In the News 04.04.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


In the News 04.04.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 04.04.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 04.04.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

How to Think about “Implicit Bias”

When is the last time a stereotype popped into your mind? If you are like most people, the authors included, it happens all the time. That doesn’t make you a racist, sexist, or whatever-ist. It just means your brain is working properly, noticing patterns, and making generalizations. But the same thought processes that make people smart can also make them biased. This tendency for stereotype-confirming thoughts to pass spontaneously through our minds is what psychologists call implicit bias. It sets people up to overgeneralize, sometimes leading to discrimination even when people feel they are being fair.

Studies of implicit bias have recently drawn ire from both right and left. For the right, talk of implicit bias is just another instance of progressives seeing injustice under every bush. For the left, implicit bias diverts attention from more damaging instances of explicit bigotry. Debates have become heated, and leapt from scientific journals to the popular press. Along the way, some important points have been lost. We highlight two misunderstandings that anyone who wants to understand implicit bias should know about.

Read the rest of this article at: Scientific American

Gun Culture Is My Culture. And I Fear for What It Has Become.

Two weeks before Christmas, I had a 9-millimeter pistol concealed in my waistband and a rifle with two 30-round magazines in the passenger seat beside me. I was driving down from the mountains to meet a fellow I didn’t know at a Cracker Barrel off I-40 in the North Carolina foothills. He was looking to buy a Kel-Tec Sub-2000, and I had one for sale. Other than that, I didn’t know him from Adam except for a few messages back and forth on Facebook.

We were both members of a Facebook group where people post pictures of firearms and buyers private-message to ask questions and make offers — sometimes cash, sometimes trade. I needed money to pay a buddy for an old ’70s model Lark teardrop trailer, and that rifle wasn’t doing anything but taking up space in the safe.

What I was doing was perfectly legal. In North Carolina, long-gun transfers by private sellers require no background checks. Likewise, it’s perfectly legal to sell a handgun privately so long as the buyer has a purchase permit or a concealed-carry license. But as I headed up the exit to the restaurant where we agreed to meet, I felt uneasy. I was within the law, but it didn’t feel as if I should have been.

He was backed into a space parallel to the dumpster, a black Ford F-250 with a covered bed, just as he described on Facebook Messenger. As I pulled in, he stepped out. He smiled, and I nodded.

“You can just leave it in the seat so we don’t make anybody nervous,” he said as I rolled down my window. There were families in rocking chairs in front of the restaurant. Customers were walking to their cars to get back on the road.

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

Tuscany Tote in Midnight

Shop the Tuscany Tote in Midnight
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The Real Story Of The Hawaiian Missile Crisis

Vern Miyagi has two cell phones, personal and work, and both are chirping and skittering on the table at once. This cannot be good, if only because the racket is interrupting Vern’s quiet Saturday morning. He’s at his house in Hawaii Kai, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper and, now, reaching for his phones.

There is a white box on both screens filled with black text. EMERGENCY ALERT is in bold letters at the top. Below that, in regular text but all in capital letters, it reads: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

Vern is startled but not alarmed. He is the administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, which means people who work for him sent the alert. Yet no one has called him. Nor does he hear an undulating wail from the sirens staked around Oahu, a tone his agency began testing only the month before to differentiate a missile alert from the flat squeal of a tsunami warning. His people are supposed to push the button for the sirens, too.

Vern was in the army for 37 years, retired as a major general, last posted to the Pacific Command. He can differentiate, by training and habit, realistic threats from wildly improbable ones, and he can do so quickly. The only belligerently nuclear nation is North Korea. It has missiles capable of hitting Hawaii—and the mainland—but the odds of a warhead surviving re-entry into the atmosphere aren’t clear, and the targeting technology is probably primitive enough to make any attack less of a precise strike and more of a horseshoes-and-hand-grenades toss. True, Hawaii would be the most obvious target, considering it is more than 2,000 miles closer to Pyongyang than Washington, D.C., is. But lobbing a missile at Honolulu would all but guarantee Kim Jong-un’s annihilation, and he has shown no recent signs of suicidal insanity. Just five days ago, in fact, Kim agreed to send athletes to the Olympics.

Read the rest of this article at: GQ


How Babies Learn – And Why Robots Can’t Compete

Deb Roy and Rupal Patel pulled into their driveway on a fine July day in 2005 with the beaming smiles and sleep-deprived glow common to all first-time parents. Pausing in the hallway of their Boston home for Grandpa to snap a photo, they chattered happily over the precious newborn son swaddled between them.

This normal-looking suburban couple weren’t exactly like other parents. Roy was an AI and robotics expert at MIT, Patel an eminent speech and language specialist at nearby Northeastern University. For years, they had been planning to amass the most extensive home-video collection ever.

From the ceiling in the hallway blinked two discreet black dots, each the size of a coin. Further dots were located over the open-plan living area and the dining room. There were 25 in total throughout the house – 14 microphones and 11 fish-eye cameras, part of a system primed to launch on their return from hospital, intended to record the newborn’s every move.

It had begun a decade earlier in Canada – but in fact Roy had built his first robots when he was just was six years old, back in Winnipeg in the 1970s, and he’d never really stopped. As his interest turned into a career, he wondered about android brains. What would it take for the machines he made to think and talk? “I thought I could just read the literature on how kids do it, and that would give me a blueprint for building my language and learning robots,” Roy told me.

Over dinner one night, he boasted to Patel, who was then completing her PhD in human speech pathology, that he had already created a robot that was learning the same way kids learn. He was convinced that if it got the sort of input children get, the robot could learn from it.

Toco was little more than a camera and microphone mounted on a Meccano frame, and given character with ping-pong-ball eyes, a red feather quiff and crooked yellow bill. But it was smart. Using voice recognition and pattern-analysing algorithms, Roy had painstakingly taught Toco to distinguish words and concepts within the maelstrom of everyday speech. Where previously computers learned language digitally, understanding words in relation to other words, Roy’s breakthrough was to create a machine that understood their relationship to objects. Asked to pick out the red ball among a range of physical items, Toco could do it.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

Why Good People Turn Bad Online

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On the evening of 17 February 2018, Professor Mary Beard posted on Twitter a photograph of herself crying. The eminent University of Cambridge classicist, who has almost 200,000 Twitter followers, was distraught after receiving a storm of abuse online. This was the reaction to a comment she had made about Haiti. She also tweeted: “I speak from the heart (and of cource I may be wrong). But the crap I get in response just isnt on; really it isnt.”

In the days that followed, Beard received support from several high-profile people. Greg Jenner, a fellow celebrity historian, tweeted about his own experience of a Twitterstorm: “I’ll always remember how traumatic it was to suddenly be hated by strangers. Regardless of morality – I may have been wrong or right in my opinion – I was amazed (later, when I recovered) at how psychologically destabilising it was to me.”

Those tweeting support for Beard – irrespective of whether they agreed with her initial tweet that had triggered the abusive responses – were themselves then targeted. And when one of Beard’s critics, fellow Cambridge academic Priyamvada Gopal, a woman of Asian heritage, set out her response to Beard’s original tweet in an online article, she received her own torrent of abuse.

There is overwhelming evidence that women and members of ethnic minority groups are disproportionately the target of Twitter abuse. Where these identity markers intersect, the bullying can become particularly intense, as experienced by black female MP Diane Abbott, who alone received nearly half of all the abusive tweets sent to female MPs during the run-up to the 2017 UK general election. Black and Asian female MPs received on average 35 per cent more abusive tweets than their white female colleagues even when Abbott was excluded from the total.

The constant barrage of abuse, including death threats and threats of sexual violence, is silencing people, pushing them off online platforms and further reducing the diversity of online voices and opinion. And it shows no sign of abating. A survey last year found that 40 per cent of American adults had personally experienced online abuse, with almost half of them receiving severe forms of harassment, including physical threats and stalking. 70 per cent of women described online harassment as a “major problem”.

The business models of social media platforms, such as YouTube and Facebook, promote content that is more likely to get a response from other users because more engagement means better opportunities for advertising. But this has a consequence of favouring divisive and strongly emotive or extreme content, which can in turn nurture online “bubbles” of groups who reflect and reinforce each other’s opinions, helping propel the spread of more extreme content and providing a niche for “fake news”. In recent months, researchers have revealed many ways that various vested interests, including Russian operatives, have sought to manipulate public opinion by infiltrating social media bubbles.

Our human ability to communicate ideas across networks of people enabled us to build the modern world. The internet offers unparalleled promise of cooperation and communication between all of humanity. But instead of embracing a massive extension of our social circles online, we seem to be reverting to tribalism and conflict, and belief in the potential of the internet to bring humanity together in a glorious collaborating network now begins to seem naive. While we generally conduct our real-life interactions with strangers politely and respectfully, online we can be horrible. How can we relearn the collaborative techniques that enabled us to find common ground and thrive as a species?

Don’t overthink it, just press the button!”

I click an amount, impoverishing myself in an instant, and quickly move on to the next question, aware that we’re all playing against the clock. My teammates are far away and unknown to me. I have no idea if we’re all in it together or whether I’m being played for a fool, but I press on, knowing that the others are depending on me.

I’m playing in a so-called public goods game at Yale University’s Human Cooperation Lab. The researchers here use it as a tool to help understand how and why we cooperate, and whether we can enhance our prosocial behaviour.

Over the years, scientists have proposed various theories about why humans cooperate so well that we form strong societies. The evolutionary roots of our general niceness, most researchers now believe, can be found in the individual survival advantage humans experience when we cooperate as a group. I’ve come to New Haven, Connecticut, in a snowy February, to visit a cluster of labs where researchers are using experiments to explore further our extraordinary impulse to be nice to others even at our own expense.

The game I’m playing, on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk online platform, is one of the lab’s ongoing experiments. I’m in a team of four people in different locations, and each of us is given the same amount of money to play with. We are asked to choose how much money we will contribute to a group pot, on the understanding that this pot will then be doubled and split equally among us.

This sort of social dilemma, like all cooperation, relies on a certain level of trust that the others in your group will be nice. If everybody in the group contributes all of their money, all the money gets doubled, redistributed four ways, and everyone doubles their money. Win–win!

“But if you think about it from the perspective of an individual,” says lab director David Rand, “for each dollar that you contribute, it gets doubled to two dollars and then split four ways – which means each person only gets 50 cents back for the dollar they contributed.”

Even though everyone is better off collectively by contributing to a group project that no one could manage alone – in real life, this could be paying towards a hospital building, or digging a community irrigation ditch – there is a cost at the individual level. Financially, you make more money by being more selfish.

Read the rest of this article at: Mosaic

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.

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