“we will end up creating a dystopic information environment”

David Kaye, writing for The LA Review of Books on, The Digital Deluge and the Age of AI:

The public’s impression of AI is that it is machines taking over, but — for now, for the foreseeable future, and certainly in content moderation — it is really human programming and the leveraging of that power, which is a massive one for corporations. The machines have a lot of difficulty with text, with all the variations of satire and irony and misdirection and colloquial choppiness that is natural to language. They have difficulty with human difference and have facilitated the upholding of race, gender, and other kinds of biases to negative effect. Even worse, as the scholar Safiya Noble argues in her book Algorithms of Oppression, “racism and sexism are part of the architecture and language of technology.” And all of this is not merely because they are machines and “cannot know” in the sense of human intelligence. It is also because they are human-driven.

We often do not know the answers about meaning, at least not on a first review. The programmers have biases, and those who create rules for the programmers have biases, sometimes baked-in biases having to do with gender, race, politics, and much else of consequence. Exacerbating these substantive problems, AI’s operations are opaque to most users and present serious challenges to the transparency of speech regulation and moderation.

When systems scale, shit gets crazy.

Not the Descendants of Cellular Phones

Geoffrey Fowler, in an article written for the Washington Post, considers the $1,000 to $1,400 price range of Samsung’s new Galaxy phones as, “hard to justify as much more than a luxury.”

John Gruber responds:

This is the same nonsense we hear about Apple’s phones, post-iPhone X. Yes, phones that cost $1,000 or more are expensive. Yes, that’s outside the budget for most people. But why in the world would anyone argue this is ”hard to justify”? Phones are, for most people, the most-used computing device in their lives. They are also their primary — usually only — camera. A good camera alone used to cost $500-600.

Gruber is correct, but there’s another problem I haven’t seen anyone address that’s been bothering me for quite some time, and that is: these are not phones, they’re pocket computers (feel free to come up with a better name).

If you look at a Galaxy S20 or an iPhone 11 Pro as the descendants of cellular phones, then, yes these are very expensive phones.

Now, on the other hand if you look at these as what they are: the evolution of computers, miniaturized, with the ability to shoot video, watch video, shoot photos, edit photos, map your trips via GPS, browse the Internet, send & receive email, send & receive text messages, read books, listen to music & podcasts, and maybe occasionally make & receive phone calls (to name just a few), then their price tags don’t seem that outlandish (whether or not most people take advantage of all these capabilities is another story).

As George Carlin said:

Because we do think in language. And so the quality of our thoughts and ideas can only be as good as the quality of our language.

They’re pocket computers, not phones.

Categories:

Product, Technology

Essential Shuts Down

From The Verge:

Essential is shutting down less than three years after the startup unveiled its first smartphone. The company’s only complete product, the Essential Phone, sold poorly and received mixed reviews. A follow-up phone was canceled, and a number of other promised devices — like a smart home assistant and operating system — never materialized.

I can’t say I didn’t see this coming.

Categories:

Product, Technology

Samsung won’t fold on the Fold.

The Galaxy Fold is still extremely fragile, and Samsung knows it:

The updated Samsung Galaxy Fold is finally making its way into the world after a months-long delay by Samsung to shore up its hardware when it became apparent from review units (including The Verge’s) that the foldable phone was too fragile. Unfortunately, it seems that the “fixed” version of the Fold is still extremely fragile. And based on a new video Samsung released begging owners to treat their new phones with a “special level of care,” Samsung knows it. A new durability test from popular YouTube channel JerryRigEverything proves it.

You just won’t let it go, will you, Samsung?

Admit it, you have derailed.

We’re not and have never been powerless victims to our devices.

Over at The Verge, Michael Zelenko writes about the Light Phone 2 and the high hopes of the low-tech phone:

The survey, sent out to Light backers, was focused on a straightforward question: What features would you like to see on the Light Phone 2? What they were really asking, though, was thornier: How minimalist should a minimalist phone be?

In a 2017 Wired story about the futility of minimalist devices, David Pierce identified it as the “this one thing” problem. Every customer has just “one thing” they absolutely need to have their minimalist phone do in order for it to replace their current device. But everyone’s “one thing” is different. In my 2018 review of the Light Phone 1, my “one thing” was texting. If only it texted, I said, the Light Phone would be an ideal minimalist device for me.

Some Light Phone 2 survey respondents indicated that their “one things” were basic tools like directions, maps, or a notes app. But others had maximalist requests: emojis, podcasts, encrypted messaging, additional micro SD slots, even WhatsApp and a Facebook app. The Light team had to tread a fine line.

The idea of the Light Phone is great. I love ideas, but ideas are the ‘caterpillars’ to the device ‘butterflies’ they can become and how an idea manifests itself in the real world might not work as perfectly as it did inside your brain.

In my own life I’ve tackled pocket computer addictions, distractions, and temptations from the other direction. For at least 5 years I’ve disabled notifications on all but a few of what I consider ‘essential’ apps on my iPhone: Mail and Messages. No other apps on my iPhone require notification badges, pop-ups or lock screen alerts. Not even my most used apps like Overcast, YouTube, Instagram, Slack, Safari, or Spotify. I also mute group text threads with my long-time, ball-busting friends from high school. I deleted the Facebook app years ago, and recently deleted the Twitter app. My iPhone is a fairly quiet device throughout the day.

This erroneous idea that we’re powerless victims to our devices is bullshit.

Pocket computer upgrade cycles

Americans are waiting three years to replace their phones, study finds:

A new study released by Strategy Analytics reflects the current state of the smartphone industry. Apparently, consumers in the US — Baby Boomers, in particular — are increasingly delaying their smartphone purchase for three or more years. In addition, the average iPhone now remains active for 18 months, while the average Samsung phone remains active for 16.5. The era of yearly phone upgrades is over. Smartphone shipments have been dropping around the world over the past year, and some analysts even believe the industry is bound to suffer its worst decline ever in the coming months.

I buy a new pocket computer about every 2 years. I’m currently using an iPhone X I bought in 2017. It still has solid battery life and is snappy as ever. I’m a geek and I like gadgets and I might get a new iPhone this fall, but I could easily wait until next year to upgrade.

LG’s “hybrid” smartwatch

Engadget’s headline: LG’s first hybrid smartwatch is mix of ambition and compromise

Ok, that smartwatch represents neither ambition nor compromise, that’s called shitty design. It looks like something a freshman year product design student would turn in for their first assignment.

You’re not convinced yet? Check out this tweet from Avi Greengart showing the flapping watch hands in action. That’s straight up hilarious.

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Chinese spies, comprimised supply chains, and hacked servers.

The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies:

One country in particular has an advantage executing this kind of attack: China, which by some estimates makes 75 percent of the world’s mobile phones and 90 percent of its PCs. Still, to actually accomplish a seeding attack would mean developing a deep understanding of a product’s design, manipulating components at the factory, and ensuring that the doctored devices made it through the global logistics chain to the desired location—a feat akin to throwing a stick in the Yangtze River upstream from Shanghai and ensuring that it washes ashore in Seattle. “Having a well-done, nation-state-level hardware implant surface would be like witnessing a unicorn jumping over a rainbow,” says Joe Grand, a hardware hacker and the founder of Grand Idea Studio Inc. “Hardware is just so far off the radar, it’s almost treated like black magic.”

But that’s just what U.S. investigators found: The chips had been inserted during the manufacturing process, two officials say, by operatives from a unit of the People’s Liberation Army. In Supermicro, China’s spies appear to have found a perfect conduit for what U.S. officials now describe as the most significant supply chain attack known to have been carried out against American companies.

Are we living in an action movie with Bruce Willis?

Categories:

Technology

The Bullshit Web

Nick Heer breaks down the problems with the Web today:

The average internet connection in the United States is about six times as fast as it was just ten years ago, but instead of making it faster to browse the same types of websites, we’re simply occupying that extra bandwidth with more stuff. Some of this stuff is amazing: in 2006, Apple added movies to the iTunes Store that were 640 × 480 pixels, but you can now stream movies in HD resolution and (pretend) 4K. These much higher speeds also allow us to see more detailed photos, and that’s very nice.

But a lot of the stuff we’re seeing is a pile-up of garbage on seemingly every major website that does nothing to make visitors happier — if anything, much of this stuff is deeply irritating and morally indefensible.

He draws a great analogy between widening highways and increasing internet bandwidth:

You know how building wider roads doesn’t improve commute times, as it simply encourages people to drive more? It’s that, but with bytes and bandwidth instead of cars and lanes.

Now, instead of encouraging companies to build more efficient websites, Google swoops in the save the day with AMP:

Launched in February 2016, AMP is a collection of standard HTML elements and AMP-specific elements on a special ostensibly-lightweight page that needs an 80 kilobyte JavaScript file to load correctly. Let me explain: HTML5 allows custom elements like AMP’s , but will render them as elements without any additional direction — provided, in AMP’s case, by its mandatory JavaScript file. This large script is also required by the AMP spec to be hotlinked from cdn.amp-project.org, which is a Google-owned domain. That makes an AMP website dependent on Google to display its basic markup, which is super weird for a platform as open as the web.

How kind of Google to create a copy of an entire website with all the extra bullshit stripped out. As Heer points out, this is not Google being altruistic. It’s all done in service of itself.

Resist the bloat. Trim down your website. Cut the fat. Kill the bullshit.

Categories:

internet, Technology

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Open always wins, right.

Epic’s first Fortnite Installer allowed hackers to download and install anything on your Android phone silently

I’ve been using computers since I was 4 years old and even though I could acquire the technical knowledge needed to maintain a clean Android device, I’m not sure I’d want to. It seems like it can be a lot of work.

How do the majority of non-technical Android users deal with all the bullshit that comes with an “open” platform like Android?

Of course Google’s dirty little secret they’ll never admit is that Android isn’t really open.

Categories:

Mobility, Technology

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The Nomadic Web

Alexander Singh (via kottke):

Over the past 25 years, the web appears to have transitioned from a primarily nomadic culture to a mostly agrarian one, mirroring the Neolithic Revolution 10,000 years ago.

The simplicity of HTML-only site building, spaces like Geocities & Angelfire, and cultural artifacts such as web rings coupled with poor search engine tech saw us navigate the web like nomads: from point to point, link to link.

The web has developed & so have the skills necessary to build within it. HTML was easy. CSS took a little more time & JS more again, alienating most and establishing a class hierarchy. Discovery was solved, weakening point-to-point navigation.

The literate Priesthood can still build & interface with the web, but the vast majority of people are relegated to the peasantry. “Fortunately” for them, motivated benefactors have offered a Faustian bargain to make their lives “easier”.

Corporate Feudalism has emerged to create centralized, “safe” spaces for the peasantry to work & play. Attention is farmed and sold in exchange for convenience, protection, mediated self-expression & an indifferent audience. You can do anything if it’s within their borders.

Interesting observations. I haven’t taught at the university level for around 7 years, so I’m not connected with young designers as much as I was.

I’d be interested to find out how many young, internet ‘nomads’ there are today, building their own ‘handmade’ websites (like this one with WordPress, customized CSS and MySQL) or launching readymade versions with Squarespace (like my portfolio site).

I only speak orders when I’m at a restaurant

The Reality Behind Voice Shopping Hype:

Amazon and Google both tout voice shopping—the ability to make purchases and check on the status of orders with verbal commands—as significant features of their smart speakers. Some forecasts call for annual voice shopping sales to reach $40 billion in just a few years.

But it appears that only a small fraction of smart speaker owners use them to shop, and the few who do try it don’t bother again. The Information has learned that only about 2% of the people with devices that use Amazon’s Alexa intelligent assistant—mostly Amazon’s own Echo line of speakers—have made a purchase with their voices so far in 2018, according to two people briefed on the company’s internal figures. Amazon has sold about 50 million Alexa devices, the people said.

This statistic sounds about right.

My 71-year-old father, who’s very tech-savy, hooked up his two Alexa devices to all of the lights and two televisions on the ground floor of his house, but I don’t think he’s ever made a voice purchase with them.

As someone who doesn’t own an Alexa device, I can maybe see myself making voice purchases for utility items like toilet paper and cleaning products, but definitely not for things like clothing, books, or electronics (maybe for low top black Chuck Taylors).