#AxisOfEasy 160: Can You Tell If This Issue Was Written By An Algorithm?

Weekly Axis Of Easy #160

Last Week’s Quote was “We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office” …was Aesop, winner was Karim Saliba, although I think Jim Wilkes got it first but posted it to #158, we’ll give it to them both.

This Week’s Quote: “When the search for truth is confused with political advocacy, the pursuit of knowledge is reduced to the quest for power.” by ….???

THE RULES: No searching up the answer, must be posted to the blog.  The place to post the answer is at the bottom of the post, in the comments section.

The Prize:  First person to post the correct answer gets their next domain or hosting renewal on us.

We have launched AxisOfEasy.com!  Please help us get the word out and tell your friends and colleagues to check out the new website portal and subscribe to our various tendrils there.

In this issue:  
  • World grinds to a halt as Zoom crashes globally
  • Facebook testing “virality” circuit breaker
  • Copywriters brace for “GPT-3 shock” as Microsoft replaces journalists with AI
  • Microsoft finally killing Internet Explorer 
  • Former Uber exec charged with concealing a data breach
  • Secret Service bought access to cellphone location data
  • Chinese iOS SDK steals click revenue from other ad networks
  • AoE 18: The Endgame of Financialization Resembles a Philip K Dick Novel


World grinds to a halt as Zoom crashes globally

This morning (or yesterday morning by the time you read this), Zoom experienced a major outage across the USA and many parts of Europe.  Both free and paid users were unable to join meetings and in this period of near exclusive remote work, that was a problem. 

The outage occurred on what was the first day of classes for numerous high schools and universities across the US and many teachers were using Zoom to conduct remote classes.

At the time of writing, service has been restored but Zoom’s status page did not disclose any post mortem or RFO.

Facebook testing “virality” circuit breaker

According to a report via The Interface, Facebook is currently testing some manner of “virality circuit breaker”, which would slam the brakes on {unauthorized truthiness} misinformation before it spreads too widely. 

Recently the Center For American Progress, a think tank founded by John Podesta, issued a report urging that tech platforms introduce circuit breakers to dampen the spread of so-called “Coronavirus misinformation” (and I phrase it that way because when it comes to Coronavirus, quite a lot of yesterday’s “misinformation” came from official sources like the WHO and CDC).

This goes back to an article I wrote a few weeks ago about the new digital Samizdat, where people are now afraid to voice their political opinions in public.  When Big Tech sets itself up as an obstacle instead of a lubricant for people’s ability to express themselves or their opinions, they are incentivizing them to use back-channel methods to share their beliefs or their views with their colleagues.  Email, private message and new encrypted platforms like Telegram, Signal and Keybase will all benefit from this while Big Tech further marginalizes themselves.

Read: https://outofthecave.io/articles/the-backchannel-backlash-against-toxic-virtue-mongers/

On a related note, on this week’s AxisOfEasy Salon I will be interviewing Minds.com CEO Bill Ottman.  Minds is a challenger social network to Facebook.

Copywriters brace for “GPT-3 shock” as Microsoft replaces journalists with AI

This morning somebody posted in my Facebook timeline a link to this Wall Street Journal article about a new AI natural language suite called GPT-3, she captioned it something along the lines of “Ad Copywriters will be among those replaced by AI, remember where you heard it first”. 

The WSJ reports: 

“Its ability to interact in English and generate coherent writing have been startling hardened experts, who speak of “GPT-3 shock.”

Where typical AI systems are trained for specific tasks—classifying images, playing Go—GPT-3 can handle tasks it was never specifically trained for.  Research released by its maker, San Francisco-based OpenAI, has found that GPT-3 can work out analogy questions from the old SAT with better results than the average college applicant.  It can generate news articles that readers may have trouble distinguishing from human-written ones.”

When testing concludes OpenAI will be releasing it as a commercial product.

I had already flagged the news that Microsoft was laying off “dozens of journalists” and replacing them with AI.  “Many of the affected workers are part of Microsoft’s SANE (search, ads, News, Edge) division, and are contracted as human editors to help pick stories.” (Translation:  the AI can copy-and-paste with the best of them). 

My reply to the Facebook comment was “It will never happen, remember where you heard it first”.  The reason AI will never be able to replace an experienced, effective copywriter is because good ad copy connects on an emotional level, and algos don’t have emotions.  They never will because our premise around the nature of consciousness is fundamentally backwards and wrong, therefore, computers will never “think” in ways we ascribe to wide AI as eventually having.  Sorry to wax too philosophically on this point, but this is what my next book “The Singularity Has Been Canceled” is all about. 

Read: https://www.wsj.com/articles/an-ai-breaks-the-writing-barrier-11598068862

So-called AI is already being used to generate so-called content.  When I read earnings reports and conference call transcripts I’m pretty sure I can tell which ones have been generated by algos.  The day somebody comes up with an algo that can generate an issue of AxisOfEasy that people can’t tell that it wasn’t written by a snarky curmudgeon who’s been in the business too long, I’ll concede defeat.


Microsoft finally killing Internet Explorer 

This year Microsoft will finally be killing the Internet Explorer browser, as it has been superseded by Edge.  Recall we reported in AoE 156 how Microsoft made the Chromium-based Edge browser the default after a Windows forced upgrade, as well as making it impossible to uninstall. 

The IE phase out will take place between November 30, 2020 – August 17, 2021.

Former Uber exec charged with concealing a data breach

Uber’s former Chief Security Officer is facing a felony obstructing justice charge over an incident in 2016 when hackers penetrated the ride sharing giant’s network, stealing the personal data of 57 million users.  Joe Sullivan is alleged to have paid said hackers $100,000 USD to keep the breach quiet as part of a cover-up of the incident:

“”Sullivan is being charged with a corporate cover-up and Sullivan is being charged with the payment of hush money to conceal something that should have been revealed,” David Anderson, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, told NPR.”

Which begs the question:  why isn’t the company being charged?  Sullivan is obviously the designated fall guy, Uber is feigning shock, claiming that withholding disclosure of the 2016 until a year later (which, in Europe, is a violation of EU GDPR, btw) is somehow an epitome of transparency and corporate responsibility. 

Also Uber: https://outofthecave.io/articles/even-unicorns-get-the-blues/

Secret Service bought access to cellphone location data

The US Secret Service has awarded a contract to smartphone tracking company Babel Street, to include their “Locate X” functionality into their social media surveillance tools.  We first mentioned Babel Street a couple weeks ago in AxisOfEasy #158 in the context of their pissing contest with Anomaly Six, another private surveillance firm started by a couple of ex-Babel Street personnel. 

Looks like Babel Street won this round. 

“Locate X as a powerful tracking tool that aggregates data from popular phone apps, then lets buyers track the location history of devices that were active at a specific time and place.  It reported that the Secret Service, US Customs and Border Patrol, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have all used the product.”

The terms of the deal were obtained via an FOIA request made by VICE’s Motherboard.

Read: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/jgxk3g/secret-service-phone-location-data-babel-street

Chinese iOS SDK steals click revenue from other ad networks

A software security firm called Snyk has released a report detailing how a free iOS SDK hijacks third-party clicks and changes the referral codes to steal click revenue.  The SDK is made available from a Chinese ad network called Mintegral, which allows third-party developers to use its SDK for free by merely adding a few lines of code to their apps.

“Snyk claims the iOS version of this SDK contains malicious features that sit silently in an iOS app’s background and wait for a tap on any ad that’s not its own…When an ad tap takes place, the Mintegratal SDK hijacks the click referral process, making it appear to the underlying iOS operating system that the user clicked on one of its ads, instead of a competitor’s, effectively robbing revenue from other SDKs and advertising networks.”

Oh, the rogue SDK also logs user information and data as well, capturing the entirety of each URL request, which may include authentication tokens, and the device’s unique IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers).

Read: https://snyk.io/blog/sourmint-malicious-code-ad-fraud-and-data-leak-in-ios/

The findings: https://snyk.io/research/sour-mint-malicious-sdk/

AoE 18: The Endgame of Financialization Resembles a Philip K Dick Novel

In last week’s salon, Charles, Jesse and myself talked about the dichotomy between scarcity and abundance and how obsolescence can lead to gluts.  Analogies were made between various aspects of pop culture and content creation (music, writing, blogging) and the financialization of everything and the gig economy.   Jesse challenged us both to be more optimistic about this state of affairs, and our advice to those seeking to avoid neo-feudal slavery.

Watch / Listen: https://axisofeasy.com/podcast/salon-18-the-endgame-of-financialization-resembles-a-philip-k-dick-novel/

One thought on “#AxisOfEasy 160: Can You Tell If This Issue Was Written By An Algorithm?

  1. Obviously, this issue was written by an algorithm. I suspected from the start but was convinced when I read “…Chinese ad network called Mintegral”. Chinese can’t pronounce ‘Mintegral’.

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