Moday 29 April, 2024

Many happy returns

Quote of the Day

”Anxiety is the price we pay for the ability to imagine the future.”

  • NYU neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Deep River (Arr. Coleridge-Taylor, Kanneh-Mason) | Sheku Kanneh-Mason


Long Read of the Day

Technological risks are not the end of the world

Terrific essay by Jack Stilgoe in Science on the obsession with existential risk of AI which — deliberately or inadvertently — sucks the oxygen out of the discourse we should be having about the technology, namely the harms it’s already doing, and the future harm it will do to the environment of the planet.

Worth your time.

Social media’s business model is incompatible with the elimination of online horror

Yesterday’s Observer column:

Way back in the mid-1990s, when the web was young and the online world was buzzing with blogs, a worrying problem loomed. If you were an ISP that hosted blogs, and one of them contained material that was illegal ,sor defamatory, you could be held legally responsible and sued into bankruptcy. Fearing that this would dramatically slow the expansion of a vital technology, two US lawmakers, Chris Cox and Ron Wyden, inserted 26 words into the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which eventually became section 230 of the Telecommunications Act of the same year. The words in question were: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” The implications were profound: from now on you bore no liability for content published on your platform.

The result was the exponential increase in user-generated content on the internet. The problem was that some of that content was vile, defamatory or downright horrible. Even if it was, though, the hosting site bore no liability for it…

Read on

The real threat…

(In a nutshell)

AI doesn’t have to be sentient to pose a threat — sentient actors are the threat. The 2024 election is going to be the World Cup of online disinformation, as AI supercharges these tactics. Social media bots sound like real people and can engage one-on-one in real time with millions. Deepfake audio and video clips show candidates saying hateful or foolish things. India offers a preview: A skilled AI content creator says hundreds of politicians have asked him for fake material. Some even want badly produced fakes of themselves they can release to discredit any bad press, even legitimate press. China used fake AI content to attempt to sway an election in Taiwan and is using the same tactics in the U.S. Congress is considering legal barriers, but nothing will come of it before the election. The people running the platforms that will deliver these threats to our screens are predictably claiming “it’s too complex” and “this is government’s problem” and “free speech” — all of which is bullshit. However, the liability shield of Section 230 will be enough to keep them unaccountable for another cycle.

Scott Galloway

My commonplace booklet

Why Jonathan Haidt and Andrew Przybylski might BOTH be right about social media and teenagers 

From Charles Arthur:

What the research data (such as it is) suggests:

• children who spend low amounts of time online tend to be unhappy. They’re missing out, they’re shut out of online discussion, they’re unable to participate as others do.

• those who spend a moderate time online are connected, participating, happy. Of course the key thing is that they don’t spend all their time online. The big question is what the top and bottom limits of “moderate” are.

• those who spend a large amount of time online are connected, over-participating, unhappy. Whether their unhappiness is due to the amount of time they spend online, or if they spend a lot of time online because they’re unhappy (and in effect seeking people who they can connect with, to make friends).

This means that both Haidt and Przybylski could both be right: using social media does make some children unhappy, and using social media hasn’t got a global association with well-being.


Some things I noticed, while drinking from the Internet firehose.

Hunting for AI metaphors. Nice blog post on one of my pet obsessions. (h/t to Laura James)

  • Neil Turok on the simplicity of nature. Fascinating and informative interview with one of of the great theoretical physicists of our time.

This Blog is also available as an email three days a week. If you think that might suit you better, why not subscribe? One email on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays delivered to your inbox at 6am UK time. It’s free, and you can always unsubscribe if you conclude your inbox is full enough already!