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Visual introduction to bias in machine learning

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A few years ago, Stephanie Yee and Tony Chu explained the introductory facets of machine learning. The piece stood out because it was such a good use of the scrollytelling format. Yee and Chu just published a follow-up that goes into more detail about bias, intentional or not. It’s equally worth your time.

(Seems to work best in Chrome.)

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lizamu
1 day ago
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Fascinating
New York, New York
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The Guy Who Created Oculus Has Now Made Surveillance Tech That Acts As A Virtual Border Wall

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Right now, on the border between the United States and Mexico, a startup called Anduril is testing out its advanced new virtual border wall technology. Comprised of sensor towers carrying cameras and sensor lasers powered by an artificial intelligence algorithm, the virtual wall can spot any person or animal moving around near the border within a two-mile radius.

Anduril (nerd alert: it’s named after Aragorn’s sword) was founded by Palmer Luckey, the same guy who created and sold virtual reality company Oculus to Facebook and donated money to right-wing group Nimble America. He’s hoping the Department of Homeland Security will purchase the technology, called Lattice, to create a virtual border wall, which would be far cheaper for the government than building the physical barricade President Trump has promised.

During its tests, Lattice has led to the arrests of 55 people crossing the border into Texas, and another 10 in San Diego, according to WIRED. Sixteen of those people were transporting marijuana. The rest were likely crossing the border to improve their lot in life.

In this latest example of “can we?” over “should we?” logic, Anduril has created a surveillance system that would give the federal government the ability to monitor everyone who is on or around the border, whether or not they’re doing anything illegal. And while we shouldn’t be surprised that the Trump administration, with its efforts to stop immigration, would want to find a way to tighten border security.

But these tools could easily extend beyond border security. As TechCrunch reported, Anduril wants to get into the military technology game and help assert American military dominance. The company, which has several government connections, is currently developing other tools for the military, such as virtual and augmented reality battlefield applications that would help soldiers and those who aren’t on the front lines better monitor a conflict.

Luckey told WIRED that, right now, Anduril is focused on intelligence and surveillance, but isn’t ruling out developing weapons for the military down the road, even though Anduril doesn’t know what those weapons might look like. The team behind the company envisions futuristic combat scenarios that might be totally alien to our current idea of warfare. Either way, it seems that the company is committed to developing new ways to keep an eye on us all.

The post The Guy Who Created Oculus Has Now Made Surveillance Tech That Acts As A Virtual Border Wall appeared first on Futurism.

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lizamu
9 days ago
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New York, New York
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Recommendation: Caliphate, the NY Times podcast about ISIS

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For the past several weeks, I have been listening to the NY Times’ fantastic and unsettling podcast series Caliphate. The series follows Times foreign correspondent Rukmini Callimachi as she attempts to figure out the inner workings of ISIS. Callimachi and her producer & fellow reporter Andy Mills talk to an Islamic State member from Canada about how he was recruited, investigate the group’s organization, and dig through documents left behind by ISIS as they were driven out of Mosul in July 2017. The podcast is quite upsetting and tough to listen to at times, but I highly recommend doing so.

Here are a few things I kept thinking about while listening:

1. The recruitment process is fascinating. As Callimachi and the recruit talk about how he was persuaded to join up, you can see how young people are enticed by the promise of an Islamic state, of living an ideologically pure life according to one’s religion. What the ISIS recruiters tell them makes sense, it’s logical. (It’s all the things they don’t tell them…therein lies the rub.)

2. The eerie parallels between ISIS and an American business. They’ve got the onboarding process and the rapid expansion plan of a startup like Uber (down to the “ask forgiveness, not permission” tactics). They use tools like YouTube, Tumblr, and Twitter to market themselves with professionally produced videos and marketing materials. When they seized power in an area, ISIS kept much of the existing bureaucracy in place and set about winning hearts and minds by improving services for the people living there.

The world knows the Islamic State for its brutality, but the militants did not rule by the sword alone. They wielded power through two complementary tools: brutality and bureaucracy.

ISIS built a state of administrative efficiency that collected taxes and picked up the garbage. It ran a marriage office that oversaw medical examinations to ensure that couples could have children. It issued birth certificates — printed on Islamic State stationery — to babies born under the caliphate’s black flag. It even ran its own D.M.V.

The documents and interviews with dozens of people who lived under their rule show that the group at times offered better services and proved itself more capable than the government it had replaced.

In the podcast, they talked to residents living in ISIS-controlled areas who say that garbage collection and availability of electricity improved after ISIS took over.

As the group grew, they diversified their income:

One of the keys to their success was their diversified revenue stream. The group drew its income from so many strands of the economy that airstrikes alone were not enough to cripple it.

Ledgers, receipt books and monthly budgets describe how the militants monetized every inch of territory they conquered, taxing every bushel of wheat, every liter of sheep’s milk and every watermelon sold at markets they controlled. From agriculture alone, they reaped hundreds of millions of dollars. Contrary to popular perception, the group was self-financed, not dependent on external donors.

More surprisingly, the documents provide further evidence that the tax revenue the Islamic State earned far outstripped income from oil sales. It was daily commerce and agriculture — not petroleum — that powered the economy of the caliphate.

ISIS was in some ways a model business: adept at PR and marketing, focused on the financial bottom line, sweated the details, and they wanted to keep their “customers” happy.

3. The stated goal of ISIS in establishing a caliphate — to turn back the cultural clock to the time of Muhammad — reminded me slightly of similar efforts here in the US: MAGA, etc.

The podcast is available at Apple or on Spotify. If you are a NY Times subscriber, you get early access to episodes.

See also a 5-minute history of the war in Syria and the rise of ISIS and my past recommendation of the Slow Burn podcast.

Tags: Andy Mills   business   ISIS   Islam   podcasts   religion   Rukmini Callimachi   war
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lizamu
9 days ago
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Agree - it’s fascinating. Keep listening thru the 2nd episode if you get distracted, it’s worth it.
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Flowing portraits

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Lee K

Lee K

I really like these dynamic swirling drawings by artist Lee.k. They’re like a cross between van Gogh, DeepDream, and Wind Map. (via colossal)

Tags: art   Lee.k
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lizamu
12 days ago
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New York, New York
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Data is, sometimes

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Financial Times recently updated their style guide:

data — the rule for always using data as plural has been relaxed. If you read data as singular then write it as such. For example, we already allow singular for ‘big data’. And we should for personal data too. An easy rule would be that if it can be used as a synonym for information then it should probably be singular — and if we are using it as economic data and mean figures, then we should stick to plural.

And for kicks, I dug up my New York Times style guide from 1999:

data is acceptable as a singular term for information: The data was persuasive. In its traditional sense, meaning a collection of facts and figures, the noun can still be plural: They tabulate the data, which arrive from bookstores nationwide. (In this sense, the singular is datum, a word both stilted and deservedly obscure.)

Data are sounds weird to me most of the time. When I say it like that, I feel like I should also drink a cup of tea with my pinky sticking out and a monocle firmly planted for distinction.

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lizamu
30 days ago
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I like this: if it can be used as a synonym for information then it should probably be singular — and if we are using it as economic data and mean figures, then we should stick to plural.
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Building a better Kindle (or, Why Buttons Matter)

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Kindle Interface

Do you ever read something that feels like it was written just for you? That’s how I feel whenever Craig Mod writes about digital reading. His latest essay, “Reconsidering the Hardware Kindle Interface,” doesn’t have a title that pops unless you 1) love reading; 2) know that Craig is really good at making design talk exciting and accessible.

The big, simple, so obvious that it seems trite to point it out statement here is that hardware buttons on e-readers are good and important. When your primary mode of interaction is to do one or two things over and over again, hardware buttons are really smart and valuable. I’ll let Craig explain why:

Hardware buttons inextricably tie you to a specific interaction model. So for the iPhone to be a flexible container into which anything can be poured it makes most sense to have (almost) no hardware controls.

But the hardware Kindle? Oh, what a wonderful gift for Amazon designers. The Kindle is predictable! We know what we’re getting on almost every page. And the actions of the user are so strictly defined — turn page, highlight, go back to library — that you can build in hardware buttons to do a lot of heavy lifting. And yet! Amazon seems to ignore (to lesser and greater degrees depending on the device) how predictable a hardware Kindle is.

Specifically, dedicated hardware buttons mean that you can remove the amount of unpredictability that happens when you touch the screen. Touching the screen now means “I’m going to interact with the content.”

What benefit comes of making the content of the book a first class object? It removes the brittleness of the current interaction model. Currently —when you tap — you might invoke a menu, a page turn, a bookmark, or a highlight. Meta actions are on a layer above content interactions. A Kindle is just a content container. And so this feels upside down.

Touchscreens work best when they allow direct and explicit engagement with the objects on the screen.

If the content of the book was the only screen object, a tap on a word would instantly bring up the dictionary. A drag would highlight. A single tap on an image would zoom in. Suddenly the text is alive and present. Your interaction with it? Thoughtless. Confident. No false taps. No accidental page turns. No accidental bookmarks. This further simplifies the logic of the touch engine watching for taps in the background, making these interactions faster, programmatic logic simpler.

Doesn’t it just sound like a goddamn delight?

Tags: Amazon   books   Craig Mod   Kindle
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lizamu
60 days ago
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Love this. I don’t have a kindle but when I play with my sister’s, this is my complaint. I also love anyone being thoughtful about whether hardware or software are the best solution, not just for efficiency but for the brain and body.
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