Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018


The Answering Machine

We often complain about human biases and errors when other people make decisions that have an impact on our lives. So the idea of letting less error-prone, unbiased, code-powered algorithms take over has a certain allure. But the machine is not your friend. The code was written by humans. And when mistakes are made, there's no one to complain to. In Quartz, Rachel O'Dwyer explains how algorithms are making the same mistakes assessing credit scores that humans did a century ago.

+ "Artificial intelligence may have cracked the code on certain tasks that typically require human smarts, but in order to learn, these algorithms need vast quantities of data that humans have produced. They hoover up that information, rummage around in search of commonalities and correlations, and then offer a classification or prediction (whether that lesion is cancerous, whether you'll default on your loan) based on the patterns they detect. Yet they're only as clever as the data they're trained on, which means that our limitations—our biases, our blind spots, our inattention—become theirs as well." Danielle Groen in The Walrus: How We Made AI As Racist and Sexist As Humans. (There are certain humans who still manage to maintain an edge...)

+ The Atlantic: The Future of AI Depends on High-School Girls.


Knee Jerks

Their league is built on a tough guy brand, but the NFL owners sure are a bunch of spineless wimps. Instead of addressing the controversy that motivated some players to kneel during the anthem, the league owners have managed to turn the kneeling itself into the controversy. From NPR: "Unveiling a new policy after months of controversy and debate over players taking a knee or otherwise making statements during the national anthem, the NFL says all of its athletes and staff 'shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem' if they're on the field." (The reason I always stand for the national anthem is because I live in a country that allows citizens not to.)


Sound and Fury

"We have medical teams that are moving to be on the ground there. We are working to figure out what took place both in Havana, and now in China, as well." Echoes Of Cuba? US Employee In China Hit With Sensations Of Sound And Pressure.


Lie Gate

Yes, there have been 17 indictments and five guilty pleas so far, but most Americans are somehow unaware of that aspect of the Mueller investigation. I'm guessing more are aware of the constant attacks on the FBI and Justice Department coming from the Oval Office. And now it has a name: NPR: Trump intensifies push on what he calls improper snooping with 'Spygate' brand.

+ "The guy who will end up burning in all this is [former C.I.A. director] John Brennan. If I were him I'd break the capsule and swallow it now. That psychopath is going down." Gabe Sherman in Vanity Fair: "That Psychopath Is Going Down." Inside Trumpworld, A Bizarre Counter-Narrative Takes Hold.

+ "The spy theory holds that the FBI, working on orders from the Obama administration, implanted a spy into the Trump campaign in order to help Hillary Clinton's campaign. This does not explain why the FBI failed to announce either the results of its spying campaign, or even the existence of the investigation, in time to help Clinton win, rather than allowing the probe to remain secret until well after the election." That's just one way Trump's FBI spy theory is completely insane. (Then again, we spent several weeks debating whether or not there were tapes of the Comey/Trump dinner.)

+ Meanwhile, back in reality, the pressure is building on Michael Cohen. From the BBC: Michael Cohen, received a secret payment of at least $400,000 to fix talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump. And Evgeny A. Freidman, Cohen's business partner, who is known as the Taxi King, is now cooperating with investigators.

+ Jared Kushner's security clearance has been restored.


Going Nowhere

"The reluctance to move is all the more confounding given how wide the opportunity gap has grown between the country's most dynamic urban areas and its struggling small cities and towns, a divide driven by a mix of factors that include technology, globalization, and economic concentration." Bloomberg: Why Do Americans Stay When Their Town Has No Future?

+ "Even with a surplus in demand for its product, Caterpillar CEO Jim Umpleby told investors last month the company will not invest in factory capacity. Instead, it plans to spend more on new technologies, expanding its parts business and selling more rental and used equipment." Reuters with a very interesting look at the new state of manufacturing supply and demand. Why Caterpillar can't keep up with a boom in demand.


American Authorial

"Updike and Bellow hold their flashlights out into the world, reveal the world as it is now. I dig a hole and shine my flashlight into the hole." Philip Roth, Towering Novelist Who Explored Lust, Jewish Life and America, Dies at 85. (One of my favorite authors and three of my favorite topics...)

+ "She was so deeply embedded in my consciousness that for the first year of school I seem to have believed that each of my teachers was my mother in disguise." The Ringer: The Iconic Profanity—and Essential Anthropology—of Portnoy's Complaint.

+ "I occasionally have an anti-Roth reader in mind. I think, 'How he is going to hate this!' That can be just the encouragement I need." The Paris Review interview with Philip Roth.


Gray, Stoked

"Seniors simply don't want to be placed on what one developer called 'islands of old age.' Urbanized developments offer seniors health and social benefits, a greater sense of independence, and more of the intergenerational connectedness they crave." Curbed on the changing face of retirement: Apartment living, active lifestyles, and rural homes.

+ America's graying population in three maps.


First Lady Parts Unknown

"There was a railroad running through it, a maze of narrow roads extending up from the valley floor and into the verdant hills. The houses were average-sized, and most were yellow or white or peach. The rooftops were brick red; the church steeples were green copper. By the river stood a large sculpture of a shoe—a possible Cinderella reference and nod to Melania's journey to the White House? No, Sevnica was home to a large shoe factory." In The New Yorker, the excellent Vendela Vida reflects on that time she took her family on a detour through Slovenia: Searching for Melania Trump's Childhood Home.


Sleep it Off

"However the effect of short sleeps over a few days may be countered by a later lie-in. The research found that individuals who managed just a few hours' sleep each day during the week but then had a long snooze at weekends had no raised mortality risk." I read a lot of personal health studies. Very few of them are supportive my lifestyle. But it turns out that staying up until two in the morning during the week and then sleeping on the couch with my dogs for the entire weekend is a reasonably healthy way to go. The Guardian: Weekend lie-ins could help you avoid an early death. "Dad, want to play catch?"... "I can't. I'm avoiding death."


Bottom of the News

"He answered their questions, telling them he occupies a bedroom in his parents' home, doesn't speak to them and isn't ready to leave home. He said he had a business but wouldn't elaborate. 'My business is my business,' he said." AP: Parents go to court to boot 30-year-old son from home. (Luckily, I was able to wear my parents down by the time I turned 40.)

+ "She has made herself vulnerable. She has taken the risk of adapting her comedy to a more mature and genuine worldview, and so the obvious question here is: Can she pull it off? Or does being a better person make you a worse comic?" GQ: Sarah Silverman Is the Troll Slayer.

+ "A federal judge in New York ruled Wednesday that President Trump may not block users from following his Twitter account because the social media platform is a 'public forum' protected by the First Amendment." (This is why I'll never run for office. Giving up my Twitter blocking privileges is a price higher than I'm willing to pay...)