Personalization (Hobson’s Choice?)

Straight from the horses mouth:

“Doubts have been raised over whether personalisation to this extent is even desirable for society. There’s a fear that filters will become so narrow, we’ll wind up living in a bubble of our own prejudice,” said Schmidt.

“In practical terms – what’s the alternative?” he then asked. “Without some form of filtering, we would drown in information. So the real question is, if not personalisation, what kind of filtering should we have? The nanny model where someone else has the power to dictate what you should and shouldn’t see? Or the lucky dip model where things are plucked out at random? To my mind, both these alternatives to personalisation are far worse.”

— Eric Schmidt, MacTagart Lecture, 2011.

How about doing the responsible thing, not assuming that you always know best, and giving control back to the user? It’s a struggle to see how what G is doing now isn’t exactly the “nanny model”, as they are using their “power to dictate what you should and shouldn’t see”.

Anyway, nice job presenting a false dichotomy Eric. It’s understood that PageRank, on it’s own, is no longer enough to please your customers, but does that mean that it shouldn’t be available as an option to the minions?

Good Questions for Noda

Over at Shisaku, Michael Cucek asks some good questions about what happens next. This one especially is a puzzler:

Does a rush to the bond market, heartened by Noda’s message of a reduction of Japan’s deficts (reducing the debt is not a realistic prospect) send the stock market into a tailspin?

It’s a good question but there are massive contradictions to deal with here. While sending out a message that basically says “we’ll increase the tax base (eventually) to reduce the deficit”, Noda is signalling that he’s in favour of weakening the Yen. In any rational world the Yen should be going to hell, and yet somehow (hmm, what could it be?! An export economy, importing the majority of it’s raw materials priced in dollars, perhaps?) the Yen, along with the Swiss Franc, is stronger than ever. The FT reports today that the Yen is now 47% higher against than it was in 2008. Ouch.

It seems things are not entirely reality based. The US and Europe are in a desperate race to the bottom, and Japan really can’t compete in the financial armageddon stakes. My guess is that Noda will be forced to live with a strong yen, and a high debt level. Meanwhile something with force of the PIIGS into a default, bondholders will (with bad grace) eat their loses, and lash out, bring down all sorts of mayhem on all our heads. At the end of all this Japan will still owe it’s citizens a bunch of money, but not much else will change there.

The adage about the futility of betting against the Yen is likely to hold a little longer…

Paying it Forward?

This seems like an interesting experiment:

Sponsorship logos and advertising have become part and parcel of soccer matches and other spectator sports. One German newspaper, however, thinks the commercialization of sports has gone too far. Steffen Grimberg, of the left-oriented German paper die tageszeitung (taz), explained to Deutsche Welle why the left-oriented daily has decided to blur out sponsorship logos in its sports photos.

There doesn’t appear to be a great deal of coverage of this, which isn’t all the surprising. It seems to be mostly an attempt at attention grabbing / antagonism:

I’d say it’s more than just a stunt. Of course it has these elements of being provocative, of being perhaps a bit shocking, doing the out of the ordinary thing.

Obviously the sponsors aren’t paying the newspapers for promoting their brands in their sports coverage, and there is no sense here that is what Taz is angling for. Nonetheless it must feel akin to a poke in the eye to the sponsors. Everyone is supposed to be in this mess of branding together, paying if forward, playing their part to promote the required escalation of consumption. Pointing out that it is becoming overwhelming is akin to suggesting that the monarch is parading starkers.

That said, Germany is the least branded country that i’ve lived in. Admitted that isn’t saying much having grown up in the UK, moved to the US, and then onto Japan…

[Looking at their Sports page in the online version, it doesn’t look they’re trying the experiment online.]


Really wasn’t sure how this was going to work out. Most of my reading over the last few years has been non-fiction. Something about the re-release of the trilogy of Gormenghast completed books, in a single illustrated edition, appealed to me.

Started reading it last night, ploughed through fifty pages before the bulk of the thing got too be much – it’s a thousand good quality pages. And, wow! Really didn’t want to put it down. The writing just folds around you, like some big heavy oppressively warm blanket. The atmosphere invoked by it all is more than simply strange; it is bizarre, unsettling, unnerving. In the extreme.

It doesn’t feel like anything i’ve ever read before… truly unique? Anyway, highly recommended. You can dip your toe in and read extracts here.

Search Quality and Filter Bubbles

Stumbled on the TED video below today while looking at another search engine. It’s becoming a hobby of mine. This one is DuckDuckGo, which just has to be the most ridiculous naming idea i’ve seen in a while! Still, simple interface, no tracking, interesting built-in functions, automatic filtering of those link harvesting scum, mediocre to poor search results (at least for me).

The talk very clearly expresses a point that i’ve struggled to get my head around for a while: personalised search is impossible to do correctly. Why? Because the ranking algorithm can never see into the mind of the user. It has to assume that ‘past behaviour is an indication of future success’, which is obviously problematic.

By way of example: I’m a hardcore climate change denier. The search history that my search provider has dutifully collected for me over years of my denial greatly helps them in presenting me with highly relevant climate change denial links. If there are two groups of sites out there, one presenting straightforward scientific analysis and another trashing the latest bunk for those crazy government fed hippy freaks, it’s far more likely that the top results will be from the debunkers. No wonder my denial is bordering on delusion.

Yes, it’s an obviously hyperbolic example, but not actually all that dissimilar to those given in the video. The tools we’re using are insulating us from views that conflict with those we’re already deemed to hold.

The idea that FB would presume to decide which of your friends you’d like to hear from is bizarre to me. If you have so many contacts that you can’t process all their output, it probably a sign that you’ve exceeded your online Dumbar number (I made that part up), not that you’d like FB to start silencing a few people.

I’m fully expecting someone to lightheartedly wish them luck sorting of the terribly diverse set of search terms / friends that they deal with… That works as a reason not to care, if you’re convinced that the rest of society holds an equally diverse set of views, or is managing to maintain them in the face of this winnowing.

The other interesting factoid was the Heinz Varieties sized number (57?!) of parameters that G is using as input to the ranking. I’m struggling to imagine what on earth those can be; starting with obvious stuff, location, browser, browser version (fun to think about what conclusion you’d draw for ranking based on how up to date the browser is!),  O/S, screen size, connected via https, er, and now i’m struggling. Anyway, the point is that any ranking system that works off up to 57 parameters sounds ridiculously over designed.

Maybe they’re expecting to achieve sentience? If it does hopefully it’ll quickly tell them they’re wasting their time trying to implement mind reading…

Edit: longer discussion on BBC Radio. Worth a listen.

Wild In The Woods Pt. 4345

Another one of these. Taken in the Stadtpark a few minutes walk from our place. Early mornings with that damp morning air and the first tickles of sunlight.

Edit: went to check, doing it better than they are… waiting for the work to start flooding in.

Edit 2: it’s a funny old world; now i’m listening to Dreams Made Flesh (back in the day she played that thing herself…), and compulsively repeating the hair-standing-on-end experience of watching Lisa Gerrard playing it live at the Town & Country Club, which looked a lot like this, but wasn’t because it was a few years later.

It was Globalisation that done it!

This opinion piece by Jeffrey Sachs comes closest to lining up with my long posited theory that the introduction of asia’s (mostly China) workforce into the world economy was going to be like a python swallow a buffalo.

Jobs for low-skilled workers in manufacturing, and new investments in large swaths of industry, have been lost to international competition. Employment in the US and Europe during the 2000s was held up only by housing construction stoked by low interest rates and reckless deregulation – until the construction bubble collapsed. The path to recovery now lies not in a new housing bubble, but in upgraded skills, increased exports and public investments in infrastructure and low-carbon energy. Instead, the US and Europe have veered between dead-end, consumption-oriented stimulus packages and austerity without a vision for investment.

Not only has anglo-saxonia failed to create jobs, it has set up a divisive situation where only the rich can benefit from globalisation. The problem is that this is only the start of things. Now that the asian economies have a foot on the skill ladder, there is no need for them to be satisfied with the low skilled jobs. And, in stark contrast to your average low-skilled european worker, these people are highly motivated to succeed, if not for themselves then certainly for their children.

The Wests standard of living, and indeed global supremacy, is under attack as never before.