Monday, June 18th, 2018
The Natural Stupidity of Artificial Intelligence
A. Michael Noll
June 17, 2018
© Copyright 2018 AMN
Clearly, the future is coming, but at times we seem mostly to be chasing the past. Artificial intelligence is today’s “new” rage. But I think it is mostly hype and faith, coupled with a blind, and perhaps deliberate, ignorance of what was done decades ago.
In the 1960’s, digital computers were programmed and used at Bell Telephone Laboratories (Bell Labs) to “compose” music. Today the same algorithmic approach is called artificial intelligence. Digital computers were also programmed in the early 1960s at Bell Labs to create art. And today this too is called artificial intelligence. Back then decades ago, the intelligence was the human who wrote the program and also the human who chose which computer-generated music and art was most liked.
A modern jetliner can fly itself. But is this artificial intelligence, or simply computer control following algorithms? The human pilots are just there to take over in case of an emergency.
What is “artificial intelligence?” “Artificial” means false, fake, not natural. “Intelligence” is the ability to process information and then to perform appropriate actions. It seems to imply some sort of innate human ability. Clearly, a machine is not human and thus cannot possess human qualities, such as intelligence. The “intelligence” of a machine consists of programmed algorithms that the machine carries out. It is not a human quality – it is fake.
I am reminded of decades ago when we were told that the human brain was like a digital computer, and that neurons rather than bits were involved. Well, this theory went nowhere and the human brain is still much of a mystery. There was decades ago the computer program ELIZA created by Joseph Weizenbaum that could act as a psychotherapist.* Weizenbaum explored in his book the human fascination with autonomous machines. – and this was over four decades ago. I expressed concern in 1961 about computers that could learn and act.**
Today there clearly is considerable hype and publicity being given to artificial intelligence. It promises much, but seems mostly to attract investors and big companies that hope to cash in on it all (or the next “new” thing). The ignorance of what went on in the past, coupled with the lust of greed, is the natural stupidity of artificial intelligence.
* Joseph Weizenbaum, Computer Power and Human Reason, W. H. Freeman and Company (New York), 1976.
** A. Michael Noll, “Electronic Computer – Friend or Foe?” the Orbit, Vol. 5, No.3 (March 1961), Newark College of Engineering, pp. 8 & 16.
Friday, June 8th, 2018
True to news in the digital age, we’ve been scooped by the Internet and Twitter, specifically. But if you have not seen the news yet, we are most pleased to report that Johannes M. Bauer has accepted an offer from the College of Communication Arts & Sciences to serve as the next Director of the Quello Center, and the new Quello Chair in the Department of Media and Information. His appointment is effective August 16, 2018.
Professor Bauer has been affiliated with the Quello Center since its inception in 1998, and during his tenure as Chair of the Department of Media & Information. Both through his involvement in Center research and as chair of our home department, Johannes has been closely tied to the Quello legacy, making his appointment a strong move in support of continuity with the Center’s mission. As Advisory Board Member Marjory Blumenthal with the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) put it: “The Center will be in excellent hands with Johannes.” And as Board Member Richard E. Wiley, Chairman of Wiley Rein LLP, said: “a great choice”.
Professor Prabu David, Dean of the College of Communication Arts & Sciences, said in announcing Professor Bauer’s appointment, that Johannes “is an accomplished scholar with an exemplary record in communication policy research and an ideal fit for this position.”
Indeed, Professor Bauer is an economist with an interdisciplinary perspective and a focus on the digital economy, having recently edited The Handbook on the Economics of the Internet (2016) with Michael Latzer at the University of Zurich. His work has been funded by major research organizations, including the US National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation, as well as by industry and government, such as the US Department of Commerce. He has been on the boards of major journals and associations in his fields of expertise, and as an associate editor of a key journal in the field, Telecommunications Policy, and as a board member of the Research Conference on Communications, Information and Internet Policy, formerly the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference (TPRC).
With Johannes Bauer’s appointment, the Quello Center is set for a smooth transition to its next phase. Professor Bauer said he was honored to have been offered this opportunity and noted: “Communication policy faces important and often contentious issues. I will work hard on growing the reputation of the Center as a place conducting high-quality research and a forum for stakeholders to find common ground for good, forward-looking policy solutions.”
His new colleagues in the Center stand ready to support his transition as Director, and want to thank the faculty, the Quello Advisory Board, and the search committee, for drawing the search process to a successful conclusion. To quote the Chair of the Quello Advisory Board and CEO of the National Emergency Number Association, Brian Fontes: “Congratulations to the search committee for an excellent selection.”
More information about Johannes M. Bauer: https://msu.edu/~bauerj/
Information about the James H. and Mary B. Quello Center: http://quello.msu.edu/
Members of the Quello Advisory Board: http://quello.msu.edu/people/advisory-board/
Friday, June 1st, 2018
Between 24-28 May, thousands of communication scholars from all over the world gathered for the 68th International Communication Association Conference in Prague, Czech Republic. The College of Communication Arts & Sciences had a particularly strong presence at the conference with more than 80 faculty and students presenting their research. The Quello Center’s Assistant Director Bibi Reisdorf and Research Fellow Laleah Fernandez were among those presentations with some of the results from the Quello Search Project.
As part of the large program, the team working on the Quello Search Project, Grant Blank (Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford), Elizabeth Dubois (Department of Communication, University of Ottawa), Bill Dutton, Laleah Fernandez, and Bibi Reisdorf, put together a panel on “Personalization, Politics, and Policy: Cross-National Perspectives”. Despite the early morning start (8am) on the day following all the big ICA receptions, a good crowd turned up to hear about our results pertaining to how people make use of a diverse range of media to find information on political matters. The papers presented in this panel ranged from a focus on personalization of search, to a critical discussion of algorithmic literacy, from exploring “the vulnerable” (i.e. those who have low search skills and little interest in politics) to discussing the policy implications of citizens’ complex media habits. The panel presentations were followed by a critical discussion of the presented results by Cornelius Puschmann, Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research.
Immediately after this early morning panel, Bibi Reisdorf also took part in a panel on “Filter Bubbles: From Academic Debate to Robust Empirical Analysis”, which she co-organized together with Anja Bechmann, Aarhus University, and Oscar Westlund, University of Gothenburg & Volda University College. This panel paid specific attention to empirical evidence of the extent (or lack thereof) of filter bubbles around the globe. Despite different foci and datasets, all four panelists, Anja Bechmann, Aarhus University, Axel Bruns, Queensland University of Technology, Neil Thurman, LM University Munich, and Quello’s Bibi Reisdorf, presented findings that supported results from our Quello Search Project, which showed that although filter bubbles and echo chambers do exist, the magnitude is largely overstated and the resulting panics are unnecessary and unhelpful. The results were discussed and responded to by MSU’s very own newest ICA Fellow, Prof. Esther Thorson, who pointed out that this type of research needs to be more closely investigated and critically evaluated in light of existing communication theories, such as Uses and Gratifications or Confirmation Bias, to name just a few.
Overall, the conference was a great success for the Quello team, who also participated in a pre-conference workshop on survey design and survey questions on internet use organized by Prof. Eszter Hargittai, University of Zurich. In addition, we took a few hours each to enjoy beautiful Prague and the amazing culinary treats, including, of course, the fantastic beer and wine that can be found in this beautiful region of Europe.
Now, back in East Lansing, the team is busy finishing up a few book chapters and journal articles that revolve around the issues that were discussed at the ICA conference. Our next big conference will be TPRC in Washington, DC in September, where Laleah Fernandez will present some of our exciting results from the Detroit Study.
Wednesday, May 16th, 2018
Discussion of so-called fake news is gradually – maybe rapidly – shifting to the concept of ‘junk news’, and I fear this could be a dangerous move. I agree that the concept of fake news has many downsides, not the least of which is the degree it has been politicized. However, the shift to junk news might have even worse implications. My main concern is that it provides more of a rationale for blocking or filtering news, as if it were spam, for example.
This evening, the science reporter at PBS, Miles O’Brien, delivered an informative story about ‘Junk News‘. It was well produced, but it captured a concern of mine that has been growing throughout the debate over misinformation. It also gradually moved into a discussion of work at Facebook designed to move so called junk news off the screens of more users. Facebook representatives were thankfully adverse to agreeing they should edit the news, as if they were a newspaper, but they felt justified in looking for algorithms to diminish the visibility of news they viewed of low quality.
I for one am worried about this drive, as it will clearly do more than accomplish its stated objective. It will also be likely to promote mainstream news outlets even more than presently favored, since they will be safe sources. It will downgrade blogs and the opinions and views of networked individuals, which are at the heart of a more democratic collective intelligence.
So I will stop using junk news except as a target of criticism. I lean towards crowd sourced ratings of blogs and posts as I’d prefer the wisdom of the crowd over the wisdom of Facebook monitors, but that is what search seeks to accomplish. At least fake news is understood to be a politically charged concept, but junk news is a concept which also has serious political implications, if my fears are justified.
Wednesday, May 16th, 2018
On May 10th, 2018, Google’s ‘father of the Internet’, Vint Cerf gave the Quello Lecture at MSU, entitled ‘The Unfinished Internet’. Before the interview, he was interviewed by Scott Pohl of WKAR public radio. Here is that interview: http://wkar.org/post/googles-father-internet#stream/0
Tuesday, May 1st, 2018
THE QUELLO CENTER PRESENTS
INTERNET PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE
BY VINTON CERF
THURSDAY, MAY 10TH @ 3:30 PM // COMM ARTS RM. 147
The Internet grew out of a successful US Defense Department experiment in packet switching and became a platform upon which a wide range of new applications have evolved. New technologies such as smart phones have reinforced the utility of the Internet by spreading access to it at increasing bandwidths and geographic scope. The Internet is estimated to have reached about 50% of the world’s population. As this decade comes to a close, what challenges remain and what new ideas may be pursued? Security, safety, reliability, misinformation, botnets, privacy, and a host of other concerns clamor for attention. Powerful machine learning tools and collaborative technologies are increasing our capacity to solve problems and ask new and challenging questions.
This talk raises questions and poses problems that need attention if we are to make of the Internet the tool it has the capacity to become.
Vinton G. Cerf is vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google. He contributes to global policy development and continued spread of the Internet. Widely known as one of the “Fathers of the Internet,” Cerf is the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet. He has served in executive positions at MCI, the Corporation for National Research Initiatives and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and on the faculty of Stanford University.
Vint Cerf served as chairman of the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) from 2000-2007 and has been a Visiting Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 1998. Cerf served as founding president of the Internet Society (ISOC) from 1992-1995. Cerf is a Foreign Member of the British Royal Society and Swedish Academy of Engineering, and Fellow of IEEE, ACM, and American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the International Engineering Consortium, the Computer History Museum, the British Computer Society, the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, the Worshipful Company of Stationers and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He has served as President of the Association for Computing Machinery, chairman of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) and completed a term as Chairman of the Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology for the US National Institute of Standards and Technology. President Obama appointed him to the National Science Board in 2012.
Cerf is a recipient of numerous awards and commendations in connection with his work on the Internet, including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, US National Medal of Technology, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, the Prince of Asturias Award, the Tunisian National Medal of Science, the Japan Prize, the Charles Stark Draper award, the ACM Turing Award, Officer of the Legion d’Honneur and 29 honorary degrees. In December 1994, People magazine identified Cerf as one of that year’s “25 Most Intriguing People.”
His personal interests include fine wine, gourmet cooking and science fiction. Cerf and his wife, Sigrid, were married in 1966 and have two sons, David and Bennett.
Monday, April 23rd, 2018
[Written by Quello’s Ruth Shillair and posted by Bill Dutton, with her permission]
I was honored to be selected as one of the 50 cybersecurity scholars from around the world to attend the annual global RSA cybersecurity conference. It is a gathering of 50,000 cybersecurity professionals and researchers held in San Francisco. The theme this year was “Now Matters” and cybersecurity issues certainly something that we need to address “now” rather than in the future.
The overwhelming theme that I saw was that cybersecurity has gotten over the “silver bullet” fantasy. We realize there will be no killer app or magic formula that will ultimately solve cyber insecurities and protect networks, systems, and individuals from attack. The human factor has often been cited as the weakness of cybersecurity; however, it was refreshing to hear that many leaders are realizing that humans are also the strength and core of cybersecurity. Many sessions discussed how cybersecurity needs to be holistic, a long-term commitment, an imbedded culture and an overall mindset.
Chris Young, CEO of McAfee spoke on the importance of building a cybersecurity culture- part of a “sustained cycle of measures, rewards, and advocacy.” Even though technical advances make systems stronger than ever, the attackers also are intelligent and adaptive, making it important for us to work as a team. He quoted Christopher Painter, former coordinator for cyber issues at the U.S. State Department, “The failure to ‘mainstream’ cyber issues into larger national security and policy debates has real consequences” (Click here to read more from Mr. Painter ). Mr. Young went on to compare the current Facebook issues as the Exon of today. After the oil spills people start to re-think the costs and benefits that cheap energy policies had on the overall environment. Even though cheap oil prices had caused a boom in the economy, there was a price to pay. Now, people are starting to re-think the costs and benefits of “free” social networking services that facilitate networking and the exchange of information. The surveillance economy has caused an economic boom also, but there are long term implications that we are just beginning to understand.
This cybersecurity mindset takes a team mentality. Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft used the metaphor of a crew rowing a boat together. Stakeholders need to learn to trust each other and communicate well in order to navigate the uncertain waters ahead. He also shared about the human impacts of the recent WannaCry ransomware attacks. This was a cyber based state-backed attack on citizens during a time of peace. It crippled the national health service in Great Britain, shutting off access to critical health records and blocking individuals from all but critical emergency care. As a result, Microsoft, and many other companies are working together at unprecedented levels to help build resilience against similar attacks in the future.
The hundreds of possible sessions ranged from technical training on the latest penetration testing techniques to policy discussions. Several sessions discussed the implications of artificial intelligence and the growing concerns about how human bias and discrimination are magnified by these systems if not guided by policies and standards to protect individuals. An entire track of sessions was dedicated to the human dimensions of cybersecurity and the importance of policy. The recent congressional meetings with Mark Zuckerberg illustrated the challenge ahead to reach policy makers so they understand the basics of cybersecurity, privacy, and what can or can’t be done to help improve our current systems.
One of my favorite sessions was led by Bruce Schneier (Schneier on Security and of the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University). He spoke of the urgency to build policy and regulations for the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT). It used to be that cybersecurity threats were ultimately losing control of files of data, now threats are physical, real and imminent. Instead of just attacking one self-driving car and taking it over, what will happen once hackers take control of all the self-driving cars of a particular make or model? He spoke of the complexity of keeping a device up to date as systems become compromised and updates may have unintended consequences. To check updates before rolling them out to car owners, car manufacturers will have to keep track of all the makes and models to test updates and make sure systems don’t fail as patches are rolled out. Beyond cars being basically computers on wheels, many of the devices in our homes and factories are now IoT devices. In today’s marketplace consumers have no idea which IoT devices are safe, have backdoors, or if they are even updatable. His upcoming book, Click Here to Kill Everybody, should be very interesting.
Overall, this conference was encouraging and overwhelming all at the same time. It was encouraged to see progress in viewing cybersecurity as a cultural and mindset issue rather than just a technical problem. It was encouraging to see so many young scholars, educators, and technologists working tirelessly to make the world a better place. It was discouraging to see so few women in the conference. Yes, there were special “Women in Cybersecurity” sessions -and there was some tremendous mentoring going on- but there are few women and minorities in this field. The telling point was during session breaks where the men’s bathrooms had long lines going down the hall, at the same time the women’s bathrooms had no lines at all. However, seeing the mixture of young cybersecurity scholars I am hopeful that in the future we will see a representation that is more diverse, bringing with them the insights and experiences that will help build a cybersecurity mindset that can be widely embraced and core to our culture.
PhD Candidate and Quello Research Assistant
Tuesday, February 13th, 2018
MSU’s Crisis Forum: Raising Questions
Notes on the Forum of 9 February 2018
The Quello Center hosted a one-hour ‘conversation about communication and the abuse scandal’ on 9 February. A small group of colleagues shared their views on communication issues related to the sex abuse scandal as it continues to unfold at MSU. The discussion was held in the Quello Center Meeting Room under The Chatham House Rule, so that no quotes would be attributed to any participant. It was a lively discussion of sensitive topics that raised many questions. The key theme arising from the discussion was around ‘listening’.
First, it was argued by colleagues thinking hard about this issue that the most positive approach we can take to communication with not only external audiences, but also with those inside the university, is to listen, rather than focus on offering our opinions or answers. We don’t need to be a spokesperson for the University or the College. In fact, listening might well be the most valuable approach, particularly in these early days, when we are all still learning what happened. This can help us from being defensive and help demonstrate that we share many of the concerns and questions raised by others. Two days after our discussion, this theme featured in an editorial by the Lansing State Journal, entitled ‘move MSU forward by listening’ (11 Feb 2018).
Secondly, in discussing what we need to convey to all of our audiences, there was general consensus on one simple but powerful message conveyed by one of our group: “We all need to listen to women and girls.” Due process requires all parties to be heard and taken seriously when there are claims of sexual abuse.
|“We all need to listen to women and girls.”|
This message resonated more or less with all on several fronts. First, it is genuinely true, and applicable to all the actors involved with this disaster, from all the institutions to all the individuals associated with the victims and survivors. It is not simply a prescription for MSU. Also, it is a clear and simple message that avoids some of the ambiguities surrounding more abstract notions of the larger systemic or structural issues. There might well be serious structural problems, but at least one participant argued that such general points seem less likely to translate into concrete behavioral norms – certainly at the individual level – than the concrete prescription that we listen to women and girls.
The disaster around Larry Nassar has metastasized into other issue areas, such as the general safety of women at MSU and on other college campuses, and the governance of the university, as two examples. Since it is increasingly impossible to deal with specific issues in this developing mix of related issues, it may be that listening is one of the key approaches that are relevant to all of these assorted issues.
One participant argued that this should be put more broadly, such as applying to the ‘powerless’ and not only women and girls, such as: “We need to listen and empower the powerless.” Another argued that listening is more in the control of all of us, as opposed to empowering individuals and groups, which is a more ambitious and system-centric problem.
Another participant expressed concern that mandatory reporting rules could eliminate thoughtful, supportive conversations about discrimination and harassment. Instead, conversations might be avoided or immediately escalated to a formal investigation. There is no room for actual conversation of concerning or worrisome dynamics. Yet mandatory reporting rules could have the unintended consequence of undermining discussion of sensitive topics or questions, by leading to the response: “If you disclose to me a personal experience of sexual violence or sexual harassment, then I am required to notify ___”.
Other messages found resonance with many in the room, including the simple acknowledgement that “we screwed up and we are dedicated to fixing it.” While we debated the appropriateness of any given message, we also recognized the degree that all faculty and students will be part of the conversation, and it will be exceedingly difficult to orchestrate any given message. Nevertheless, it seemed to all that whatever the message, the College needs to have an authentic voice while also enabling students and faculty to join the conversation without being silenced by fears of saying the wrong thing, or hurting someone’s feelings.
A number of other questions were raised in the discussion, including the following:
A week ago, when this conversation was scheduled, there seemed to be a need for more communication about this disaster. Since that time there has been a virtual spasm of setting up meetings, conversations, teach-ins, free speech events, and more. This is good. However, we want to avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts that are rapidly evolving across the university.
At the same time, we need to ensure that the conversation continues long after this initial flood of reactions fades, which it might well do over time. With that in mind, the Quello Center agreed to revisit this conversation in a couple of months to discuss whether there were some issues or activities not being adequately addressed. Given the many inquiries and reviews of this disaster, most only getting underway, there is a need for sustained attention over the coming years. How can we help ensure we continue to listen and learn as the lessons unfold from a predictably long, arduous, but necessary review process?
[*] Compiled by Bill on behalf of all the participants in this discussion, which included Prabu David, David Ewoldsen, Carrie Heeter, Meredith Jagutis, Bianca Reisdorf, Nancy Rhodes, and Nicole Szymczak along with Bill Dutton.
Monday, January 15th, 2018
Susan Quello, granddaughter of James H. and Mary B. Quello, provides her perspective on the launch of the James H. Quello Digital Archive. Susan, now at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, beautifully captures the significance of MSU and higher education to her grandparents, and underscores the value of the archive to preserving James Quello’s contributions to the FCC and communication policy.
Friday, January 5th, 2018
Recently we posted a blog that outlined three key findings in our Detroit Digital Divide Project. These findings focused on issues of Internet connectivity, use, and interest among Detroit residents. We argued that the findings of our research run counter to a number of perceptions about Internet digital divides in Detroit, and to a degree that they might be better understood as myths. However, just the recognition of misguided assumptions is not enough. As we continue to analyze the data further, and refine the patterns emerging, the Quello research team has begun to examine what can be done to address these divides in light of our findings.
Below we briefly review these myths before moving to an outline of three possible steps forward.
Myth #1: Detroiters are under-connected
When asked if they have home Internet access, about 78 percent of respondents in our three examined neighborhoods said they do have home access, yet only about 60 percent report having a contract with an ISP. However, almost our whole sample identified themselves as using the Internet in some form. This suggests that Detroiters are finding their way online, but they have to be innovative in order to connect. The problem is that unstable, unreliable or mobile-only connections are simply not good enough.
Myth #2: Detroiters go online primarily for entertainment
Despite claims that Detroiters use the Internet primarily for entertainment purposes, our study found that entertainment and leisure activities are decidedly less central than information seeking and communication activities. In other words, far fewer people are streaming music or watching videos online than the number of people who are emailing, getting news, or health information. For example, just over 50 percent say they go online to watch videos while about 85 percent go online to email.
Myth #3: Detroiters are not interested in home Internet access
We did not find evidence to support the notion that Detroit residents avoid the Internet because of a lack of interest. First, most Detroiters are online. But often, they are limited to using a mobile device to access the Internet. Second, a majority of those who do not have an ISP at home say they would like home access. Third, among those who do not have home access most have access at work or some other public space, and the lack of home access most often comes down to price, not interest. For example, focus group participants who expressed ambivalence on the subject of home access cited barriers such as costs, a loss of family time, and duplication of services as some of the reasons for their “lack of interest”. In other words, among those who say they are not interested in home access are those who have Internet access elsewhere.
A deeper exploration of these three myths requires a discussion of what can and should be done to dispel such misconceptions. For those who care about Detroit and issues of the digital divide, the following guidelines could serve as a starting point for setting the record straight.
To learn more about this research, please visit our Project Page.