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Daniel Kahneman: ‘Clearly AI is going to win. How people are going to adjust is a fascinating problem’ | Science and nature books

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Daniel Kahneman, 87, was awarded the Nobel prize in economics in 2002 for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making. His first book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, a worldwide bestseller, set out his revolutionary ideas about human error and bias and how those traits might be recognised and mitigated. A new book, Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment, written with Olivier Sibony and Cass R Sunstein, applies those ideas to organisations. This interview took place last week by Zoom with Kahneman at his home in New York.

I guess the pandemic is quite a good place to start. In one way it has been the biggest ever hour-by-hour experiment in global political decision-making. Do you think it’s a watershed moment in the understanding that we need to “listen to science”?
Yes and no, because clearly, not listening to science is bad. On the other hand, it took science quite a while to get its act together.

One of the key problems seems to have been the widespread inability to grasp the basic idea of exponential growth. Does that surprise you?
Exponential phenomena are almost impossible for us to grasp. We are very experienced in a more or less linear world. And if things are accelerating, they’re usually accelerating within reason. Exponential change [as with the spread of the virus] is really something else. We’re not equipped for it. It takes a long time to educate intuition.

Do you think the cacophony of opinion on social media exacerbates that?
I know too little about social media, there’s just too large a generational gap. But clearly the potential for misinformation to spread has grown. It’s a new kind of media that has essentially no responsibility for accuracy and not even reputational controls.

Could you define what you mean by “noise” in the book, in layman’s terms – how does it differ from things like subjectivity or error?
Our main subject is really system noise. System noise is not a phenomenon within the individual, it’s a phenomenon within an organisation or within a system that is supposed to come to decisions that are uniform. It’s really a very different thing from subjectivity or bias. You have to look statistically at a great number of cases. And then you see noise.

Daniel Kahneman receives the Nobel Memorial prize in Economic Sciences from King Carl Gustaf of Sweden in Stockholm, 2002.
Daniel Kahneman receives the Nobel Memorial prize in Economic Sciences from King Carl Gustaf of Sweden in Stockholm, 2002. Photograph: Jonas Ekstromer/AFP/Getty Images

Some of the examples you describe – the extraordinary variance seen in sentencing for the same crimes (even influenced by such external matters as the weather, or the weekend football results), say, or the massive discrepancies in insurance underwriting or medical diagnosis or job interviews based on the same baseline information – are shocking. The driver of that noise often seems to lie with the protected status of the “experts” doing the choosing. No judge, I imagine, wants to acknowledge that an algorithm would be fairer at delivering justice?
The judicial system, I think, is special in a way, because it’s some “wise” person who is deciding. You have a lot of noise in medicine, but in medicine, there is an objective criterion of truth.

Have you been on a jury yourself – or spent much time in courtrooms?
I haven’t. But I have had many conversations with judges about the possibility of doing research on how noise affects their judgment. But, you know, it’s not in the interest of the judicial community to investigate themselves.

I suppose people are instinctively or emotionally still more inclined to trust human systems than more abstract processes?
That is certainly the case. We see that, for example, in terms of the attitude to vaccination. People are willing to take far, far fewer risks when they face vaccination than when they face the disease. So this gap between the natural and the artificial is found everywhere. In part that is because when artificial intelligence makes a mistake, that mistake looks completely foolish to humans, or almost evil.

You don’t talk about driverless cars in your analysis. But that, I guess, is becoming a key arena of this argument, isn’t it? However much safer automated cars might be statistically, every time they cause an accident, it will be excessively magnified?
Being a lot safer than people is not going to be enough. The factor by which they have to be more safe than humans is really very high.

It’s 50 years since you and the late Amos Tversky first started researching these questions. Do you feel that your conclusions about measurable human bias and fallibility should have been more widely understood by now?
You know, we didn’t have any particular expectations of changing the world when we did our research. And my own experience of how little this knowledge has changed the quality of my own judgment can be sobering. Avoiding noise in judgment is not really something individuals are going to be very good at. I really put my faith, if there is any faith to be placed, in organisations.

I wonder if you see your work in almost a satirical tradition, highlighting human folly?
Not really. I see myself as really quite an objective psychologist. Obviously, humans are limited. But they’re also pretty marvellous. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, I really was trying to talk about the marvels of intuitive thinking and not only about its flaws – but flaws are more amusing so there is more attention paid there.

One of the things that struck me reading the book is that however much individuals and organisations profess the desire to be efficient and rational, there’s a fundamental part of us that is bored by predictability and just wants to roll the dice. Do you think you take enough account of that?
There are many domains where you really want diversity and creativity. But there is also a need for uniformity in well-defined tasks. If the effort to achieve uniformity gets people unmotivated, or if it becomes excessively bureaucratic, that in itself can be a problem. That is something that organisations are going to have to negotiate.

I was struck watching the American elections by just how often politicians of both sides appealed to God for guidance or help. You don’t talk about religion in the book, but does supernatural faith add to noise?
I think there is less difference between religion and other belief systems than we think. We all like to believe we’re in direct contact with truth. I will say that in some respects my belief in science is not very different from the belief other people have in religion. I mean, I believe in climate change, but I have no idea about it really. What I believe in is the institutions and methods of people who tell me there is climate change. We shouldn’t think that because we are not religious, that makes us so much cleverer than religious people. The arrogance of scientists is something I think about a lot.

You end your book with some ideas for eliminating noise, creating checklists for decision making, having “designated decision observers” and so on. I was reminded of those studies that show how corporate efforts to reduce unconscious racial and gender bias through compulsory training have been either ineffective or counter-productive. How do you take account of such unforeseen consequences?
There is always a risk of that. And those ideas you mention are largely untested but, we think, worth considering. Others in the book are founded on more experience, are more solid.

Do you feel that there are wider dangers in using data and AI to augment or replace human judgment?
There are going to be massive consequences of that change that are already beginning to happen. Some medical specialties are clearly in danger of being replaced, certainly in terms of diagnosis. And there are rather frightening scenarios when you’re talking about leadership. Once it’s demonstrably true that you can have an AI that has far better business judgment, say, what will that do to human leadership?

Are we already seeing a backlash against that? I guess one way of understanding the election victories of Trump and Johnson is as a reaction against an increasingly complex world of information – their appeal is that they are simple impulsive chancers. Are we likely to see more of that populism?
I have learned never to make forecasts. Not only can I certainly not do it – I’m not sure it can be done. But one thing that looks very likely is that these huge changes are not going to happen quietly. There is going to be massive disruption. The technology is developing very rapidly, possibly exponentially. But people are linear. When linear people are faced with exponential change, they’re not going to be able to adapt to that very easily. So clearly, something is coming… And clearly AI is going to win [against human intelligence]. It’s not even close. How people are going to adjust to this is a fascinating problem – but one for my children and grandchildren, not me.

Your own life began in even more extreme uncertainty – as a boy in occupied France: your father was first arrested by the Nazis as a Jew, then spared and your family escaped into hiding. How much of your lifelong interest in these questions – the need to understand human motivations – was rooted in those anxieties and fears do you think?
When I look back, I think I was always going to be a psychologist. I had curiosity from a really early age about how the mind works. I don’t think that my personal history had much to do with it though, it was always there.

Do you feel that you’re fundamentally still the child that you were when you were six or seven?
Yes. There’s certainly a continuity. I can still recognise something within myself.

When you embarked on this work, could you imagine you would still be hard at it at 87?
No, I imagined I would be dead! But to my surprise, I still have the same curiosity. I’m collaborating on several projects and investigations since I finished the book. One is how the inability to solve the famous “bat and ball problem” correlates with belief in God and that 9/11 was a conspiracy. It’s all as fun to me as it ever was.

Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment by Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony and Cass R Sunstein is published by HarperCollins (£25). To support the Guardian order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

Daniel Kahneman and his co-authors will discuss Noise at a Guardian Live online event on Sunday 27 June. Book tickets here

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Web ad firms scrape email addresses before you know it • The Register

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Tracking, marketing, and analytics firms have been exfiltrating the email addresses of internet users from web forms prior to submission and without user consent, according to security researchers.

Some of these firms are said to have also inadvertently grabbed passwords from these forms.

In a research paper scheduled to appear at the Usenix ’22 security conference later this year, authors Asuman Senol (imec-COSIC, KU Leuven), Gunes Acar (Radboud University), Mathias Humbert (University of Lausanne) and Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius, (Radboud University) describe how they measured data handling in web forms on the top 100,000 websites, as ranked by research site Tranco.

The boffins created their own software to measure email and password data gathering from web forms – structured web input boxes through which site visitors can enter data and submit it to a local or remote application.

Providing information through a web form by pressing the submit button generally indicates the user has consented to provide that information for a specific purpose. But web pages, because they run JavaScript code, can be programmed to respond to events prior to a user pressing a form’s submit button.

And many companies involved in data gathering and advertising appear to believe that they’re entitled to grab the information website visitors enter into forms with scripts before the submit button has been pressed.

“Our analyses show that users’ email addresses are exfiltrated to tracking, marketing and analytics domains before form submission and without giving consent on 1,844 websites in the EU crawl and 2,950 websites in the US crawl,” the researchers state in their paper, noting that the addresses may be unencoded, encoded, compressed, or hashed depending on the vendor involved.

Most of the email addresses grabbed were sent to known tracking domains, though the boffins say they identified 41 tracking domains that are not found on any of the popular blocklists.

“Furthermore, we find incidental password collection on 52 websites by third-party session replay scripts,” the researchers say.

Replay scripts are designed to record keystrokes, mouse movements, scrolling behavior, other forms of interaction, and webpage contents in order to send that data to marketing firms for analysis. In an adversarial context, they’d be called keyloggers or malware; but in the context of advertising, somehow it’s just session-replay scripts.

Gunes Acar, one of the report co-authors, was also the co-author of a similar research project in 2017 that looked at data gathering by session-replay companies Yandex, FullStory, Hotjar, UserReplay, Smartlook, Clicktale, and SessionCam.

Evidently, not much has changed since then, except perhaps that email addresses have become more desirable as unique identifiers now that privacy-oriented browsers like Brave, Firefox, and Safari are taking more steps to block cookies and tracking scripts.

Email addresses, the researchers observe, represent a cookie replacement because they’re unique, persistent, and can be used to track people across applications, platforms, and even offline interactions that may be tied to an email address like loyalty card transactions.

The website categories with the most leaking forms include: Fashion/Beauty (11.1 per cent, EU; 19 per cent US); Online Shopping (9.4 per cent EU; 15.1 per cent US); and General News (6.6 per cent EU; 10.2 per cent US).

Websites categorized as Pornography had the best privacy when it comes to surreptitious form data harvesting.

“A somehow surprising result was the following: despite filling email fields on hundreds of websites categorized as Pornography, we have not a single email leak,” the researchers say, noting that previous studies of adult-oriented websites have relatively fewer third-party trackers than similarly popular general interest websites.

Those pesky regulations

The report authors say that EU websites practicing email exfiltration may be in violation of at least three GDPR requirements: transparency, purpose limitation, and prior consent. Firms found to be violating these rules can be fined up to $20m euros or 4 per cent of annual revenue, per Article 83(5).

The US doesn’t have a federal data privacy law, though it’s conceivable one of the handful of US states with applicable privacy rules could take action against pre-submission form harvesting. But given the toothlessness of US privacy regulation over the past decade, don’t expect much.

The authors say they attempted to contact 58 first-parties and 28 third-parties with GDPR requests. They report receiving 30 responses from the first-parties, which varied from surprise and remediation to justifications of one sort or another.

“fivethirtyeight.com (via Walt Disney’s DPO), trello.com (Atlassian), lever.co, branch.io and cision.com were among the websites that said they had not been aware of the email collection prior to form submission on their websites and removed the behavior,” the report says.

Marriott, meanwhile, said the information collected by digital analytics firm Glassbox helps with customer care, technical support, and fraud prevention.

Third-parties Taboola, Zoominfo, and ActiveProspect defended their data collection practices.

Facebook, aka Meta, is among the third-parties involved in this. The researchers say that email addresses or their hashes were spotted being sent to facebook.com from 21 different websites in the EU.

“On 17 of these, Facebook Pixel’s Automatic Advanced Matching feature was responsible for sending the SHA-256 of the email address in a SubscribedButtonClick event, despite not clicking any submit button,” the report says.

Advanced Matching – called out recently for harvesting student loan data – is designed to collect hashed customer data, such as email addresses, phone numbers, and names from checkout, sign-in, and registration forms. The researchers speculate that on these sites, Facebook’s script treats clicks on non-submit buttons as a click event for the submit button.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

The report concludes that browser vendors, regulators, and privacy tool makers need to deal with this issue because it isn’t going away. “Based on our findings, users should assume that the personal information they enter into web forms may be collected by trackers – even if the form is never submitted,” the report concludes. ®

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VC funding in Ireland rose in Q1, but not for deals under €10m

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A William Fry-commissioned report has found that funding deals under €10m have taken a big hit in the first three months of 2022.

Venture capital funding into Irish tech businesses was up by more than 50pc in the first quarter of this year, but there’s an unfortunate and potentially troubling caveat to that.

The Irish Venture Capital Association (IVCA) has published today (15 May) its latest report on VC funding into tech start-ups and SMEs in Ireland, which found that the investments increased by 52pc to €379.7m in the first three months of 2022, compared to the same period last year.

Future Human

But the report, commissioned by Dublin law firm William Fry, also found that VC funding in deals valued less than €10m have taken a hit.

IVCA chair Nicola McClafferty said that the headline figure of a funding boost conceals a “potentially worrying fall” of 30 to 50pc across all categories of deals under €10m – including seed funding.

“All the growth came from eight deals worth over €10m each, including three over €30m. While the momentum carried over from last year has continued for more established companies raising large rounds, some of that impetus seems to have stalled for earlier stage companies.”

Even the total number of deals overall fell by almost a third to 50 from 74 in the same period last year.

McClafferty said that this could be related to international trends affecting the business world right now, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“While challenging market conditions may continue, we also know that many great companies are started and built in times of downturn, so we await with interest the data in the coming quarters,” she added.

Deals in the €5m to €10m range fell in value by more than half, while those in the €1m to €5m range also halved from €70.3m last year to €34.5m in Q1 2022. The value of deals below €1m dropped by 31pc to €8.9m.

Seed funding also took a hit, falling by nearly 40pc to €22.3m from €36.5m last year.

Nearly four-fifths of all funding came from overseas sources, according to IVCA director-general Sarah-Jane Larkin.

“While this is to be welcomed and emphasises the quality of Irish tech firms and their appeal to international investors, we have expressed concern before about where any shortfall would be made up if the global economy contracts,” she said.

Wayflyer, Ireland’s latest tech unicorn, led the way in terms of total value of funding received with a $150m in Series B funding valuing the start-up at $1.6bn. Flipdish, another Irish tech start-up that became a unicorn this year, raised $100m reaching a $1.25bn valuation.

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Taking his advice was like ‘chewing broken glass’: the short life of dating guru Kevin Samuels | Relationships

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As a source of dating advice, Kevin Samuels would seem a last resort for America’s Black women. On his YouTube show and podcasts, Samuels criticized Black women for being old and out of shape, and for having children out of wedlock. He sneered at “modern women” who flaunted their multiple college degrees and boasted of their independence. He dropped these bombs in the softest voice, in a tailored suit, and bathed in mood lighting with a funky kinetic energy sculpture on his desk.

Yet many women not only tuned in to Samuels in droves, they cued up to Zoom into his show – some in hopes of putting the self-made image consultant turned relationship expert in his place. When Samuels suddenly died last Thursday in Atlanta at 57, as his star was still rising (the Fulton county medical examiners office has not yet revealed a cause of death), his many detractors reacted like Munchkins at the feet of the Wicked Witch of the East. The overwhelming lack of sympathy for Samuels – whose mother reportedly found out about his death as speculation raged online – comes down to his profiting from dismissing single Black women over 35 as “leftovers” whose unrealistic desire for “high-value men” would doom them to a lonely death.

On a recent episode of the Fox Soul streaming show Cocktails with Queens, the actor Vivica A Fox called Samuels’ death karma payback. “This man was a hypocrite, in my honest opinion,” she said. “He insulted African American women on a consistent basis.” In a Mother’s Day sermon, the preacher-influencer Jamal Bryant indirectly singled out this “high-powered man” for allegedly needing “a GoFundMe for his funeral”. The many women in Bryant’s congregation ate this up.

Still, just as many Black celebrities have rushed to defend Samuels. “Love him or hate him,” said the actor Marlon Wayans, “he spoke his truth. If you hated [him] why tune in?” The rapper turned comedian TI scorned the gleeful reactions to his death as a “fucking travesty” while branding Samuels’ haters as “despicable” and “bullies”. “Whatever he did, he did it, and [he’s] gone,” said the Why You Wanna emcee. “He got away with it.”

Besides his mother and daughter, Samuels is survived by his legion followers in the online community known as the “manosphere”, a sort of digital bathhouse for naked pushback against feminist ideology and the reprisal of traditional gender norms.

Casually drawing on relationship and income statistics, Samuels delighted in playing the role of market adjuster and scolding “average” Black women for pursuing Black men in the Talented Tenth – good-looking men with minimum six-figure incomes, no kids, no priors, and no hangups in bed. According to Samuels, guys mainly wanted women who were “fit, feminine, friendly, cooperative and submissive”. He barely had patience for callers who defied that description, and regularly played those clashes with them for laughs. And this was against the backdrop of Black women having a tough enough time being taken seriously online, let alone settling down.

More than 30,000 people signed an online petition calling on YouTube and Instagram to de-platform Samuels, believing he had “galvanised a community of men of all races and nationalities in the outspoken hatred of women”. To many, Samuel’s polished and bespectacled presentation was little more than a pseudo-intellectual cover for misogynoir. “I think he has had an outsized impact on poisoning the social discourse between Black men and Black women around matters of love, dating and intimacy,” the Rutgers women’s studies professor Brittney Cooper wrote in a recent Facebook post, after Samuels used a clip of her talking about racism and fatphobia as an example of a low-value woman. “I hope that the Black women who liked Kevin’s work stop letting the latest brother with relationship advice exploit your pain.”

Samuels’ public persona wasn’t always such a troll. A chemical engineering major who segued into a career in marketing, Samuels established himself on social media as a self-improvement coach and tastemaker (“the godfather of style”, he called himself), hipping men to the coolest clothes, watches and fragrances.

But Samuels eventually saw the bigger audience for relationship content, and quickly distinguished himself by doubling down on the “negging” techniques that undergirded the pickup artist craze of the early aughts. It’s a blueprint that launched the mainstream success of Steve Harvey. Before he was widely known as the avuncular host of Family Feud and the Miss Universe pageant, Harvey was writing plainspoken relationship manuals for Black women and spinning them into the box-office topping Think Like a Man franchise.

After one video sizing up a woman as “average at best” drew millions of views, Samuels was essentially rebooted as a relationship expert. In another oft-shared video he writes off a proudly curvy Black female caller as “running back-sized.” Before his death, Samuels had amassed more than 1.4 million YouTube subscribers and more than 1.2 million Instagram followers. Mainstream renown wasn’t much farther off.

Already, Samuels was a fixture of the Black gossip blogs for his viral put-downs and for his interviews with Nicki Minaj, Future, and the social media influencer Brittany Renner. Those same blogs were quick to hypothesise about the chaotic circumstances of Samuels’ death and echo reports that the ultimate high-value man died broke.

But his village of YouTube peers have rallied to debunk those rumours and rebuff what they characterise as efforts to defame Samuels in death. Mostly, they claim he was a tireless worker and shrewd businessman who could be harsh, but all in the interest of uplifting the community overall. In a YouTube eulogy, Melanie King, a Samuels protege who credits him for helping her rebuild from an agonising divorce, likened taking advice from him to “chewing broken glass”.

“We needed that shock,” said King, who thought of Samuels more like a tough dad. “Because, let’s be honest, if he had not been so shocking to so many people, would you even know about him?”

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