ISSUE 1.30

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Believing In Robots

Technological faith, bots outnumbering humans, therapeutic bots, android detection, and more.

Hi there. I met a cool internet person who does their own little internet thing and they put a "theme song" for their piece that was so charming I thought I wanted to try it too. Here's something for you to listen to while you read this one -- fittingly, titled, Monday.

[aeon.co]

fAIth

Make no mistake - hardcore technologism and atheism can be religious in every manner except content. And going beyond just the tryhard, insecure verysmart 20-something atheists who take it to be their personal mission to deconvert as many people as possible (all the while being euphoric, enlightened by their own intelligence), transhumanists seek a literal afterlife which is, belief-wise, every bit as real (and out there) as the various heavens and fates that the religious believe in.

Whether it's to build "a god-like being of infinite knowing (the singularity); an escape of the flesh and this limited world (uploading our minds); a moment of transfiguration or ‘end of days’ (the singularity as a moment of rapture); prophets (even if they work for Google); demons and hell (even if it’s an eternal computer simulation of suffering), [or] evangelists who wear smart suits (just like the religious ones do)", transhumanists believe some crazy shit. But it's cool. Most of us do. Life is just more interesting that way.

[theringer.com]

Woebot Is Therapy Inside a Chatbot

Just today, I saw a car with a giant sticker posted on it - "GOT ANGST?" It was owned by a therapist offering counseling and therapy, which makes sense. But it felt so on the nose. I pondered to myself, is this marketing effective with "the kids"? (Christ, am I not a kid anymore? I'm only 25. I swear I'm still eligible.) Perhaps it hits that oh-so-trendy me_irl mental hook, yeah i have angst hahaha ha ha ha oh god maybe i should call that therapist--anyways, like all those "Have depression? Feeling sad?" Facebook marketing posts (I do NOT need therapy, thanks ad targeting), Woebot seems a bit on the nose, too. At only $9/per week (read: $36/mo), it's cheaper than real therapy, but I can't help but feel strangely about outsourcing a robot to do very human work.

As the article discusses, a bot can help you deal with digitizing details like mood tracking, or even acting as a sounding board, but I can't help but I'd feel like a moron spilling all of my problems to a robot. Why not just get a dog? (Oh. Because I live in an apartment and work a 9-5.) Not to mention concerns about data mining, privacy leaks, there's the depressing realization that I can't really afford proper therapy, and this is a real second-rate solution to having a friend who cares and understands to talk to.

Clearly, you can see I'm really bumming on the idea (maybe I do need therapy)--but on the upswing, if you don't go into with a completely skeptical point of view and use it for what it is, you could actually get something off your chest or out of your mind or find a way to learn to examine yourself, which is the most powerful skill of all. Even writing a letter and then throwing it away helps--it's the act of expression, not necessarily the act of communication that matters.

[thehill.com]

When 'bots' outnumber humans, the public comment process is meaningless

This is a pretty interesting article on the recent FCC Net Neutrality rollback plan. It's also a little depressing. They found that 20% of the comments in favor of net neutrality were varying mixtures of identical, using fake names or addresses, or using (multiple times) addresses scraped from published hacked database dumps. I noted that they didn't mention how many were created by those opposing net neutrality. Regardless, the article's main assertion is that public commentary becomes useless as the internet's anonymity and automatability makes it impossible to hold people accountable--or to accurately judge numbers.

But I disagree. If you ask me, the public comment process, when truly opened up to the public (by which I mean literally everyone), becomes meaningless noise anyway. Important decisions like these, which have money and power at stake, are always decided by the oligarchs and/or the privileged and informed. A public comment section is a farce if those who hold it don't actually intend to listen to those with opinions to voice. Skepticism aside, we can solve some of these democratic issues by open-sourcing and making publicly available tools that can quickly analyze databases of commentary alongside publicly-provided user information to figure out what information is credible and what isn't. There will always be bots trying to manipulate minds and information, but most of them are dumb and not well-orchestrated--we have the technology necessary to analyze and detect them. I'm not saying this would be easy to do, but it is certainly possible to do.

[twitter.com/notwaldorf]

@to_emoji, a Twitter Bot that translates your tweets into emoji

On the less downer side of robots, here's some beautiful, silly, robotic fun from Monica Dinculescu on Twitter!
[newyorker.com]

Remembering the Murder You Didn't Commit

It's been known to psychotherapists and interrogators alike that it's possible to implant false memories into people if you're not careful. Here's a fascinating read on how this happened to more innocent people at one time than any other case in history. Note that the manner in which the investigation is conducted, the treatment of the victims, and the profiling involved is fairly offensive and possibly upsetting.
[nytimes.com]

Facebook Will Use Artificial Intelligence to Find Extremist Posts

Now there's an interesting idea. Of course, two perspectives: one is that it's interesting that people feel that Facebook has an obligation as our Social Big Brother to algorithmically determine whether a Facebook user is a terrorist. The other is that it's frightening that Facebook can do this, but then again, that's not particularly new news or anything like that. I guess there's a third take here, too--we still don't achieve Minority Reports level of perfection in our tech (and Minority Report was wrong, too), such as when Facebook accidentally exposed the identity of their moderators to suspected terrorists. Fun!
[theonion.com]

New Study Finds Best Way To Determine If You Are Android Still Cutting Open Forearm To Reveal Circuitry Within

I highly recommend against this method. Better idea: use a magnet. Or a metal detector!

Storytime! Want to hear the story of how I found out that I wasn't an android? (Warning: this is gross.) When I was five, I was on a vegetable farm helping farmers because my mother was a chef. There was a huge conveyor belt there, rolling boxes full of veggies into the back of a truck. My mother had warned me not to get the drawstrings of my sweatpants stuck in the gears that were in the conveyor belt--the belt had no protective paneling on the side. As it happened, I didn't get my drawstrings stuck--nope, instead I suddenly realized that my fingers were stuck in the gears, being crushed between the rotating teeth of the gears. I yanked my fingers out, and found that the index and thumb fingers on my left hand were hanging just by shreds of skin. No metal or circuitry to be found!

And what happened after? I went to the ER, they stitched my fingers back on, I got a teddy bear named Christopher, and a month or two later of living with a cast my fingers were back to normal with full function and feeling. Modern medicine is fucking amazing. Although I still have scars--and my left thumb is a little shorter than my right. (Granted - they could have made me into an android since then. I have no way of knowing.)