In a blog posted two days ago, I highlighted phrases and sentences from Mark Zuckerberg’s recent keynote speech sketching his vision of Meta’s intended metaverse. Here are thoughts triggered by his words:
1. “ you’re going to be able to do almost anything you can imagine … “This isn’t about spending more time on screens … [include] communities whose perspectives have often been overlooked … consider everyone …”
No, Mark, be honest. This isabout getting more people into Meta, and about getting them to spend more time in the metaverse, because that’s the only way you can sustain the growth your shareholders expect, and the only way you can withstand the onslaught of firms like Tiktok that now have greater appeal to the next generation of users.
In a recent blog, I suggested that we have finally lost patience with Facebook after new revelations by whistleblower Frances Haugen and the Wall Street Journal. Leaked documents show that FB knows that almost six million VIPs are given special dispensation to violate their content standards; criminals use FB to recruit women, incite violence against ethnic minorities, and support government action against political dissent; Instagram is toxic to many young girls, contributing to poor self-image, mental health, and suicidal thoughts; the firm relaxed its safeguards too soon after the U.S. election, contributing to the January 6 riot; and FB is incapable of suppressing election and vaccine misinformation.
Contact tracing is a process for identifying, informing, and monitoring people who might have come into contact with a person who has been diagnosed with an infectious disease such as COVID-19. It starts with a positive test. Public health officials then need to know who that person might have inadvertently infected. This requires tracking down anyone that person had contacted (was “close enough” for “long enough”) recently (14 days in the case of COVID). They can then be informed that they might have been infected and take measures to quarantine and monitor for symptoms. For example, restaurants initiate tracing by recording the name and phone number of one person in each party taking a table in the restaurant.
Contributed by Ron Baecker, an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, co-author of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide and author of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives (OUP, 2019).
My family is widely separated. I live in Canada. My brother-in-law, niece, nephew, and their families are in New Jersey and Pennsylvania; my cousins, their children, and their families are in Argentina, Spain, England, and on both coasts of the USA. Typically, I visit my niece and nephew once or twice a year; I manage a trip to Buenos Aires or Bilbao, Spain, about every 3 years. But not recently. I therefore Facetime with either my nephew or my niece almost every week. We also are about to have our fourth global family Zoom. This started out to celebrate individual birthdays, with great spirit and feeling of bringing the family closer together. The next event will celebrate 3 birthdays — ages 78, 41, and 9 — and a recent birth in the family in London. The 9-year-old birthday event will see us participating in a day-long scavenger hunt. What fun!
A forecasting model is a prediction of how the world will evolve, of what will happen in the future with respect to some phenomena (such as the motion of objects, the financial health of a business) or the spread of an epidemic.
Contributed by Ronald Baecker, who is an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, co-author of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide and author of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives (OUP, 2019).
Readers of my blog will recall what I describe as digital dreams and digital nightmares.
Our world has been enriched by digital technologies used for collaboration, learning, health, politics, and commerce. Digital pioneers imagined giving humanity greater control over the universe; augmenting knowledge and creativity; replacing difficult and dangerous physical labour with robot efforts; improving our life span with computationally supported medicine; supporting free speech with enhanced internet reason and dialogue; and developing innovative, convenient, and ideally safe products and services. Online apps and resources are proving very valuable, even essential, in the era of COVID-19.
In this column, in my textbook, and in a speech “What Society Must Require from AI” I am currently giving around the world, I document some of the hype, exaggerated claims, and unrealistic predictions that workers in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) have been making for over 50 years. Here are some examples. Herb Simon, an AI pioneer at Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU), who later won a Novel Prize in Economics, predicted in 1958 that a program would be the world’s best champion by 1967. Marvin Minsky of MIT, and Ray Kurzweil, both AI pioneers, made absurd predictions (in 1967 and 2005) that AI would achieve general human intelligence by 1980 and by 2045. John Anderson, discussed below, made the absurd prediction in 1985 that it was already feasible to build computer systems “as effective as intelligent human tutors”. IBM has recently made numerous false claims about the effectiveness of its Watson technology for domains as diverse as customer support, tax filing, and oncology.
There is still time to buy a substantive book for the thoughtful techie or concerned citizen in your life. Allow me to recommend two choices that were published in 2019. One good option is my wide-ranging textbook Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives, enough said …. But an unbiased choice is Shoshana Zuboff’s monumental The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. The author signals her intentions with the book’s subtitle: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.
Zuboff, the Charles Edward Wilson Professor Emerita, Harvard Business School, defines and describes surveillance capitalism (p. 8):
Every Computer Science student should get significant exposure to the social, political, legal, and ethical issues raised by the accelerating progress in the development and use of digital technologies.
The standard approach is to offer one undergraduate course, typically called Computers and Society or Computer Ethics. I have done this during the current term at Columbia University, using my new textbook, Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives (OUP, 2019). We meet twice a week for 75 minutes. In class, I present key topics covered in the book, and welcome a number of guest speakers who present their own experiences and points of view. Every class is interactive, as I try to get the students to express their own ideas. There have been four assignments: a policy brief, a book report, a debate, and a research paper. Such courses are typically not required by major research universities, which is a mistake, but they are often required by liberal arts colleges.
A session at the New Yorker Festival this past weekend discussing how history will judge Trump got me thinking again about media, tweeting, and Donald J. Trump.
Media play a huge role in politics. Here are some examples. In the medium of a large enclosed space filled with people, Adolf Hitler was able to whip crowds to a frenzy. Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his radio fireside chats reassured Americans that they could and would survive the economic hardships of the Great Depression. Winston Churchill’s stirring oratory during World War II lifted the spirits of people in Great Britain despite the Germans’ intense aerial bombardment. John F Kennedy‘s photogenic and relaxed television manner when contrasted with Richard Nixon’s swarthy scowling played a huge role in his victory in the 1960 US presidential election. Finally, Ronald Reagan’s commanding performances in televised addresses and his style of speaking to Americans in ways that they could understand and could trust justified his being called “the great communicator“.