05 May 2021

MIT Technology Review: “How Facebook got addicted to spreading misinformation”

By the time thousands of rioters stormed the US Capitol in January, organized in part on Facebook and fueled by the lies about a stolen election that had fanned out across the platform, it was clear from my conversations that the Responsible AI team had failed to make headway against misinformation and hate speech because it had never made those problems its main focus. More important, I realized, if it tried to, it would be set up for failure.

The reason is simple. Everything the company does and chooses not to do flows from a single motivation: Zuckerberg’s relentless desire for growth. Quiñonero’s AI expertise supercharged that growth. His team got pigeonholed into targeting AI bias, as I learned in my reporting, because preventing such bias helps the company avoid proposed regulation that might, if passed, hamper that growth. Facebook leadership has also repeatedly weakened or halted many initiatives meant to clean up misinformation on the platform because doing so would undermine that growth.

It seems like the ‘responsible AI’ framing is completely subjective to what a company decides it wants to care about. It’s like, We’ll make up the terms and then we’ll follow them, says Ellery Roberts Biddle, the editorial director of Ranking Digital Rights, a nonprofit that studies the impact of tech companies on human rights. I don’t even understand what they mean when they talk about fairness. Do they think it’s fair to recommend that people join extremist groups, like the ones that stormed the Capitol? If everyone gets the recommendation, does that mean it was fair?

Karen Hao

Evergreen conclusion about Facebook’s ultimate motives and their impact on society. I’m sharing the article mostly for the below image and its caption.

STAT: “The story of mRNA: How a once-dismissed idea became a leading technology in the Covid vaccine race”

And even though the studies by Karikó and Weissman went unnoticed by some, they caught the attention of two key scientists — one in the United States, another abroad — who would later help found Moderna and Pfizer’s future partner, BioNTech.

Derrick Rossi, a native of Toronto who rooted for the Maple Leafs and sported a soul patch, was a 39-year-old postdoctoral fellow in stem cell biology at Stanford University in 2005 when he read the first paper. Not only did he recognize it as groundbreaking, he now says Karikó and Weissman deserve the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

If anyone asks me whom to vote for some day down the line, I would put them front and center, he said. That fundamental discovery is going to go into medicines that help the world.

Meanwhile BioNTech has often acted like the anti-Moderna, garnering far less attention.

In part, that was by design, said Sahin. For the first five years, the firm operated in what Sahin called “submarine mode”, issuing no news releases, and focusing on scientific research, much of it originating in his university lab. Unlike Moderna, the firm has published its research from the start, including about 150 scientific papers in just the past eight years.

In 2013, the firm began disclosing its ambitions to transform the treatment of cancer and soon announced a series of eight partnerships with major drug makers. BioNTech has 13 compounds in clinical trials for a variety of illnesses but, like Moderna, has yet to get a product approved.

Damian Garde & Jonathan Saltzman

Global crises can often accelerate innovation and technological progress. This time around, the coronavirus pandemic has surfaced biotech research being developed for years, relatively unknown to the broader public.

04 May 2021

Fast Company: “Apple AirTags can enable domestic abuse in terrifying ways”

Apple has built some protections into this system. If you are an iPhone user, for instance, and someone has placed an AirTag on your person, your phone will eventually alert you that an AirTag that isn’t yours has been found “moving with you”. Apple didn’t clarify how quickly or often this alert will arrive, but it did share that it will occur when you arrive at your home (the address stored in your Apple “Me” card) or at certain other locations that your phone has learned you frequent over time. Apple declined to disclose further specifics, citing the interest of public safety.

If you are an Android user—note that Android made up 87% of the worldwide smartphone market share as of 2019—you don’t have the protection of Apple’s network notifications. Instead, an AirTag that has not paired locally with its iPhone in three days will emit a sound. So if you are an Android user who has had an AirTag placed on you, you will know in 72 hours. (Apple told Fast Company last week that it could lengthen or shorten that time span in the future, and it reiterated that point for this article.) If you are an Android user living with an iPhone abuser, however, a hidden AirTag could be pairing far more often.

Mark Wilson

So… Apple’s built-in protections allow anyone with an iPhone and AirTag to discover someone’s home address, before the person being tracked has any chance to prevent it (unless they happen to discover the AirTag slipped on them). Apple’s next marketing pitch might as well be: “More privacy online, less privacy offline!”

03 May 2021

Bloomberg: “How Intel Missed the Mobile Revolution and Fell Behind”

Ultimately, according to several people with knowledge of Intel’s strategy and operations, the company was never willing to divert its production and design resources away from PC and server chips, and its mobile efforts suffered as a result. Intel not only forfeited billions of dollars in revenue, but it also gave its competitors an opening to gain the manufacturing expertise that comes from making chips at such high volume and to exacting specifications. There are far more mobile phones than PCs and servers in the world, and the chips that run them need to be energy efficient to preserve battery life. Landing Apple as a customer became such a driver for TSMC, says Risto Pahukka, president of VLSI Research Inc. The combination turned out to be very fruitful and is staying that way.

Over his five-year tenure, Krzanich reversed Grove’s policy of embracing Cassandras. Instead he publicly humiliated executives with whom he disagreed, ignoring warnings that Intel was falling behind in its ability to manufacture key products. Brian did not create an environment where people could bring him problems that could be worked on, one former executive says. Limiting the truth is death for a complex company like Intel.

In the review meetings that his predecessors had used as forums for debate, Krzanich answered emails, shopped online, or left to make phone calls, say people who worked for him. Colleagues say this was his way of showing those presenting that he wasn’t interested, had made up his mind already, or didn’t value what they were saying. When he did participate it was often to sneer at presenters or verbally abuse them, sometimes telling experts they had no idea what they were talking about, according to a dozen sources. Krzanich did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Ian King & Tom Giles

Far from surprising: ignoring issues and delaying decisions does not magically make them disappear. When top management behaves this way, the entire company struggles.

02 May 2021

The New Yorker: “The Invisible City beneath Paris”

All cities are additions to a landscape that require subtraction from elsewhere. Much of Paris was built from its own underland, hewn block by block from the bedrock and hauled up for dressing and placing. Underground stone quarrying began in the thirteenth century, and Lutetian limestone was used in the construction of such iconic buildings as Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, and Saint-Eustache Church. The result of more than six hundred years of quarrying is that beneath the southern portion of the upper city exists its negative image: a network of more than two hundred miles of galleries, rooms and chambers, extending beneath several arrondissements. This network is the vides de carrières—the quarry voids, the catacombs, which together total an underground space around ten times the space of Central Park.

Urban exploration is international in its geography, with groups, crews, and chapters scattered around the world. There is a surprising number of female explorers, and the class base is mixed, often drawing on a disaffected and legally disobedient demographic. At its more political fringes, urban exploration mandates itself as a radical act of disobedience and liberation, a protest against state constraints on freedom within the city. The subculture has its subcultures: there are explorers who specialize in “track-running” underground rail systems to gain access to off-limits parts of those networks; others are particularly known for their ascents of factory chimneys in former Soviet-bloc countries. Detroit and Pripyat—the city evacuated after the Chernobyl disaster—might be thought of as two meccas for those urban explorers who seek out the problematic pathos of “derp” (explorers’ argot for “derelict and ruined places”), Instagramming shots of collapsing pianos, scattered archives, and children’s toys abandoned in the corners of dusty rooms.

Robert Macfarlane

Fascinating deep-dive into the hidden geography underneath Paris, its centuries-long history, and the contemporary people exploring the tunnels and escaping into an alternative life not possible at the surface. I have visited Les Catacombes during my time in Paris, but naturally only the ‘safe’ space available to tourists. I was vaguely aware they are much larger, but I had no idea how extensive, nor that they were used as shelters for the population and hiding places for the French Resistance during World War Two. These days, they are fulfilling another human need, offering a sense of the unexpected, a target for exploration in a world that so often can seem steady and predictable.

30 April 2021

Travel insights from Google Maps Timeline

Speaking of personal tracking for the purpose of creating better products, one of my favorite examples is Google Maps’ Timeline feature. I have discovered its true potential only after switching to Android, as I think on iOS the Google Maps app does not have permanent access to the device location. In a sense, the Timeline is a nicer, user-friendly representation of Location History, which Google happily collects in the background from every Android user.

You may of course turn this feature off or selectively delete portions of this history. Personally though, I love to be able to scroll back in time and see where I was months or years ago (well, three years ago at the most, as little was saved while I was using an iPhone): the place, when I arrived and left, if I was walking, in public transportation or in a car. It is a very convenient way to log my travels and recount them later, in case I would like to revisit those places. For a good portion of time, I also used this to fill my timesheet at the office, as my company’s badge did not correctly register the time I arrived and left the building. For photographers, daily tracks can be exported in a standardized format, which you can then use in Lightroom to add location to photos captured on that day. I use a dedicated app for that, but it’s good to have a backup option in case the app fails or gets discontinued at some point in the future.

28 April 2021

Jalopnik: “Tesla loses a Lot of Money selling Cars, but makes it all back on Credits and Bitcoin”

That second point is particularly interesting, as Tesla purchased $1.5 billion worth of BTC, announced that the company would begin accepting BTC as payment for its cars, which drove up the value of BTC, then sold enough BTC to make a hundred million in profit. Strange how that works, eh? Surely nothing untoward going on there. Not at all. DOGE TO THE MOON! #hodlgang

Without the $619 million in credits and BTC sales, Tesla would have actually managed to lose $181 million in Q1. In that time, the company shifted 184,800 3/Y units, and while it didn’t build a single X or S in Q1, it sold 2020 units from previously-built inventory. That means the company lost around $970 per car sold in Q1.

Bradley Brownell

Confirmation on the previous assumptions about Tesla’s reasons for investing in Bitcoin: short-term gains through speculation to offset losses from what should be its main business, electric car manufacturing. A loss of $970 per car sold does not seem very impactful though; compared to Model Y’s price of around $50.000, it represents only a 2% loss, so it should not be hard to overcome with increased efficiency.