive audience.

Clearly, taste is not a simple matter. It is the fulcrum on which the value proposition in a bargain hinges. It is not limited to the music domain. In every financial transaction, there is no bargain if one is not aware of the value of the purchase. AI cocoons users in ignorance and thus convinces them that the dross it presents to them has value. AI mediated transactions go far beyond a bad bargain. They represent no bargain at all. Amazon users are ripped off because they think that an Amazon search presents them with a realistic account of the choices they have. In truth, the Amazon search is just as much of a sham as the Spotify playlist: both of them are payola, perfected and shrouded by AI.

Caveat emptor must be heeded more now than ever before.

Algorithms cannot mimic human taste. They trap the user for the sake of payola.

Recommendation algorithms don’t know you.

Source: Micah Speaks To Kyle Chayka About The Filter World | On the Media | WNYC Studios

The Most Hollow Celebration of All

Phoenix’s staggering 31 days of temperatures hotter than 110 F has been broken, and the development has been much celebrated in the media, but it’s hard to imagine anyone celebrating the new high of a mere 107 F. As of 21:50 on July 31st, reports a temperature of 100 F at Sky Harbor. This is no relief, no matter how many monsoon rains the city receives.

There Will Be Beer in the Apocalypse

As global warming threatens agriculture, one German farm provided relief from heat for its harvest of hops by providing shade with a massive array of solar panels. It is no cold comfort to know that of the many things the climate apocalypse will deprive us, beer will not be one of them

Solar panels over hops farm.
Solar panels over a hops farm in Germany.

A farm in Bavaria is covering its hops with solar panels, providing electricity to 250 households and shading the plants from the increasingly scorching summer heat in the process.

Source: Hops for beer flourish under solar panels. They’re not the only crop thriving in the shade.

No Trust, No Currency

Currency is the medium of accountability that is accepted by a community in order to facilitate transactions. If the crypto “currency” world is to survive, it behooves the remaining exchanges to ensure that they are not plagued the lack of accountability that has predictably brought FTX to its unceremonious demise. The demise of cryptocurrency is almost as predictable as the 2008 financial meltdown of the US. Both are schemes to generate apparent economic activity through huge numbers of transactions over nothing, and in both instances, the apparent growth was based entirely on speculation. It is unknown whether the criminal masterminds of the crypto pyramid scheme will get away as the masterminds of the subprime bubble of the 2008 did. It will be a real shame if they do.

The new CEO of the collapsed cryptocurrency trading firm FTX, who oversaw Enron’s bankruptcy, said he has never seen such a “complete failure” of corporate control. John Ray III, in a filing with the U.S.

Source: Exec who cleaned up Enron calls FTX mess “unprecedented”

A Critical Reminder of How Far Humans Can Go

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen provides a great summary of the means by which Jews and minorities were executed by Nazi squads in his tour de force book Hitler’s Willing Executioners. Although concentration camps receive the lion’s share of shrift and attention in popular accounts of the Holocaust, Goldhagen reminds the reader repeatedly that the method of choice during the holocaust was the bullet. Execution at gunpoint was the fastest, cheapest and, consequently, the most prevalent means by which victims were executed by Nazi murder squads. The practice was so prevalent and enormous that archeological discoveries serve as reminders and documentation of the practice. Mass graves were, of course, a deliberate strategy employed to prevent discovery and the erection of any memorial. The responsibility has thus fallen on the shoulders of physical anthropologists (i.e., archeologists) to uncover the details of history’s greatest crime. At a time when hate groups are organized, armed and dedicated to this outcome, it is important to remember the price of silence.

The Polish team who discovered the Nazi era mass grave in Poland.

Bullets, wedding rings pinpoint World War II execution grounds

Source: Archaeologists unearth Nazi-era massacre in Poland’s ‘Death Valley’

On Data Harvesting: Be Extremely Afraid

Source: Google Bans Location Data Firm Funded by Former Saudi Intelligence Head

A prime example of how easily compromising information may be obtained from SafeGraph is this preprint from Northwestern University and Boston University in which the authors used data from SafeGraph to follow people who attended the Sturgis, South Dakota, motorcycle rally from the rally to their respective home towns and measured whether these rally attendees ended up increasing covid-19 incidence in their home towns. In other words, they attempted to measure the degree to which Sturgis was a national super spreader event, not just a local one. The authors acknowledge SafeGraph for providing the data gratis, and cleverly sidestep the shocking revelation that such data is available for purchase to anyone. Though the data provided to the investigators was anonymous, it is highly likely that SafeGraph can identify every single person in the data set. What SafeGraph knows about the general populace is disturbing.

More disturbing is the revelation that SafeGraph is partly owned and controlled by Saudi interests because it places a digital surveillance apparatus with global reach under the control of a regime that has used such surveillance to intimidate or to kill political dissidents. Though it’s comforting that Google has decided to halt the stream of data it provides to SafeGraph, it is, nevertheless, this outcome must be perceived as a clarion call for action, not an occasion to breathe a sigh of relief. The revelation that even Google–an entity that exists to exploit its users’ data–finds SafeGraph’s business disquieting serves as ample warning that data collection and dissemination need to be regulated. Google’s action against SafeGraph is definitive proof that the dystopian society of total government surveillance is within reach through the overt and willing collusion between government and industry. In Western democracies, the government side of this collusion can be influenced, but willingness among the populace is waning because the cacophony of disinformation blasted by “social media” has drowned out reason. Failure in bringing democratic governments to restrain reprobate companies like NSO Group will empower governments to surveil everyone and to eliminate those who oppose autocratic regimes. This failure invites total chaos. This is, unfortunately, a precipice we may have already crossed.

SafeGraph sells smartphone location data to essentially anyone. Google banned the company in June.

Vice Motherboard

iPhone 12 Pro is Apple’s Autonomous Vehicle Computing Platform

One impressive task that Apple showed off in its iPhone 12 announcement was the iPhone 12 Pro’s ability to shoot and edit 4K, HDR video at 60 frames per second (fps). As many tech reviewers have noted, this makes the iPhone 12 Pro faster at this particular task than most top of the line Intel computers, regardless of operating system. This is a fantastic feature to have on a phone, but what percentage of iPhone users will ever want to shoot or edit 4K HDR videos on their iPhone? A very small percentage, one very, very close to zero. The question arises, then, as to why Apple was so insistent on emphasizing two things in this presentation: 1) the astonishing computing power of this device and 2) it’s support for all variants of 5G communication. Apple did this because the iPhone platform is destined for much bigger, bigger tasks than simply performing the mundane tasks that 99.9% of its user base performs. The iPhone is destined to be the mobile computing platform of future devices like autonomous vehicles.

Continue reading “iPhone 12 Pro is Apple’s Autonomous Vehicle Computing Platform”

On the Value of Immigration

In these dismal times, immigration has become a deplorable political wedge issue exploited by politicians with grand dreams of becoming dictators in order to cow the meekest and most naive in their constituency to total subservience. Toward that end, the demagogues go so far as to identify the immigrants who would “most valuable” or “most compatible” with the fictional native culture they extoll. In this article, there is proof positive that immigration will never be an issue provided the state invests in its people. By investing in its people, every country improves its chances of success in the global marketplace. The success of BioNTech is proof that investing in immigrants and giving them equal opportunity is far more important than choosing the immigrants. Countries that denounce immigration do so quite literally at their own peril.

Source: The Husband-and-Wife Team Behind the Leading Vaccine to Solve Covid-19 – The New York Times

FAANG Wars Officially Commence

It was back in January when I described the battle lines that are being drawn between Microsoft and Apple on one side and Facebook, Google and Amazon on the other. In the past week, Apple has taken two major actions precisely along the lines I described: to prevent Google and Facebook from collecting data on Apple device users.

The first action was acknowledged by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself, stating that the next iteration of Apple’s iOS will obviate a substantial portion of Facebook’s data collection scheme.

The second action is Apple’s deployment of a search engine to replace Google on iPhones, possibly on iPads and Macs as well. Apple famously collects billions of dollars from Google in exchange for making Google the default search engine on Apple devices, but Apple’s displeasure with Google’s using that privilege to objectify Apple’s customers in order to reap billions upon billions more from Apple’s customers clearly outweighs this significant, but increasingly negligible, contribution to Apple’s bottom line.

For the record, I am bullish on AAPL and MSFT, both which I own, but it is critical to vote with one’s dollars in this era of unfettered, unlimited, unregulated and unrelenting surveillance perpetrated by unscrupulous companies operated by naïve or ruthless (or both) executives. Apple’s and Microsoft’s executive teams have shown a concern privacy. To be sure, this concern grows largely out of the threat that Google and Facebook present to Apple’s and Microsoft’s bottom lines, but these companies deserve credit for electing to take the high road instead of throwing in the towel and joining the data trawling industry. Apple and Microsoft deserve a lot of credit for choosing to be traditional companies that sell the customer a product. Google and Facebook are companies that sell the customers as a product!

Apple’s first stab at Google’s revenue stream came from the deployment of Apple Maps, and Siri in general gathers results from a number of search engines–especially Wolfram Alpha and Bing–to the exclusion of Google. Apple went after Facebook initially by eliminating all Facebook sharing buttons from system menus. The deployment of security measures that explicitly limit the data gathering capabilities of Google and Facebook opens a major battle in the privacy wars.

Anyone who whines that Apple’s actions constitute an abuse of platform to limit competition is clearly missing the point. Apple is staking a claim that the Google and Facebook models are not legitimate forms of business, and Apple is correct! (Tim Cook famously said that such a business “should not exist”.) It is not right to take the cynical economic route. It is much deeper than a matter of profits. Privacy and the misinformation campaigns that have come to dominate Facebook represent the greatest ethical challenge to the conduct of business in history. Facebook and Google do not comply with any moral or ethical standards of business. This lack of morals and ethics is the heart of the matter. Whom the customer patronizes, really matters. No on should patronize Facebook or Twitter. Google is a highly suspect actor, at best.

If you want to know how to kill your Facebook account, here is a guide.

Good Intentions + Technology = Road to Hell?

Source: IEEE Spectrum: Technology, Engineering, and Science News “Cops Tap Smart Streetlights Sparking Controversy and Legislation”

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” goes the old saw, and in the modern era, well-intentioned technology testifies to the veracity of the adage over and over again. In the particular instance, the city of San Diego installed public surveillance cameras expressly for the purpose of quantifying resources usage, but enabled the use of the video thus gathered to be used by law enforcement to investigate major crimes only. However, now that footage has been used against protestors and others who have not committed any major crimes, the city is risking losing the confidence of its voters.

City officials concede that they needed to consider the definition of a major crime more seriously, and now they are in a horrible position where they are doubted by their two most important constituents: the voters and law enforcement. On can only hope that a quasi-police state is not the outcome they elect to implement.