Will Google’s Controversial LaMDA Help or Hinder Internet Discovery?

In his online Masterclass on the art of writing, renowned journalist Malcolm Gladwell explains the shortcomings of Google when it comes to research and discovery. “The very thing that makes you love Google is why Google is not that useful“, he chirps. To Gladwell, a Google search is but a dead-end when a true researcher wants to be led “somewhere new and unexpected“.

In juxtaposition to Google’s search engine stands ye olde library, which Gladwell calls the “physical version of the internet” (sans some of the more sophisticated smut…). In a library — should it be required — guidance is on-hand in the form of a librarian, and unlike the internet there is a delightful order to things that the writer likens to a good conversation. Discovery can be as simple as finding what books surround the book that inspired you…and following the trail. Gladwell elucidates: “The book that’s right next to the book is the book that’s most like it, and then the book that’s right next to that one is a little bit different, and by the time you get ten books away you’re getting into a book that’s in the same general area but even more different.”

There is something altogether more natural and relational about uncovering the new — and the forgotten — in the context of a library or a conversation. Hidden gems lay undisturbed, unlike popularity-ranked internet search results that spew out the obvious and the familiar.

Enter LaMDA AI.

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Vaccine Passport Apps: The Latest Covid Tech Is Upon Us

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The concept of a passport is probably older than you think. Though it might be heavily associated with the early days of international air travel, the documents actually date back to the early 15th century. Indeed, Shakespeare himself has King Henry V use the term in his famous Crispin’s Day speech at the Battle of Agincourt:

Rather proclaim it, Westmorland, through my host,

That he which hath no stomach to this fight,

Let him depart; his passport shall be made.” (Henry V, Act IV, Scene iii)

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Klara and The Sun: Love, Loyalty & Obsolescence

If you’re of a certain generation, you might remember the Tamagotchi; the Japanese pocket-sized “pet simulation game” that became the chief obsession of 90s kids bored of yo-yos and other fleeting trends. The Tamagotchi lived mostly in the grubby hands or lint-filled pockets of its owners but, for social currency, could be paraded before envious or competitive enthusiasts. 

Oddly, these oviparous virtual critters weren’t remotely animallike in their appearance, and could be intolerably demanding at times. Neglect to feed them, clean up after them, or tend to them when sick and — as many of us found out — very soon you’d be left with nothing but a dead LCD blob. But even the best cared-for Tamagotchi(s?) had certain obsolescence looming in their futures, once their needlessly complex lifecycle was complete: egg, baby, child, teen, adult, death. 

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Dig out your tinfoil hat! Consumer neurotech is here to stay – and it needs more scrutiny

“Thoughts are free and subject to no rule. On them rests the freedom of man, and they tower above the light of nature”

Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus (1493-1541)

This week, Facebook Reality Labs revealed the latest piece of hardware gadgetry that it hopes will introduce eager consumers to a new world of augmented and mixed reality. The wristband is a type of technology known as a neural — or brain-computer — interface, and can read the electrical nerve signals our brain sends to our muscles and interpret them as instructions.

In other words, you don’t have to move. You can just *think* your movements.

You’d be forgiven for wondering if we’ve evolved too far..

A jazzy, high production video features grinning young San Francisco-type execs describing this new, immersive experience. They’ve invented it, and they’ll be damned if they aren’t going to foist it upon us.  “The wrist is a great starting point for us technologically,” one chirps, “because it opens up new and dynamic forms of control.” Quite. 

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AI Ethics for Startups – 7 Practical Steps

Radiologists assessing the pain experienced by osteoarthritis patients typically use a scale called the Kellgren-Lawrence Grade (KLG). The KLG calculates pain levels based on the presence of certain radiographic features, like missing cartilage or damage. But data from the National Institute of Health revealed a disparity between the level of pain as calculated by the KLG and Black patients’ self-reported experience of pain.

The MIT Technology Review explains: “Black patients who show the same amount of missing cartilage as white patients self-report higher levels of pain.”

But why?

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Could You Fall In Love With A “MetaHuman”?

Image from the Unreal Engine website

In the early months of the COVID-19 shelter-in-place, Cathy Gover joined the dating website Plenty of Fish. Like many people during the pandemic, the Tennessee widow was suffering from the onset of lockdown loneliness and decided to look for love online. It wasn’t long before she met Marc from Atlanta, and fell for his considerable charms. Then, six weeks into their online romance, Marc asked Cathy for financial help.

Of course, you’ve heard this story many, many times before. An older woman looking for love and companionship meets a predator posing as a lonely heart, only to be duped out of thousands of dollars. Sometimes these cases can be frustrating, and leave us asking how the victim missed all of the glaring red flags.

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Deepfaking the Deceased: Is it Ever Okay?

In February last year, the world baulked as the media reported that a South Korean broadcaster had used virtual reality technology to “reunite” a grieving mother with the 7-year old child she lost in 2016. 

YouTube.com

As part of a documentary entitled I Met You, Jang Ji-sung was confronted by an animated and lifelike vision of her daughter Na-yeon as she played in a neighborhood park in her favorite dress. It was an emotionally charged scene, with the avatar asking the tearful woman, “Mom, where have you been? Have you been thinking of me?”

“Always”, the mother replied. 

Remarkably, documentary makers saw this scene as “heartwarming”, but many felt that something was badly wrong. Ethicists, like Dr. Blaby Whitby from the University of Sussex, cautioned the media: “We just don’t know the psychological effects of being “reunited” with someone in this way.”

Indeed, this was unchartered territory. 

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Playing to the Algorithm: Are We Training the Machines or…?

It is our human inclination to want to look good. Our desire to impress keeps the fashion industry alive, it also motivates many of us to work or study hard, and there are billions of dollars to be made from our desperation to look visibly fit and healthy. So, it should come as no surprise that as algorithms hold more and more sway over decision-making and the conferral of status (e.g. via credit or hiring decisions), many of us are keen to put our best foot forward and play into their discernible preferences. 

This is certainly true of those in business, as discovered by the authors of the working paper How to Talk When A Machine is Listening: Corporate Disclosure in the Age of AI. An article posted by the National Bureau of Economic Research describes the study’s findings:

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How Do We Solve A Problem Like Election Prediction?

On November 3, two oppositional forces went head to head and the results were…divisive. With commentators and pundits still reeling from the poor performance of US election pollsters, it seems fitting to ask — can AI (ultimately) solve a problem like election prediction? 

At least this time around, the answer seems to be no, not really. But not necessarily for the reasons you might think. 

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