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- The Real Seduction of Silicon Valley“It was easy to get me to want something,” New Yorker columnist Anna Wiener confesses in her tech industry memoir Uncanny Valley, out today. She left publishing for her first tech job, at a New York ebook startup, in 2013, and almost immediately fell for the industry’s charms. She moved to California to work at a mysterious data analytics company, then an open-source software platform that had just been through a famous scandal.The book about the four years that followed has already been widely praised, and it was regarded as a “most anticipated” for months, thanks in part to the thrill of its insider gossip—any reader could spend weeks guessing at which companies and CEOs and whistleblowers are referred to obliquely in its pages. Slate’s Dan Kois wrote a guide to the book’s proper nouns, and confessed that he spent “forever” trying to identify the friend of Wiener’s who found… ..... Read More.6 days ago
- The Man Who Collected Dreams About Céline DionYury Toroptsov remembers the moment he fell in love with Céline Dion.In 1997, he was on a layover in South Korea. Flipping through the channels on his hotel room TV, halfway through getting dressed to go out, he caught a glimpse 1996 music video for “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”—six minutes long, starring Dion in a floor-length, long-sleeve, white lace nightgown, following her through a night of terror in which she is haunted by the ghost of her lover, who has died by crashing a motorcycle into a tree.Toroptsov was taken in by the spectacle, and the voice—the sheer magnitude of Céline, the Quebecoise bi-lingual international superstar, whose 1997 power ballad about Leonardo DiCaprio dying is one of the most beloved and most reviled in modern history. Toroptsov didn’t see the whole video at first, so he sat on the bed and waited for the Asian MTV-equivalent to… ..... Read More.1 week ago
- What Is Even Going on Out There?To be alive in 2020 and connected to the vast information network is to experience a rich confusion of images, videos, social-media posts, and reportage about everything, all the time. The latest example: a Ukrainian airliner crash outside Tehran. The plane, a Boeing 737-800, crashed shortly after takeoff yesterday, killing everyone aboard. There were unconfirmed rumors and general confusion and Twitter threads with videos, pictures, and analysis of what might have happened. (A missile? A malfunction?)Beyond and next to the tragedy, it felt as if reality had melted and balled up together in one news story. The U.S. strike on an Iranian general last week had tilted the world towards a new precipice. Boeing’s problems with a different model of 737 have been global-headline news. And, of course, Ukraine is also at the center of geopolitics (not to mention American campaigns).How could anyone know what happened? The Ukrainians, Iranians, and… ..... Read More.2 weeks ago
- Facebook’s Id Is ShowingWas Facebook responsible for the election of Donald Trump in 2016? Trump’s campaign says yes. Most of his opposition says yes. And now, a ranking executive at Facebook, Andrew Bosworth, says yes. “I think the answer is yes, but not for the reasons anyone thinks,” Bosworth wrote in an internal “Thoughts for 2020” post that leaked yesterday, and that he subsequently posted in full. “He didn’t get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica.”So, what did get him elected then?First, you have to know who is talking here. Bosworth, known inside and outside Facebook as Boz, is the company’s id. As one of Mark Zuckerberg’s computer-science teachers and a very early employee, Bosworth has unusual latitude to say the quiet parts of Facebook’s self-conception out loud. He does this in posts that Facebook employees can read—and although they are far from official announcements, this isn’t just some guy… ..... Read More.2 weeks ago
- Facebook Just Wants to Help (Itself)In April 2018, Facebook sent the Yale cardiologist and researcher Freddy Abnousi on a strictly confidential assignment to liaise with medical groups across the country on behalf of Building 8, Facebook’s experimental research team. Building 8—which had originally been led by Regina Dugan, the former director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—worked on long-term, moonshot projects, such as developing devices that would allow people to type with their brain or hear through their skin.Abnousi’s task was less radical: He was to get the Stanford University School of Medicine and the American College of Cardiology on board with a new project that would combine Facebook user information with hospital-patient data in order to influence patient outcomes. Facebook hoped it could leverage the cache of data users already give it—about their education, relationships, habits, spoken languages, employment status, and more, all of which have an enormous impact on health outcomes—to create… ..... Read More.2 weeks ago
- The Future of Politics Is Robots Shouting at One AnotherPresidential-campaign season is officially, officially, upon us now, which means it’s time to confront the weird and insidious ways in which technology is warping politics. One of the biggest threats on the horizon: Artificial personas are coming, and they’re poised to take over political debate. The risk arises from two separate threads coming together: artificial-intelligence-driven text generation and social-media chatbots. These computer-generated “people” will drown out actual human discussions on the internet.Text-generation software is already good enough to fool most people most of the time. It’s writing news stories, particularly in sports and finance. It’s talking with customers on merchant websites. It’s writing convincing op-eds on topics in the news (though there are limitations). And it’s being used to bulk up “pink-slime journalism”—websites meant to appear like legitimate local news outlets but that publish propaganda instead.There’s a record of algorithmic content pretending to be from individuals, as well. In 2017,… ..... Read More.2 weeks ago