jrtom: (Default)
This has been making the rounds recently:

http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/05/22/pariser.filter.bubble/

The basic premise is that the information that you see on the web is becoming more personalized all the time:

these engines create a unique universe of information for each of us -- what I've come to call a filter bubble -- which fundamentally alters the way we encounter ideas and information


and this is problematic for the following reasons:

(1) "You're the only person in your bubble. In an age when shared information is the bedrock of shared experience, the filter bubble is a centrifugal force, pulling us apart."

(2) "The filter bubble is invisible...Google's agenda is opaque. Google doesn't tell you who it thinks you are, or why it's showing you the results you're seeing. You don't know if its assumptions about you are right or wrong -- and you might not even know it's making assumptions about you in the first place."

(3) "You don't choose to enter the bubble...personalized filters...come to you".


Google is not the only organization that comes under fire in this article--Facebook and Amazon also are mentioned--but Google is mentioned most prominently and consistently, presumably because it is the entity through which many people derive most of their information.


I'll start off by saying that much as I think that Google is cool, I hope that it never gets a monopoly on providing search results. It's important that there be viable choices--four or five good ones is a good start--for this service. We can make mistakes, and we won't always do the best job with every kind of information retrieval task. And if there's just one option, it makes it much more feasible for organizations to get access to information that they shouldn't (IMO). Defense in depth, memetic diversity, and all that--these things are critical to the healthy functioning of society.

I've also made specific proposals at work to suggest that we do some random perturbations of our search results in situations where our ranking algorithm doesn't really differentiate much, score-wise, between results, precisely to give our results a bit more diversity when it doesn't cost us anything (as far as we can tell).


All that said, I don't think that Mr. Pariser has really either (a) thought this through all the way nor (b) done his homework, at least so far as Google is concerned.

Before I respond to his specific points above, I'll point out that personalization is an incredibly useful approach to making any tool more useful, and search engines are no exception. If Google can determine that when I search for "latex" I am looking for information on typesetting rather than rubber fetishwear, so much the better. There's a universe of information out there and I don't have time to drink the whole thing. By all means, please do your best to give me the most relevant stuff.


Responding to his points in order:

(1) This is ridiculous. It's like saying that I am the only one who occupies this particular location in space-time and therefore I am isolated. Even if we suppose that I am the only person that has my particular combination of traits that Google measures, there are millions of people out there whose characteristics overlap strongly with mine. It's even stronger than that: customizing my information flow to my interests can help me discover people and communities and information to which I have existing implicit affinities that I might never have been able to run across otherwise.

(2) Dude. Do a search on "how to turn off personalized search". This will give you information on both how to do this and how to find out what kinds of factors are involved in personalization. This is not a new topic.
Could we be surfacing this better? Probably. But we do have to make some decisions about what information to give prominence to, or the search page gets incredibly cluttered. But the process (essentially, click on "view customizations" at the bottom of your search) is not difficult.

(3) There is some justice to this claim: I believe that search personalization is the default and while one can opt out, I don't know that we tell you up front when you create a Google Account that your results will be personalized.

That said: Google is not, and does not aspire to be, the _source_ of all information. We don't, for the most part, create content. We curate it, organize it, and try to make it accessible and useful. You, as a sentient being, are responsible for managing your inputs. We may decide that if you search for "rainforests" that you're more interested in organizations that want to preserve them unchanged than in organizations that want to extract the maximal resources from them at minimal cost, but nothing prevents you, or should, from searching for "rainforest preservation" or "rainforest resource extraction" instead. I don't really think that it's Google's job to help you break out of your rut.
jrtom: (safe cat)
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/19/opinion/19friedman.html?src=me&ref=general

There's just a little bit of irony here, as Friedman points out, and I'm not starting to celebrate just yet...but it looks encouraging, at least.
jrtom: (Default)
http://bsalert.com/news/2310/Jimmy_Carters_Proposed_Energy_Policy_In_1977.html

I've been saying that I've been looking forward to Obama being president (*crosses fingers*), in part because it would be nice to have an adult in the position.

I'd managed to forget that we already had one of those recently, and we didn't listen to him. *sigh*

(This doesn't change my mind. But it makes me a bit less optimistic.)
jrtom: (Default)
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-oped0314obamamar14,0,7185898.story

...[Obama] had an important topic to discuss: the controversy over President Bush's warrantless surveillance of international telephone calls between Americans and suspected terrorists. I had written a short essay suggesting that the surveillance might be lawful. Before taking a public position, Obama wanted to talk the problem through.

In about 20 minutes, he and I investigated the legal details. He asked me to explore all sorts of issues: the president's power as commander in chief, the Constitution's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Authorization for Use of Military Force and more.

Obama wanted to consider the best possible defense of what Bush had done. To every argument I made, he listened and offered a counterargument. After the issue had been exhausted, Obama said he thought the program was illegal, but now had a better understanding of both sides.


That's...impressive. Not many people I know go to that much trouble to make sure that they understand all sides of an issue before taking a stand on it, and I'm not aware of any politicians that behave so.

Of course the author of this article is biased...but if even half of what he says is accurate, he's got the potential to be a kickass President, by my standards at least.
jrtom: (Default)
http://www.10zenmonkeys.com/2007/11/26/the-open-source-party-proposal/

Hmm. This all seems a bit fuzzy, even for early stages...but it's an interesting idea.

What seems odd (to me) about it is that the proposed platform explicitly eschews addressing some pretty straightforward issues on which some useful progress has been made (several aspects of voting reform) and instead incorporates elements that seem sufficiently far out to ensure that the organization would be a splinter group at best (redesigning money).

But so far as the overall concept is concerned, I kind of like it.
jrtom: (Default)
http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2007/10/new_tsa_report.html

Summary: TSA employees have been approaching real actual travelers and asking them to accept something that looks like a bomb into their luggage, as a check on the functioning of the system.

Schneier brings up several good reasons why this is a bad idea, but misses what may arguably be the most significant (IMO).

Hint: does anyone remember that question that used to be asked at the airline counter: "has any person unknown to you given you an item to carry with you?" We've been trying to train people for years to report this sort of thing.

Let's suppose that this program becomes widely known. This negates the effects of the above-noted training.

How long do you suppose that it would be before we get a report of a plane being taken out by a bomb that was given to someone to carry...who believed that (a) the person who gave it to them was a TSA employee and (b) the bomb was a convincing fake?

(One of the commenters on the post says essentially that it's silly to suppose that the TSA would not authenticate their employees (that is, present convincing evidence that the employee is genuine before asking the passenger to accept a fake bomb). That misses the point, though...because the passengers won't know what the procedure is supposed to be...and recent events have been teaching civilians that the authorities can and will pop up in all sorts of unexpected ways and with unusual requests.)
jrtom: (Default)
http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/10/04/america/04interrogate.php

A few years ago, this would have been news.

Sadly, now it's to the point that a lot of people will say "it's all lies" or "it's irrelevant", and many more will say "yeah, we knew that already".

Where has our goddamned sense of outrage gone?
jrtom: (Default)
Bush:

"I thought long and hard about what it is like to be a leader of a country that has been torn asunder by a tyrant...broke up families to stay in power..."

http://weblogs.chicagotribune.com/news/politics/blog/2007/09/out_of_iraq_bush_speaks_of_tro.html

*sardonic look*
jrtom: (Default)
http://news.wired.com/dynamic/stories/G/GLOBAL_WARMING_REPORTS?SITE=WIRE&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

It's always refreshing to see a court ruling to state, in so many words, that the position of the US Government is simply "wrong".
jrtom: (Default)
http://www.who-sucks.com/business/made-in-china-2007-danger-timeline

A disturbingly lengthy list of products, produced in China, that have been recalled _just in 2007_. Lead paint figures prominently.

I don't want to point the finger at China particularly, as I don't know that their regulations of such things are any more (or less) stringent than any other country from which the US is buying cheap goods; we need to think about ways of coping with this sort of thing that aren't country-specific. But food for thought in the short term, nonetheless.
jrtom: (Default)
http://www.hrmacmillanspacecentre.com/calendar.htm

(SR is a SF author of whose work I'm generally quite fond, and his perspective makes for an interesting collection of essays.)
jrtom: (Default)
The ultimate high dive: http://www.popsci.com/popsci/aviationspace/3c082d2daa463110vgnvcm1000004eecbccdrcrd.html

Bogotá's "urban happiness movement", focusing on making city residents happier through tackling long commutes head-on: http://randomdude.com/blog/threads/2476-Hedonics-aka-Happiness-Economics

Building something like a functional hobbit-hole on the cheap: http://www.simondale.net/house/

The role of Cheney in the Bush administration, in 4 parts: http://blog.washingtonpost.com/cheney/

A pretty funny parody of a drug commercial with an anti-war-on-drugs message: http://www.drugpolicy.org/news/incarcerex.cfm

People that can (and will) print your business card on a peanut (shell): http://www.boingboing.net/2007/06/29/print_your_businessc.html

An interesting essay (and, including the original articles and the comments, a debate of sorts) on Wikipedia and its ilk: http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2007/06/27/knowledge_acces.html

Search engine for science videos: http://science.slashdot.org/science/07/07/01/1241250.shtml
jrtom: (Default)
http://environment.newscientist.com/channel/earth/dn11462

It's the New Scientist so it's not exactly high-quality science journalism...but it's not bad, and it's reasonably accessible.
jrtom: (Default)
http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/space/05/01/death.in.space.ap/index.html

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14002908/

Sounds like NASA is dodging a lot of these, but at least they're being brought up as issues that need to be addressed.
jrtom: (Default)
http://www.bris.ac.uk/news/2007/5367.html

I'm not sure how much is novel here, and I haven't looked at the article itself. However, the idea that drugs should be judged by relatively objective criteria--the amount of damage that they do to the user, the extent to which they induce dependence, and the concomitant effects on society--is so straightforward and rational as to be positively revolutionary. *sardonic smile*
jrtom: (Default)
rather than the other way around?

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-061018immig,1,5681999.story?coll=chi-news-hed

"We're going to seize your money, until and unless you can prove that it _was_ legitimately yours and not connected with any crime."

Remind me not to use Western Union to transfer money. (I'm glad to see that they're also suing over this, though.)

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