After a month or so of being subscribed to Apple News+, today I dropped the subscription. It was one more subscription, and they add up. More importantly, it wasn’t giving me the news. When Notre Dame was burning Apple News+ was feeding me inane lifestyle stories. It didn’t seem to be able to gather and present current news, just glossy magazine articles. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to compete with Google News. Perhaps I wasn’t meant to pay for it.
A painting created using GANs (generative adversarial networks) sold for $432 000 at Christies today.
Last year a $432 000 painting “by AI” sold at Christie’s. The painting was created by a collective called Obvious. They used a Generative Adversarial Network. In an essay titled, A naive yet educated perspective on Art and Artificial Intelligence, they talk about how they created the work.
Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) analyze tens of thousands of images, learn from their features, and are trained with the aim to create new images that are undistinguishable from the original data source.
They also point out that many of the same concerns people have about AI art today were voiced about photography in the 19th century. Photography automated the image making business much as AIs are automating other tasks.
Can we use these GANs for other generative scholarship?
Silicon Valley is reprinting a story from the Washington post, Racism, misogyny, death threats: Why can’t the booming video-game industry curb toxicity? The story is one more on how nasty online gaming can be. The usual companies try to reduce the toxicity of game culture and don’t really succeed. So we are left to just ignore it?
With no clear methods to effectively monitor, halt or eliminate toxic behavior, many in the gaming community have simply tried to ignore it and continue playing anyway. Many of the titles cited most for toxic players remain the industry’s most popular.
In 1972, a photo of a Swedish Playboy model was used to engineer the digital image format that would become the JPEG. The model herself was mostly a mystery—until now.
Wired has another story on Finding Lena Forsen, the Patron Saint of JPEGs. This is not, however, the first time her story has been told. I blogged about the use of the Lena image back in 2004. It seems like this story will be rediscovered every decade.
What has changed is that people are calling out the casual sexism of tech culture. An example is Chang’s book Brotopia that starts with the Lena story.
The New York Times has a nice short video on cybersecurity which is increasingly an issue. One of the things they mention is how it was the USA and Israel that may have opened the Pandora’s box of cyberweapons when they used Stuxnet to damage Iran’s nuclear programme. By using a sophisticated worm first we both legitimized the use of cyberwar against other countries which one is not at war with, and we showed what could be done. This, at least, is the argument of a good book on Stuxnet, Countdown to Zero Day.
Now the problem is that the USA, while having good offensive capability, is also one of the most vulnerable countries because of the heavy use of information technology in all walks of life. How can we defend against the weapons we have let loose?
What is particularly worrisome is that cyberweapons are being designed so that they are hard to trace and subtly disruptive in ways that are short of all out war. We are seeing a new form of hot/cold war where countries harass each other electronically without actually declaring war and getting civilian input. After 2016 all democratic countries need to protect against electoral disruption which then puts democracies at a disadvantage over closed societies.
Torn Apart is a curation and visualization of publicly available data concerning ICE, CBP facilities, and usages. Also lists of allied and pro-immigrant facilities.
At DH 2018 I heard Roopika Risam speak about the impressive critical digital humanities Torn Apart / Separados project she is part of. (See my conference notes here.) The project is rightly getting attention. For example, the Inside Higher Ed has a story on Digital Humanities for Social Good. This story presents Torn Apart / Separados as an answer to critiques about the digital humanities that they are not critical enough and/or lack interpretative value. (See Stanley Fish’s Stop Trying to Sell the Humanities.) The Inside Higher Ed article rightly points out that there have been socially engaged digital humanities projects for some time.
What I find impressive and think is truly important is how nimble the project is. This project was imagined and implemented in “real” time – ie. it was developed in response to events unfolding in the news. It was also developed without a grant and by a distributed team of volunteers. Thats what computing in the humanities should be – a way to think through issues critically not a way to get funding.
This year we had busy CSDH and CGSA meetings at Congress 2018 in Regina. My conference notes are here. Some of the papers I was involved in include:
- “Code Notebooks: New Tools for Digital Humanists” was presented by Kynan Ly and made the case for notebook-style programming in the digital humanities.
- “Absorbing DiRT: Tool Discovery in the Digital Age” was presented by Kaitlyn Grant. The paper made the case for tool discovery registries and explained the merger of DiRT and TAPoR.
- “Splendid Isolation: Big Data, Correspondence Analysis and Visualization in France” was presented by me. The paper talked about FRANTEXT and correspondence analysis in France in the 1970s and 1980s. I made the case that the French were doing big data and text mining long before we were in the Anglophone world.
- “TATR: Using Content Analysis to Study Twitter Data” was a poster presented by Kynan Ly, Robert Budac, Jason Bradshaw and Anthony Owino. It showed IPython notebooks for analyzing Twitter data.
- “Climate Change and Academia – Joint Panel with ESAC” was a panel I was on that focused on alternatives to flying for academics.
- “Archiving an Untold History” was presented by Greg Whistance-Smith. He talked about our project to archive John Szczepaniak’s collection of interviews with Japanese game designers.
- “Using Salience to Study Twitter Corpora” was presented by Robert Budac who talked about different algorithms for finding salient words in a Twitter corpus.
- “Political Mobilization in the GG Community” was presented by ZP who talked about a study of a Twitter corpus that looked at the politics of the community.
Also, a PhD student I’m supervising, Sonja Sapach, won the CSDH-SCHN (Canadian Society for Digital Humanities) Ian Lancashire Award for Graduate Student Promise at CSDHSCHN18 at Congress. The Award “recognizes an outstanding presentation at our annual conference of original research in DH by a graduate student.” She won the award for a paper on “Tagging my Tears and Fears: Text-Mining the Autoethnography.” She is completing an interdisciplinary PhD in Sociology and Digital Humanities. Bravo Sonja!
On Monday, April 23rd, a 25-year old man named Alek Minassian drove a rented van down a sidewalk in Toronto, killing eight women and two men. The attack was reminiscent of recent Islamist terror attacks in New York, London, Stockholm, Nice, and Berlin. Just before his massacre, he posted a note on Facebook announcing: “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161, the Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
Anders Wallace has published an essay in 3 Quarks Daily on Incels, Pickup Artists, and the World of Men’s Seduction Training that starts with the recent attack in Toronto by a self-styled “incel” Minassian who adapted a terror tactic and moves on to seduction training. Wallace has been participated in seduction training and immersed himself in the “manosphere” which he defines thus:
The manosphere is a digital ecosystem of blogs, podcasts, online forums, and hidden groups on sites like Facebook and Tumblr. Here you’ll find a motley crew of men’s rights activists, white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, angry divorcees, disgruntled dads, male victims of abuse, self-improvement junkies, bodybuilders, bored gamers, alt-righters, pickup artists, and alienated teenagers. What they share is a vicious response to feminists (often dubbed “feminazis”) and so-called “social justice warriors.” They blame their anger on identity politics, affirmative action, and the neoliberal state, which they perceive are compromising equality and oppressing their own free speech.
The essay doesn’t provide easy answers though one can find temptations (like the idea that these incels are men who were undermothered), instead it nicely surveys the loose network of ideas, resentments and desires that animate the manosphere. What stands out is the lack of alternative models of heterosexual masculinity. Too many of the mainstream role models we are presented with (from sports to media role models to superheros) reinforce characteristics incels want training in from stoicism to aggression.
More stories are coming out about Cambridge Analytica and the scraping of Facebook data. The Guardian has some important new articles:
- Leaked: Cambridge Analytica’s blueprint for Trump victory is about a set of slides used by CA to promote what they did. (See example above.) This shows how they peresented themselves to prospective clients.
- The Brexit whistleblower: ‘Did Vote Leave use me? Was I naive’ is about the setting up of BeLeave to skirt UK election spending laws and how funding went from BeLeave to AggregateIQ (AIQ) a Canadian data analytics company that is connected to CA and is supposed to have gotten about 40% of Vote Leave’s budget.
Perhaps the most interesting article is in The Conversation and argues that Claims about Cambridge Analytica’s role in Africa should be taken with a pinch of salt. The article carefully sets out evidence that CA didn’t have the effect they were hired to have in either the Nigerian election (when they failed to get Goodluck Jonathan re-elected) or the Kenyan election where they may have helped Uhuru Kenyatta stay in power. The authors (Gabrielle Lynch, Justin Willis, and Nic Cheeseman) talk about how,
Ahead of the elections, and as part of a comparative research project on elections in Africa, we set up multiple profiles on Facebook to track social media and political adverts, and found no evidence that different messages were directed at different voters. Instead, a consistent negative line was pushed on all profiles, no matter what their background.
They also point out that the majority of Kenyans are not on Facebook and that negative advertising has a long history. They conclude that exaggerating what they can do is what CA does.
Mother Jones has another story, one of the best summaries around, Cloak and Data, that questions the effectiveness of Cambridge Analytica when it comes to the Trump election. They point out how CA’s work before in Virginia and for Cruz at the beginning of the primaries doesn’t seem to have worked. They go on to suggest that CA had little to do with the Trump victory which instead was ascribed by Parscale, the head of digital operations, to investing heavily in Facebook advertising.
During an interview with 60 Minutes last fall, Parscale dismissed the company’s psychographic methods: “I just don’t think it works.” Trump’s secret strategy, he said, wasn’t secret at all: The campaign went all-in on Facebook, making full use of the platform’s advertising tools. “Donald Trump won,” Parscale said, “but I think Facebook was the method.”
The irony may be that Cambridge Analytica is brought down by its boasting, not what it actually did. Further irony is how it may bring down Facebook and finally draw attention to how our data is used to manipulate us, even though it didn’t work.
The story of Cambridge Analytica’s rise—and its rapid fall—in some ways parallels the ascendance of the candidate it claims it helped elevate to the presidency. It reached the apex of American politics through a mix of bluffing, luck, failing upward, and—yes—psychological manipulation. Sound familiar?
[N]etworks themselves offer ways in which bad actors – and not only the Russian government – can undermine democracy by disseminating fake news and extreme views. “These social platforms are all invented by very liberal people on the west and east coasts,” said Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s digital-media director, in an interview last year. “And we figure out how to use it to push conservative values. I don’t think they thought that would ever happen.” Too right.
The Globe and Mail this weekend had an essay by Niall Ferguson on how Social networks are creating a global crisis of democracy. The article is based on Ferguson’s new book The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power from the Freemasons to Facebook. The article points out that manipulation is not just an American problem, but also points out that the real problem is our dependence on social networks in the first place.