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Thoughts on The Russians Intervention in the US Elections. Allegedly.

I got a call last night on whether I want to come to the morning show on TV and talk about Google’s recent findings of alleged Russian sponsored political advertising. Advertising that could have impacted the last US elections results, joining other similar discoveries on Facebook and Twitter and now Microsoft is also looking for clues. At first instant, I wanted to say, what is there to say about it but still, I agreed as a recent hobby of mine is being guested on TV shows:) So this event got me reading about the subject quite a bit later at night and this early morning to be well prepared, and the discussion was good, a bit light as expected from a morning show but good enough to be informative for its viewers. What struck me later on while contemplating on the actual findings is the significant vulnerability uncovered in this incident, the mere exploitation of that weakness by Russians (allegedly) and the hazardous path technology has taken us in recent decades while changing human behavior.

The Russian Intervention Theory

The summarize it: there are political forces and citizens in the United States which are worried about the depth of Russian intervention in the elections, and part of that is whether the social networks and digital mediums were exploited via digital advertising and to what extent. The findings until now show that advertising campaigns at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars have been launched via organizations that seem to be tied to the Russians. And these findings take place across the most prominent social networks and search engines.  The public does not know yet what was the nature of the advertising on each platform, who is behind this adverts and whether there was some cooperation of the advertisers with the people behind Trump’s campaign. This lack of information and especially the nature of the suspicious adverts leads to many theories, and although my mind is full of crazy ideas it seems that sharing them will only push the truth further away. So I won’t do that. The nature of the adverts is the most important piece of the puzzle since based on their content and variation patterns one can deduce whether they had a synergistic role with Trump’s campaign and what was the thinking behind them. Especially due to the fact the campaigns that were discovered are strangely uniform across all the advertising networks budget wise. As the story unfolds we will become wiser.

How To Tackle This Threat

This phenomenon is of concern to any democracy on the planet with concerned citizens which spend enough time on digital means such as Facebook and there are some ways to improve the situation:

Regulation

Advertising networks make their money from adverts. The core competence of these companies is to know who you are and to promote commercial offerings in the most seamless way. Advertisements which are of political nature without any commercial offerings behind them are abusing this information targeting and delivery mechanism to control the mindset of people. Same as it happens in advertisements on television where on TV there is a control on such content. There is no rational reason why digital advertising networks will get a free pass to allow anyone to broadcast any message on their networks without no accountability in the case of non-commercial offerings. These networks were not built for brainwashing and the customers, us, deserve a high level of transparency in this case which should be supervised and enforced by the regulator. So if there is an advert which is not of commercial nature, it should be emphasized that it is an advert (many times the adverts blend so good with the content that even identifying them is a difficult task), what is the source of the funding for the advert with a link to the website of the funder. If the advertising networks team up to define a code of ethics which will be self-enforced among them maybe regulation is not needed. At the moment we, the users, are misled and hurt by the way their service is rendered now.

Intelligence

The primary advertising networks (FB, Google, Twitter, Microsoft) have vast machine learning capabilities, and they should employ these to identify anomalies. Assuming regulation will be in place whether governmental or just self-regulation, there will be groups which will try to exploit these rules and here comes the role of technology in the pursuit for identifying deviations from the rules. Whether it is about identifying the source of funding of a campaign automatically and alerting such anomalies at real-time up to identifying automated strategies such as brute force AB testing done by an army of bots. Investing in technology to make sure everyone is complying with the house rules. Part of such an effort is opening up the data about the advertisers and campaigns of non-commercial products to the public to allow third-party companies to work on identification of such anomalies and to innovate in parallel to the advertising networks. Same goes for other elements in the networks which can be abused such as Facebook pages.

Last Thoughts on the Incident

  • How come no one identified the adverts in real time during elections. I would imagine there were complaints about specific ads during elections and how come no complaint escalated a more in-depth research into a specific campaign. Maybe there is too much reliance on bots which manage the self-service workflow for such advertising tools - the dark side of automation.
  • Looking out for digital signs that the Russians cooperated in this campaign with the Trump campaign seems far-fetched to me. The whole idea of a parallel campaign is the separation where synchronization if such took place it was probably done verbally without any digital traces.
  • The mapping of the demographic database that was allegedly created by Cambridge Analytica into the targeting taxonomy of Facebook, for example, is an extremely powerful tool for AB Testing via microtargeting. A perfect cost-efficient tool for mind control.
  • Why everyone assumes that the Russians are in favor of Trump? No one that raises the option that maybe the Russians had a different intention or perhaps it was not them. Reminds me alot of the fruitless efforts to attribute cyber attacks.
More thoughts on the weaknesses of systems and what can be done about it in a future post.

Will Artificial Intelligence Lead to a Metaphorical Reconstruction of The Tower of Babel?

The story of the Tower of Babel (or Babylon) has always fascinated me as God got seriously threatened by humans if and only they would all speak the same language. To prevent that God confused all the languages spoken by the people on the tower and scattered them across the earth. Regardless of different personal religious beliefs of whether it happened or not the underlying theory of growing power when humans interconnect is intriguing and we live at times this truth is evident. Writing, print, the Internet, email, messaging, globalization and social networks are all connecting humans. Connections which dramatically increase humanity competence in many different frontiers. The mere development of science and technology can be attributed to communications among people, as Issac Newton once said "standing on the shoulders of giants". Still, our spoken languages are different and although English has become a de-facto language for doing business in many parts of the world still there are many languages across the globe and the communications barrier is still there. History had also seen multiple efforts to create a unified language such as Esperanto which did not work eventually. Transforming everyone to speak the same language seems almost impossible as language is being taught at a very early age so changing that requires a level of synchronization, co-operation and motivation which does not exist. Even when you take into account the recent highly impressive developments in natural language processing by computers achieving real-time translation the presence of the medium will always interfere. A channel in the middle creating conversion overhead and loss of context and meaning.

Artificial Intelligence can be on its path to change that. Reverting the story of the Tower of Bable. Different emerging fields in AI have the potential to merge and turn into a platform used for communicating with others without going through the process of lingual expression and recognition:

Avatar to Avatar

One direction it may happen is that our avatar, our digital residual image on some cloud, will be able to communicate with other avatars in a unified and agnostic language. Google, Facebook and Amazon build today complex profiling technologies aimed to understand the user needs, wishes and intentions. Currently, they do that in order to optimize their services. Adding to these capabilities means of expression of intentions and desires and on the other side, understanding capabilities can lead to the avatar to avatar communications paradigm. It will take a long time until these avatars will reflect our true self in real-time but still many communications can take place even beforehand. As an example let's say my avatar knows what I want for birthday and my birthday is coming soon. My friend avatar can ask at any point in time my avatar what do I want to get for my birthday and my avatar can respond in a very relevant manner.

Direct Connection

The second path that can take place is inline with the direction of Elon Musk's Neuralink concept or Facebook's brain integration idea. Here the brain-to-world connectors will be able not only to output our thoughts to the external world in a digital way but also to understand other people's thoughts and translate them back to our brain. Brain-to-world-to-brain. The interim format of translation is important though an efficient one can be achieved probably. One caveat in this direction is the assumption that our brain is structured in an agnostic manner based on abstract concepts and is not made of the actual language constructs. The constructs a person used in order to learn about the world in its own language. If each brain wiring is subjective to the individual's constructs of understanding the digestion of others' thoughts will be impossible.

Final Thought

A big difference vs. the times of Babylon is the fact there are so many humans today vs. back then which makes the potential of such wiring explosive.

Softbank eating the world

Softbank acquired BostonDynamics, the four legs robots maker, alongside secretive Schaft, two-legged robots maker. Softbank, the perpetual acquirer of emerging leaders, has entered a foray into artificial life by diluting their stakes in media and communications and setting a stronghold into the full supply chain of artificial life. The chain starts with chipsets where ARM was acquired but then a quarter of the holdings were divested since Google (TPU) and others have shown that specialized processors for artificial life are no longer a stronghold of giants such as Intel. The next move was acquiring a significant stake in Nvidia. Nvidia is the leader in general purpose AI processing workhorse but more interesting for Softbank are their themed vertical endeavors such as the package for autonomous driving. These moves set a firm stance in the two ends of the supply chain, the processors and the final products. It lays down a perfect position for creating a Tesla like company (through holdings) that can own the new emerging segment of artificial creatures. It remains to be seen what would be the initial market for these creatures, whether it will be the consumer market or the defense though their position in the chipsets domain will allow them to make money either way. The big question is what would be the next big acquisition target in AI. It has to be a major anchor in the supply chain, right in between the chipsets and the final products and such acquisition will reveal the ultimate intention towards what artificial creatures we will see first coming into reality. A specialized communications infrastructure for communicating with the creatures efficiently (maybe their satellites activity?) as well as some cloud processing framework would make sense. P.S. The shift from media into AI is a good hint on which market matured already and which one is emerging. P.S. What does this say about Alphabet, the fact they sold Boston Dynamics? P.S. I am curious to see what is their stance towards patents in the world of AI

Random Thoughts About Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2017 Presentation

Random thoughts regarding Mary Meeker's Internet Trends 2017 report:

Slide #5

The main question that popped in mind was where are the rest of the people? Today there are 3.4B internet users where the world has a population of 7.5B. Could be interesting to see who are the other non-digital 4 billion humans. Interesting for reasons such as understanding the growth potential of the internet user base (by the level of difficulty of penetrating the different remaining segments) as well as identifying unique social patterns in general. Understanding the social demographics of the 3.4B connected ones can be valuable as well as a baseline for understanding the rest of the statistics in the presentation. Another interesting fact is that global smartphones shipments grew by 3% while the growth in smartphones installed base was 12% - that gap represents the pace of the slowdown in the global smartphones market growth and can be used as a predictor for next years.

Slide #7

Interesting to see that the iOS market share in the smartphone world follows similar patterns to Mac in the PC world. In the smartphone world, Apple market share is a bit higher vs. the PC market share but still carries similar proportions.

Slide #13

The gap fill of ad spending vs. time spent in media across time follows nicely the physical law of conservation of mass. Print out, mobile in.

Slide #17

Measuring advertising ROI is still is a challenge even when advertising channels have become fully digital - a symptom of the offline/online divide in conversion tracking which has not been bridged yet.

Slide #18

It seems as if there is a connection between the massive popularity of ad blockers on mobile vs. the advertising potential on mobile. If there is such then the suggested potential can not be fulfilled due to the existence of ad blockers and the level of tolerance users have on mobile which is maybe the reason ad blockers are so popular on mobile in the first place.

Slide #25

99% accurately tracking is phenomenal though the question is whether it can scale as a business model - will a big enough audience opt-in for such tracking and what will be done about the battery drain resultant of such tracking. This hyper monitoring if achieved on a global scale will become an interesting privacy and regulation debate.

Slide #47

Amazon Echo numbers are still small regardless of the hype level. Could be fascinating to see the level of usage of skills. The number of skills is very impressive but maybe misleading (many find a resemblance to the hyper growth in apps). The increase in the apps world was not only in the number of apps created but also in the explosive growth in usage (downloads, buys) - here we see only the inventory.

Slide #48

This, of course, is a serious turning point in the world of user interfaces and will be reflected in many areas, not only in home assistants.

Slide #81

2.4B Gamers?!? The fine print says that you need to play a game at least once in three months which is not a gamer by my definition.

Slide #181

Do these numbers include shadow IT in the cloud or does it reflect concrete usage of cloud resources by the enterprise? There is a big difference between an organization deploying data center workload into the cloud vs. using a product which is behind the scenes partially hosted in the cloud such as Salesforce. Totally different state of mind in terms of overcoming cloud inhibitions.

Slide #183

The reduction in concerns about data security in the cloud is a good sign of maturity and adoption. Cloud can be as secure as any data center application and even much more though still many are afraid of that uncertainty.

Slide #190

The reasons cloud applications are categorized as not enterprise-ready is not necessarily due to their security weakness. The adoption of cloud products inside the enterprise follow other paths such as level of integration into other systems, customization fit to the specific industry, etc...

Slide #191

The reason for the weaponization of spam is simply due to the higher revenue potential for spam botnets operators. Sending plain spam can earn you money, sending a malware can make you much more.

Slide #347

Remarkable to see that the founders of the largest tech companies are 2nd and 3rd generation of immigrants. That's all for now.

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