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AI recommendations fail fans who like hard rock and hip hop, say scientists • The Register

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If you don’t like the tracks automatically offered to you by the web, it might not be you – it might be the AI.

At least some recommendation algorithms just aren’t very good at suggesting music to fans of hard rock and hip hop, according to a study by machine-learning experts and data scientists. The problem appears to be this, we’re told:

  • People who prefer so-called hard music, which covers a wide set of genres from hard rock and punk to hip hop, aren’t much interested in music outside of their niche.
  • People who prefer softer music, which is a limited set of genres, are happy to listen to artists outside of their niche.
  • Algorithms are better at recommending tracks for easygoing ambient fans than for choosy hard music fans, or in other words, worse at picking tracks for hard music fans than for ambient lovers.

In short, hard music fans are picky and thus difficult to please, and algorithms can’t cope with that. That might seem an obvious conclusion but bear in mind you’d expect recommendation engines to overcome that and identify tracks people would enjoy regardless of taste. In reality, no dice, sadly.

“Some subgroups, like ambient listeners, seem to be more open to listening to music from other subgroups; plus, they are more similar to each other – all of this is great for recommendation algorithms and such users more likely accept recommendations from different groups,” Elizabeth Lex – co-author of this research, published in EPJ Data Science this month – told The Register.

“In contrast, hard rock and hip-hop low-mainstream listeners are, in our data, the least open to music of other subgroups, and within themselves, much more diverse, and thus, harder to satisfy with recommendations.”

The researchers, led by boffins at the Graz University of Technology (TUG) in Austria, analysed the performance of multiple recommendation engines on the music listening histories of about 4,000 people scraped from users; the code involved is on GitHub, here.


Sure, check through my background records… but why are you looking at my record collection?


Given some of the tracks and the type of music each person listened to, could the models correctly predict what other tunes they would enjoy? A recommendation model’s accuracy was measured by seeing if the software’s suggestions overlapped with tracks a particular user had actually listened to and liked. When the team took an average of how well the recommendation systems tested, they found that their predictions were most accurate for ambient listeners, and least accurate for hard music fans.

Not only are fans of hard music less likely to listen to other genres, the songs they listen to within each genre are more likely to sound distinct from one another. Tracks that top mainstream charts do seem to sound the same. This makes it all the more difficult for recommender systems to find relevant music for hard music fans.

While the recommendation software deployed by the likes of Spotify and Pandora are secret, Lex said these algorithms will likely be based on collaborative filtering mechanism algorithms. These real-world systems will be more complex than the ones tested in this experiment, however, which is something to bear in mind.

“Our algorithms are more simplistic than what the streaming platforms use, particularly in terms of data they can exploit as naturally platform providers have complete access to users’ data,” she said.

The team hopes that their study will improve music streaming services for people who prefer their particular musical niche.

“If we think about the problem from the perspective of artists, who produce low-mainstream music, if their work is recommended more often, they get more exposure and interactions – which is crucial in this business,” Lex told us. “So, we hope that our research contributes to helping serve consumers better and to help low-mainstream artists get more exposure in music streaming platforms.” ®

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London is the best European city for founders, Startup Genome report

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The UK capital was the only European city to make the top ten in Startup Genome’s ranking, tying with New York in second place for the second year in a row.

London is Europe’s number one start-up city, according to a recent report by Startup Genome. The research and advisory body which specialises in start-ups released its ‘Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2021’ report today (22 September).

The report identified London and New York as joint second-best cities in the world for start-ups. London was the only European location to make it into the top ten. The city is attractive to founders thanks to its educated workforce and tax incentives, the report found.

Silicon Valley in California took the top spot, unsurprisingly. This year’s global rankings were dominated by the US, with half of the top 30 ecosystems coming from this region, followed by Asia with 27pc and Europe with 17pc of the top performing ecosystems globally.

Silicon Valley, New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles alone contributed more than 70pc to the US’s total ecosystem value.

Paris made the top 20, coming in at number 12. The Amsterdam-Delta region followed in thirteenth place. Dublin improved its rank from the previous year’s report, coming in at number 36 this time.

Beijing, Boston, Los Angeles, Tel Aviv, Shanghai, Seattle and Stockholm also made the top ten best start-up cities.

The global start-up economy is currently worth more than $3.8trn in ecosystem value. There are 79 ecosystems generating over $4bn in value, which is more than double the number identified in 2017. This time last year, 91 ecosystems had achieved unicorn status.

Also in 2020, Startup Genome published a report indicating its concerns over the future of the start-ups ecosystem during Covid-19. The report suggested that 42pc of start-ups were in what it called ‘the red zone,’ meaning they had three months or fewer runway ahead of them.

Several countries  including the UK, France and Germany introduced special support packages for start-ups. Irish non-profit Scale Ireland also introduced a similar start-up scheme for Irish companies.

“Entrepreneurs, policymakers, and community leaders in Europe have been working hard to build inclusive innovation ecosystems that are engines of economic growth and job creation for all,” commented JF Gauthier, founder and CEO of Startup Genome on the report’s release.

“The Global Startup Ecosystem Report is the foundation of knowledge where we, as a global network, come together to identify what policies actually produce economic impact and in what context,” Gauthier added.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

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Facebook oversight board to review system that exempts elite users | Facebook

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Facebook’s semi-independent oversight board says it will review the company’s “XCheck” system, an internal program that has exempted high-profile users from some or all of its rules.

The decision follows an investigation by the Wall Street Journal that revealed that reviews of posts by well-known users such as celebrities, politicians and journalists are steered into the separate system.

Under the program, some users are “whitelisted”, or not subject to enforcement action, while others are allowed to post material that violates Facebook rules pending content reviews that often do not take place. The Xcheck system, for example, allowed Brazilian footballer Neymar to post nude pictures of a woman who had accused him of rape, according to the report.

Users were identified for additional scrutiny based on criteria such as being “newsworthy”, “influential or popular” or “PR risky”, the Wall Street Journal found. By 2020 there were 5.8 million users on the XCheck list, according to the newspaper.

The oversight board said Tuesday that it expects to have a briefing with Facebook on the system and “will be reporting what we hear from this” as part of a report it will publish in October.

The board may also make other recommendations, although Facebook is not bound to follow these.

The Journal’s report, the board said, has drawn “renewed attention to the seemingly inconsistent way that the company makes decisions, and why greater transparency and independent oversight of Facebook matters so much for users”.

Facebook told the Journal in response to its investigation that the system “was designed for an important reason: to create an additional step so we can accurately enforce policies on content that could require more understanding”. The company added that criticism of it was “fair” and that it was working to fix it.

A representative for Facebook declined to comment to the Associated Press on the oversight board’s decision.

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Philippines imposes 12 per cent digital services tax • The Register

Voice Of EU



The Philippines has become the latest nation to impose a digital services tax.

Such taxes require the likes of Netflix and Spotify to pay local sales taxes even though their services are delivered – legally, notionally, and physically – from beyond local jurisdiction.

The Philippines has chosen a rate of 12 per cent, mirroring local value added taxes.

“We have now clarified that digital services and the goods and services traded through digital service providers should generally be subject to VAT. This is just a matter of common tax sense,” said Joey Salceda, a member of the Philippines’ House of Representatives and a backer of the change to the nation’s tax code.

Salceda tied the change to post-pandemic economic recovery.

“If brick and mortar establishments, which are the hardest-hit by the pandemic, have to pay VAT, the giants of e-commerce shouldn’t be exempt,” he said.

However, local companies that are already exempt from VAT by virtue of low turnover won’t be caught by the extension of the tax into the virtual realm.

Salceda’s amendments are designed to catch content streamers, but also online software sales – including mobile apps – plus SaaS and hosted software. The Philippines’ News Agency’s report on the amendment’s passage into law even mentions firewalls as subject to VAT.

The Philippines is not alone in introducing a digital services tax to raise more revenue after the COVID-19 pandemic hurt government revenue – Indonesia used the same logic in 2020 .

But the taxes are controversial because they are seen as a unilateral response to the wider issue of multinational companies picking the jurisdictions in which they’ll pay tax – a practice that erodes national tax bases. The G7 group of nations, and the OECD, think that collaborations that shift tax liabilities to nations where goods and services are acquired and consumed are the most appropriate response, and that harmonising global tax laws to make big tech pay up wherever they do business is a better plan than digital services taxes.

The USA has backed that view of digital services taxes, by announcing it will impose tariffson nations that introduce them – but is yet to enact that plan.

Meanwhile, the process of creating a global approach to multinational tax shenanigans is taking years to agree and implement.

But The Philippines wants more cash in its coffers – and to demonstrate that local businesses aren’t being disadvantaged – ASAP. ®

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