(Reuters) – Apple Inc, the world’s largest technology company, is expected to present its redesigned iPhone in September, according to technology blog AllThingsD.
By Ashraf Eassa:
Each and every year, Intel (INTC) hosts the Intel Developer Forum (known as IDF). It is usually held at least twice per year — once in Beijng, China and the other in San Francisco. In recent years, the company has also held a third one in Sao Paulo, Brazil, although this is not always the case (and was not this year). At any rate, this is a major industry event that includes technical sessions, keynotes, and more for people from all over the industry to gain insight into the future of computing. This year, it takes place from September 10-12.
While this is always a very interesting event at which many disclosures happen, this particular IDF is going to be incredibly important not just for industry geeks, but for investors, as Intel seeks to transform itself from a PC chip company to a broad computing, software, and communications company.
The Internet is not a perfect meritocracy, where the best ideas naturally rise to the forefront of the national conversation. It is easy to game the popularity of some ideas by exploiting the fact that Internet users are overly optimistic sheep who blindly rate the value of stories positively if they first see that others already liked it. In a brand-new study, one of my favorite researchers, New York University’s Sinan Aral, found that he could experimentally boost the popularity of articles 32 percent on a news aggregator, like Reddit.com, by posting them with an initial few likes.
The first-of-its-kind study not only helps us determine why some ideas are more popular than others, but also alerts us to the ease at which important sites are gamed by nefarious groups.
The Study And Why It Works
Aral and his colleagues posted news stories to an unnamed aggregator over the course of several months, experimentally manipulating the initial number of likes and comments on each story. On balance, stories which were given an early boost ended up being more popular, compared to those that had no initial likes.
“Positive and negative social influence created asymmetric herding effects,” writes the research team. “The positive manipulation created a positive social influence bias that persisted over our five-month observation window.”
Indeed, Internet users are so systematically optimistic that they tended to reverse the articles with initial negative ratings. Thus, while the Internet tends to exaggerate positively valued stories, the same bias does not afflict negatively valued stories.
While Aral doesn’t speculate on the underlying psychology that fuels this bias, other researchers have found that users like to share positive stories. “When you share a story with your friends and peers, you care a lot more how they react. You don’t want them to think of you as a Debbie Downer,” said University of Pennsylvania social psychologist Jonah Berger.
It makes sense: sharing a story impacts our own reputation. No one wants to be the Internet’s sad sack.
Why Libertarians And Gay Rights Dominate
The study reveals why ideas with a rabid core of supporters will tend to dominate online discussions. A hyper-active minority exaggerate the popularity of an idea and trigger the Internet optimistic hype-machine. Indeed, while libertarian Ron Paul had minor national support as president, he dominated online discussions, receiving a greater share of positive social media chatter than the person who actually won the Republican primary, Mitt Romney.
The same goes for gay marriage. Up until a year ago, the public was largely split on the issue.
Yet, Internet users, which tend to be young and liberal, helped turn the web into a machine for viral pro-gay marriage content. Pro-gay marriage groups on Facebook had between 7 to 100 times more followers. Content, such as news of this rainbow-colored house across from the ant-gay Westboro Baptist Church, tends to get in front of our eyes.
This means that the preponderance of viral content will reflect the most hardcore users, not the general public
Gaming The System
Our sheep-like tendencies can also be exploited by nefarious partisans. Back when Digg.com was king of the news aggregator hill, a clandestine conservative contingent, Digg Patriots, banded together to vote up (and down) stories. It not only wreaked havoc on Digg’s reputation, but got the group’s ideas far more coverage than they otherwise would have had.
“When small groups agree to vote an item up early on, it can inspire herding and accumulating positive votes. This creates an incentive for manipulation. If this process holds for articles, then the signals of quality on those articles can be biased and inaccurate,” Aral writes to me in an email.
Digg Patriots ultimately got caught, and news aggregators have attempted to design algorithms that identify and neutralize conspiratorial groups. Arals study proves that it’s still possible to game the system, but not whether it can be done on political issues or whether it’s enough to make stories go viral. A 32 percent boost in popularity is nice, but a true viral story will get between 100K to several million views.
Still, it does show that the Internet is not a perfect marketplace of ideas. Ultimately, the net will reflect humanity’s own psychological biases.
Lon Snowden, father of US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, has got a Russian visa and will visit his son “very soon”, his lawyer says.
Companies could capture a big missed opportunity to optimize their employees’ talent to burnish their brand — and boost esprit de corp. How? By facilitating tighter, smarter teamwork via apt use of social tools. In light of the unsettling Gallup report that, “70% of Americans are unhappy and uninspired at work” this approach should be a wake-up call for top management, suggests Cheryl and Mark Burgess in their new book, The Social Employee, a notion that Dan Pontefract has famously spearheaded at Telus.
As the digitally connected world grapples with the dystopic reality that our overreaching governments are using technology tools ostensibly designed to increase our convenience to up their own — by peeking into our business, apparently regardless of whether they have probable cause to lift the lid — it’s worth taking a step back from current snowballing concerns about technology eroding privacy. That’s not to say there are no reasons to be concerned; there absolutely are. But there is reason for positivity too.
New technologies typically trigger moral panics. Whether it’s the invention of the printing press; the telephone or radio and TV; high speed travel; the electrification of homes — you name it, new inventions have been marshalling societal doomsday merchants for centuries. Probably forever (let’s not forget Socrates’ concerns that written words would degrade our ability to remember and intelligently interrogate knowledge).
Likewise the increasingly pervasive interconnectness afforded by the Internet and the proliferation of connected device types has led to plenty of concerned social commentary already — whether it’s fear that social networking is making us more narcissistic; or kids more vulnerable to bullying; or encouraging the rise of misogynistic or racist or extremist viewpoints. The scaremongering goes on.
And now we can apparently add mass government surveillance programs to the file ‘bad stuff technology is doing’. But like most of the things on that list, that’s a simplification which ignores the fact technology is merely a tool that supports multiple applications.
Now there’s no doubt that the traceability and stackability of digital communications and interactions has and is enabling mass surveillance of citizens — making it easier for governments (and of course companies like Facebook — which are now, in any case, effectively the outsourced, data-harvesting arms of government agencies like the NSA) to spy on the stuff we do online. Our digital traces can be captured and stored – apparently ad infinitum — because storage has become so cheap, and is only getting cheaper. Technology allows even the most apparently incidental/trivial data-points to be siphoned off and joined to all our other dots, to flesh out dynamic maps of our digital lives — just because it’s possible to do that.
You could even argue that technology’s recording abilities/capacity encourage a ‘just in case’ mind-set which says ‘store now, data-mine later if the need arises’. (Or, in the business context, ‘grab everything now, figure out what’s needed to monetise later’.) That of course skews the relationship between the state and the individual – apparently allowing for an individual to be held to account in perpetuity, regardless of whether they are justifiably under suspicion. We are all pre-emptively judged sinners if surveillance is systematic. Judgement Day has been digitally reimagined as an all-day recurring calendar event. How quaint — by comparison — appears the Biblical equivalent which only occurs once, as a final reckoning, at the very end of time.
But there’s something else to remember here too. Just as our digital interactions and online behaviour can be tracked, parsed and analysed for problematic patterns, pertinent keywords and suspicious connections, so too can the behaviour of governments. Technology is a double-edged sword – which means it’s also capable of lifting the lid on the machinery of power-holding institutions like never before. In the case of technology-enabled mass surveillance, the spy becomes the spied upon – as happened the moment Edward Snowden leaked data on the NSA’s surveillance programs.
Ok, so it required a human whistleblower to decide to step forward and shine a light on those dark goings on. And each such reveal is typically only a snapshot of extant processes – i.e. which the whistleblower had access to up to the time the leak was made public. So it’s far more partial than the data which flows, blood-like, through the pipelines of the surveillance systems apparently monitoring us. But the point stands: the same infrastructure that allows government agencies to capture data on any digitally connected person, also allowed Snowden to comprehend the extent of the NSA’s surveillance, and take away enough evidence to put that knowledge in the public domain. Technology allows for bigger, more significant data leaks; makes whistleblowing easier too.
Wikileaks is another (obvious) example of how technology-enabled data leaks can hold the powerful to account by making their actions and processes more transparent than they would otherwise be (whether Wikileaks has overreached its own power-debunking role is a whole other debate, however). Another smaller example would be the data leaked on UK MPs’ expenses in 2009 – data that was ultimately sold to journalists, who then made the story public. In that case journalists had previously tried to legally obtain MPs’ expenses information under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act and had their attempts rebuffed. The establishment closed off sanctioned avenues of journalistic investigation. Circumventing that required two things: a human whistleblower, and cheap and easy digital storage technology that allowed enough data to be taken out of a closed system to reveal systematic abuse of a taxpayer-funded expenses system.
The wider point is that if governments are (mis)using technology to spy on us, they can’t escape the countervailing reality: the omnipresent risk of that same technology-powered all-seeing eye being turned back on them – spilling their secrets for us to judge. And there’s the cause for hope. Technology can certainly allow governments (and companies) to overreach and infringe on our rights as citizens (or users) – it is a powerful tool, after all. But, in the right hands, this tool can also reveal in microscopic detail what governing institutions and powerful companies are up to. The NSA’s extensive apparatus of surveillance may thus ultimately reach so far it ends up checking its own advance by forcing a publicly shamed government to avoid democratic censure by policing itself.
In other words, so long as there are whistleblowers like Snowden — people of conscience — then surveillance systems will end up eating themselves. Or that’s the hope.
Snowden’s leaks have led directly to Obama publicly announcing a review of the NSA’s processes. The President can deny it all he wants — and of course he has – but there is no doubt these reforms have been announced as a direct result of the NSA’s processes being made public, which in turn has piled domestic and international pressure on the Obama Administration. And thrown a negative cloud of suspicion over U.S. technology companies — the collateral damage of a policy that lumps the rest of the world into a catch-all category labelled ‘potential terrorists’. Bad for business means bad for government — a situation that cranks up the pressure for a policy rethink.
Likewise, in the commercial context, the rise of ephemeral sharing and pro-privacy movements like do-not-track — powered by startups like Snapchat and free-thinkers like DuckDuckGo — puts disruptive business pressure on the overreaching excesses of data-harvesting giants like Facebook and Google that want to grab and store every little thing we do. Startups can and do play a role in checking inroads into our privacy by offering alternatives that don’t demand we give up so much — which in turn can help to amend the behaviour of dominant players.
So, while digital technologies can be press-ganged into the service of totalitarianism, and used to trample the rights of free societies, it only takes a few free-thinkers to apply technology’s reach and capacity in the opposite direction to fight the creep of Stasi-like systems. Snooping and leaking are really just flip sides of the same coin. Snowden is therefore much more than a patriot; right now he’s the better angel of America’s nature.
As someone who writes about games for a living, developers and publishers send me a lot of game-related swag to get me to pay attention to some title. The examples range from the interesting to the obscene (remind me to tell you about the Planetside 2 diaper sometime). But at this point in my career, these freebies barely faze me anymore. Usually, I quickly put them aside in the corner to await the Child’s Play charity swag giveaway we run every year.
The package I got from Capcom this week grabbed my attention though. Packaged inside a decently cool metal lunchbox was a golden NES cartridge, both of which were emblazoned with the official art from the upcoming DuckTales Remastered. Amidst some shredded dollar bills in the box was a Certificate of Authenticity identifying it as one of only 150 copies. There were a few other cute, retro-inspired touches: a coupon for “green cheese of longevity,” a flier advertising “upcoming” Capcom games like Mega Man 3, and a fake ad for a music album packed with duck-themed puns.
I heard Capcom PR did something similar when Mega Man 9 came out, sending members of the press a non-functional cartridge shell in an authentic box. So at first I figured that this cartridge was similarly a stylish art piece in the style of the NES carts of old. When I looked on the underside of the cartridge though, I noticed a set of surprisingly real looking contacts protruding out.
Vince Gilligan is to nice as Lindsay Lohan is to crazy.