The ‘horseless carriage’ morphs into the horse

From Kara Swisher:

I will die before I buy another car.

I don’t say that because I am particularly old or sick, but because I am at the front end of one of the next major secular trends in tech. Owning a car will soon be like owning a horse — a quaint hobby, an interesting rarity and a cool thing to take out for a spin on the weekend.

Before you object, let me be clear: I will drive in cars until I die. But the concept of actually purchasing, maintaining, insuring and garaging an automobile in the next few decades?


Swisher has form in this area. Many years ago, long before the smartphone, she cancelled her landline phone contract on the grounds that in due course most other people would do so too. (After all, why should phones be tethered to the wall, like goats?) The statistics on how many younger people only have a mobile phone confirm her far-sighted hunch. As far as cars are concerned, though, it’ll probably come down to whether you are an urban or a rural dweller — which partly explains the gilets jaunes crisis in France.

Mainstreaming atrocity

This morning’s Observer column:

The most worrying thought that comes from immersion in accounts of the tech companies’ struggle against the deluge of uploads is not so much that murderous fanatics seek publicity and notoriety from livestreaming their atrocities on the internet, but that astonishing numbers of other people are not just receptive to their messages, but seem determined to boost and amplify their impact by “sharing” them.

And not just sharing them in the sense of pressing the “share” button. What YouTube engineers found was that the deluge contained lots of copies and clips of the Christchurch video that had been deliberately tweaked so that they would not be detected by the company’s AI systems. A simple way of doing this, it turned out, was to upload a video recording of a computer screen taken from an angle. The content comes over loud and clear, but the automated filter doesn’t recognise it.

That there are perhaps tens – perhaps hundreds – of thousands of people across the world who will do this kind of thing is a really scary discovery…

Read on

No matter what happens now with Brexit, everybody loses

Terrific, perceptive Guardian column by Rafael Behr:

The people’s vote campaign often gets the argument about how to keep EU membership and whether to do so the wrong way round. Anyone who wants a second poll already hates Brexit. People who liked Brexit in 2016 but think it might have gone sour need something more positive to believe in than parliamentary process and referendums. The pitch has to open with the image of a happier, confident Britain, relieved of the grinding burden of endless Brexit bickering, taking its rightful seat at the top table of continental power, ready to lead. If enough people think that is the country we want to be, the case for a public vote makes itself as the way to get there.

That doesn’t mean everyone should learn the Ode to Joy and paint their face blue. It does mean that remainers must challenge the conventional wisdom that British voters are culturally immune to pro-EU arguments. There are too many MPs waiting for the architects of Brexit to soil themselves so thoroughly in absurdity and paranoia that their cause is ruined and their ideas discredited forever. But the humbling of leavers and the obstruction of their plans is not all good for remain. Not if it can be cast as the work of a conspiracy by Brussels, Whitehall and parliament.

Extension to the article 50 period is the most probable next move, which looks like a tactical gain for pro-Europeans. But engineering a situation where Britain’s EU membership survives beyond the original 29 March deadline was the easy part. The hard bit is making it look like a victory for common sense, not a defeat for national pride. Otherwise a setback for leave is no advance for remain. The crisis in British politics is severe enough that both sides can be losing at the same time.

Yep. The crisis is systemic. Even if we had a second Referendum and Remain won, the toxic divisions will continue to fester. And vice versa.

Focussing on the difficulty of ‘moderating’ vile content obscures the real problem

Good OpEd piece by Charlie Warzel:

Focusing only on moderation means that Facebook, YouTube and other platforms, such as Reddit, don’t have to answer for the ways in which their platforms are meticulously engineered to encourage the creation of incendiary content, rewarding it with eyeballs, likes and, in some cases, ad dollars. Or how that reward system creates a feedback loop that slowly pushes unsuspecting users further down a rabbit hole toward extremist ideas and communities.

On Facebook or Reddit this might mean the ways in which people are encouraged to share propaganda, divisive misinformation or violent images in order to amass likes and shares. It might mean the creation of private communities in which toxic ideologies are allowed to foment, unchecked. On YouTube, the same incentives have created cottage industries of shock jocks and livestreaming communities dedicated to bigotry cloaked in amateur philosophy.

The YouTube personalities and the communities that spring up around the videos become important recruiting tools for the far-right fringes. In some cases, new features like “Super Chat,” which allows viewers to donate to YouTube personalities during livestreams, have become major fund-raising tools for the platform’s worst users — essentially acting as online telethons for white nationalists.