YouTube disables comments on videos involving children

The Guardian’s Alex Hern:

The company will disable all comments on videos featuring younger children, and will also disable comments on those videos of older children that have some risk of attracting predatory behaviour, YouTube says.

It has also prioritised the launch of an AI moderator that is “more sweeping in scope, and will detect and remove two times more individual comments” than its predecessor, in an attempt to identify and remove predatory comments before they can cause harm.

A friend of mine once described a creepy man as a “walking YouTube comment”. We all knew what she meant. The comments on the world’s biggest video site have always been a cesspit. Expect YouTube to do more of this in the not-too-distant future.

Eventually it might just get to the point where comments aren’t worth it to YouTube, unless on major channels with pro-active moderation. That principle seems to be on offer with this change, the BBC’s Chris Fox writes:

A small number of YouTube content creators will be allowed to enable comments on videos featuring children.

These channels will be trusted partners such as family video-bloggers or known YouTube stars.

However, they will be required to actively moderate their comments and demonstrate that their videos carry a low risk of attracting predatory comments.

Zuckerbucks

Facebook, Signal and Telegram all reportedly working on crypto. New York Times:

The most anticipated but secretive project is underway at Facebook. The company is working on a coin that users of WhatsApp, which Facebook owns, could send to friends and family instantly, said five people briefed on the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements.

The Facebook project is far enough along that the social networking giant has held conversations with cryptocurrency exchanges about selling the Facebook coin to consumers, said four people briefed on the negotiations.

There will be a lot of skepticism about this out there today, but a secured currency backed by a major org like Facebook might give the concept the stability it needs to reach real people. Interested to see how this pans out.

Lego thrives

A physical toy, a family business – isn’t it heartening to see a company like Lego doing so well? BBC News:

Profits increased by 4% to 10.8bn Danish kroner (£1.2bn) and sales were up 4% to 36.4bn Danish kroner.

That was a rebound from 2017, when Lego reported its first fall in sales and profits for 13 years. It blamed too much stock in stores and warehouses.

Star Wars, Harry Potter, Ninjago and Jurassic World were its best sellers.

“We set out with one aim in 2018, to stabilise the business,” said chief executive Niels Christiansen.

“Our underlying mission – what the family [which owns the business] wants – is to get Lego out to as many kids as possible,” he said.

Its growth in market share in all major markets comes at time when toy retailers have been struggling, illustrated by the collapse of Toys R US. This reduces outlets for sales of Lego, which is the world’s biggest toymaker when measured by sales.

Faraday Future’s staff haven’t worked since December

Electric vehicle firm Faraday Future’s workforce, already significantly depleted, has been on unpaid leave since December, and won’t be returning any time soon, reports The Verge:

Faraday Future has been searching for new funding since last October, when it got into an ugly public fight with its biggest outside investor, Chinese real estate giant Evergrande. Evergrande committed $2 billion to the California-based EV startup at the end of 2017, but Faraday Future spent the first $800 million installment by mid-2018. When Faraday Future asked Evergrande to advance about half of the remaining $1.2 billion, Evergrande ultimately refused, locking the two in a power struggle that left the two in a power struggle that left the startup nearly out of money.

Faraday Future felt hopeless from the word go. I interviewed the (now departed) co-founder Nick Sampson at CES two years ago – he told me that they had ceased construction of their (doomed) factory in order to afford the glitzy CES launch event.

The Verge quotes an internal email sent by Sampson before his departure:

“The company is effectively insolvent. I cannot continue knowing the devestating [sic] impact we are having on the lives of our employees, their families and loved ones as we as the [sic] ripple effect this will have on lives throughout our suppliers and the industry as a whole.”

Helping AI get the joke

Can AI succeed where the American people have failed, and understand British sarcasm?

I’m kidding, I’m kidding.

But this is an interesting project over at Purdue University, via Phys.org:

Julia Rayz is conducting artificial intelligence research involving humor, among other areas, to determine what is necessary through computational algorithms to create computer-human interaction that rivals a common conversation between people.

“I don’t try to teach computers to tell funny jokes; I want to use artificial intelligence to get computers to a point where they understand why we think something is funny or not,” said Rayz, an associate professor in Purdue University’s Department of Computer and Information Technology.

How do you do that? With great difficulty. This is another instance of it being incredibly hard to teach AI something that humans find instinctively easy.

Rayz’ research involves trying to provide artificial intelligence with understandings of what makes a joke a joke, looking at facets such as delivery, context and emotion. To reach comprehension, the computer also needs to have a lot of background knowledge about the situation that the joke describes.

Finally, the artificial intelligence must have a perfect understanding of every single meaning that is used in that joke and be able combine it together and interpret the meaning behind what is being said.

Why is all this important in the development of AI? Well, detecting sarcasm, and understanding when the human in charge is making a jokey request, is vital if voice assistants are to feel more genuine than they do now. The article mentions that if you ask Alexa to tell you a joke today it’s a wooden, emotionless delivery.

That needs to improve if AI is to move forward, says Rayz:

“Artificial intelligence should be able to handle more natural conversation and understand when you are joking and when you are serious,” she said. “If you are giving a command in a sarcastic manner, the computer needs to know it does not need to follow that command.”

On a related note, I greatly enjoyed Ashlee Vance exploring the possibility that robots might one day be funny in this piece aired last year:

Let’s be honest, though – humans doing improv are rarely funny. What chance did the robot have?

FTC launches new tech monopoly watchdog

The Federal Trade Commission announces:

The Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition announced the creation of a task force dedicated to monitoring competition in U.S. technology markets, investigating any potential anticompetitive conduct in those markets, and taking enforcement actions when warranted.

The task force is being pulled together with existing resources, the FTC said, and will consist of 17 staff attorneys.

Via the FTC’s Twitter thread, here’s the most interesting element to this:

“Reviews of consummated tech mergers” in the online space could open a Pandora’s Box. With US senators suggesting Facebook needs to be broken up, you can bet the Instagram/Whatsapp/Facebook unity will be high on the list of cases being examined.

What will be interesting, I think, is any sign that the FTC will start looking more smartly at acquisitions of early stage companies. When Facebook bought Instagram, back in 2012, the photo company had just 13 employees – it was not, at that time at least, a social networking superpower.

Historically the FTC (and other agencies like it in the wider world) has been set up to examine the impacts of already-major companies coming together. In tech, it’s more complicated than that – Facebook’s dominance has been about spotting big hits early on before they had a chance to compete. Then, it either buys them (Instagram) or replicates key features (Snapchat).

But, if the FTC was to disrupt that exit process, it could be counter-intuitive. A lot of VC money is stumped up on the basis that companies will a) go public or b) be acquired. Depending on how the SEC plays this, scenario B might become a lot more difficult.

The human cost of protecting Facebook

Deep, important work from The Verge’s Casey Newton:

Over the past three months, I interviewed a dozen current and former employees of Cognizant in Phoenix. All had signed non-disclosure agreements with Cognizant in which they pledged not to discuss their work for Facebook — or even acknowledge that Facebook is Cognizant’s client. The shroud of secrecy is meant to protect employees from users who may be angry about a content moderation decision and seek to resolve it with a known Facebook contractor. The NDAs are also meant to prevent contractors from sharing Facebook users’ personal information with the outside world, at a time of intense scrutiny over data privacy issues.

Newton delves into the ugliest side of the social networking industry – blocking the worst, horrific excesses of the human race.

What struck me about Newton’s story is that, really, none of it is surprising. What did we think these people had to go through? Are we surprised they’re being poorly paid? Of course not – the scandal here is that 2.5 billion of us are happy to not think about it.

What the story does, brilliantly, is place these poor souls (and they are poor souls) at the heart of the discussion about social media’s impact on our minds and society.