Two feuding YouTubers take fight to the streets

A couple of popular German YouTubers, who by all accounts didn’t like each other very much, organised a meet-up for their fans in the same place, at the same time. A mass brawl broke out, Gizmodo writes:

According to Berlin police, about 400 people arrived in support of Bahar Al Amood or ThatsBekir, and a fight erupted between about 50 of the fans. A video of the event that has been spread on YouTube shows two men talking right before a fight breaks out. Reports suggest those men are Bahar Al Amood and ThatsBekir.

Footage of the fighting was uploading, naturally, to YouTube:

The sheer size of followings now will lead to more incidents like this, I fear. Google needs to get on top of this hooliganism.

‘New Zealand’s dealing with its gun problem. When will we?’

What if a change to American gun laws comes not from a tragedy on its own soil, but from one overseas? Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times:

Why can’t leaders in America learn from experience, the way leaders in other countries do? After a massacre in Australia in 1996, the government there took far-reaching action to tighten gun policy. In contrast, every day in America, another hundred people die from gun violence and 300 more are injured — and our president and Congress do nothing.

In fairness, liberals have often been unhelpful, broadcasting their own ignorance about the firearms they propose to regulate, or speaking blithely of banning guns or of “gun control” in ways that drive responsible gun owners into the arms of the N.R.A. I suggest dropping references to “gun control” and instead speaking of “gun safety.”

Now, the gun lobby in the US will of course point out that New Zealand is a very different place.

But then, in some respects, it isn’t: it has a strong, gun-loving community of people who like to hunt and shoot as a hobby. There is a continued sense of concern around government overreach and “political correctness”. And, there are long-standing tensions between the country’s indigenous and the colonising Europeans.

And yet, NZ PM Jacinda Adhern makes this look straightforward. Bloomberg:

New Zealand will ban military style semi-automatics and assault rifles and establish a nationwide buyback of the weapons in the wake of a terrorist attack on two mosques that left 50 people dead.

The ban takes immediate effect to prevent the stockpiling of weapons while the legislation is being drafted, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters Thursday.

“I strongly believe that the vast majority of legitimate gun owners in New Zealand will understand that these moves are in the national interest, and will take these changes in their stride,” she said in a statement.

WSJ reportedly on board with Apple’s news subscription service

Mike Isaac at the New York Times:

The Wall Street Journal plans to join a new paid subscription news service run by Apple, according to two people familiar with the plans, as other publishers chafe at the terms that the Silicon Valley company is demanding of its partners.

The report goes on to reiterate what was previously reported: the NYT and Washington Post are not interested.

The WSJ’s involvement is a little surprising to me. Apple’s “Netflix for news” is being seen as a way for publications to find new paying customers. But for big news brands with an already-healthy base of paid-up readers, getting into bed with Apple might cannibalise that subscription revenue.

The WSJ perhaps sees this as a way to gain extra income from casual business readers who might not stump up the cash for full access. If that’s the case, it will be interesting to see if the WSJ on Apple is as content-full as it is on the WSJ’s own site and app.

We’ll find out on Monday.

Robot picks out the right mug and then hangs it on a rack (it’s harder than it sounds, alright?)

And now for the latest installment of “teaching robots to pick stuff up”—a long-running, perhaps even never-ending, series.

At MIT, a breakthrough in the quest to teach a robotic arm how to identify a mug, pick it up, and place it on a nearby mug rack.

Researchers worked out how, by reducing the number of data points the machine required for its decision making, they could greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to “teach” a robot how to pick up as wide an array of mugs* as possible.

From Technology Review’s The Algorithm newsletter:

Unlike previous techniques that require hundreds or even thousands of examples for a robot to learn to pick up a mug it has never seen before, this approach requires only a few dozen. The researchers were able to train the neural network on 60 scenes of mugs and 60 scenes of shoes to reach a similar level of performance. When the system initially failed to pick up high heels because there were none in the data set, they quickly fixed the problem by adding a few labeled scenes of high heels to the data.

Here it goes:


(*How many designs of mug can there be in the world?)

Google leads gaming down a perilous path

My take, for BBC News, on Google’s Stadia, a streaming-only gaming platform.

Briefly, I think both gamers and games-makers will be cautious of this idea. Not buying a console and each game sounds great, but the cost of paying for such high-speed internet would probably wipe out any savings made.

And the subscription model – if it indeed ends up being one – could lead to developers having to bastardize their ideas in order to maximise income. My conclusion:

The ad-laden, endorphin-pumping, lootbox-peddling mobile gaming industry might be considered the canary in a very miserable coal-mine, here. Paying for a games consoles, and the games on it, may not be such a bad thing after all.

Ricky Gervais on the increased velocity of “outrage”

Ricky Gervais is doing the media rounds at the moment to promote his new Netflix show, After Life.

I binged it on a recent flight to Canada. Like most of his post-Office* work, it’s… decent enough. Emotional moments are too heavily signposted early on, but delivered so tenderly that you don’t care when they arrive.

And in one episode he offers a charming take on the importance of local newspapers to a community. “They’re not for reading,” his character, a reporter, says. “They’re for being in.”

Anyway. Speaking to the New York Times, Gervais had this to say about the modern outrage cycle:

Twenty years ago, if you saw something on TV that offended you and you wanted to let someone know, you would’ve had to get a pen and paper and write, “Dear BBC, I’m bothered.” But you didn’t do it because it was too much trouble. Now with Twitter, you can just go, “[Expletive] you!” to a comedian who’s offended you. Then a journalist will see that and say, “So-and-so said a thing and people are furious.” No. The rest of us don’t give a [expletive] and wouldn’t have heard about it if it hadn’t been made a headline. Everything is exaggerated.

The most frustrating example of this I can think of from the past year was the “row” over the video of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s teenage dancing. “Conservatives are offended”, read headlines based on, quite literally, one anonymous tweet.

While we’re talking about Ricky Gervais, I did greatly enjoy this part of his recent Netflix comedy special, in which he talks about how people behave on Twitter when it comes to becoming irate at posts that have nothing to do with them:

*(or rather, post-Derek, surely one of the most underrated programmes ever shown on British television)

One year on from Cambridge Analytica

The Guardian’s Julia Carrie Wong on the one-year anniversary of the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica scandal:

What changed was how we saw those facts. It was as if we had all gone away on a long voyage, returned home to an uneasy sense that something was different, and were not immediately able to grasp that it was ourselves who had changed and not the rooms and furnishings that surrounded us.

I like this take. A lot. Facebook hasn’t changed in any meaningful way since this broke out, and I still stand by my view that the company, feeling victimised, still sees this as some kind of passing storm.

But, if what Wong says is true, that won’t matter. As long as the public’s attitude has changed—which the article argues it has—then Facebook will have no choice but to adapt or be left behind.

California governor to suspend death penalty

“I do not believe that a civilized society can claim to be a leader in the world as long as its government continues to sanction the premeditated and discriminatory execution of its people.”

— California governor Gavin Newsom as he prepares to order a halt to California’s death penalty. The state has 737 inmates currently on death row, the highest of any US state. California has executed 722 people in its history. The most recent, Clarance Allen, was in 2006.

Open AI becomes for-profit

An interesting about-face for one of the emerging machine learning/AI organisations. Open AI, set up with funding from Elon Musk and Y Combinator’s Sam Altman, is now becoming a for-profit company after all:

It calls itself a “capped-profit” company. That’s a term it coined to mean it will limit the amount of money it returns to investors and employees and use most of whatever it generates to fund its non-profit entity, which will continue to exist. The non-profit entity will rule the company’s board with more board seats, and investors and employees have to sign a pledge acknowledging that the non-profit comes before their financial interests.

I recently covered Open AI’s “fake news machine”. As part of my reporting I spoke to several independent AI researchers who had a very dim view of the motives behind Open AI—pointing to the fact that the “research” released by the company has never been peer-reviewed. Open AI is designed, one researcher argued, purely with the intent of generating publicity.

As a non-profit billed as a discussion generator around the future of ethics in AI, publicity stunts are perhaps welcome. But a for-profit firm? I predict a closer watch on what OpenAI does from now on, with tougher scrutiny over what really constitutes a breakthrough.

Slate: What Zuckerberg’s new ‘privacy first’ vision for Facebook is hiding

It’s a diversion, a magician’s misdirection full of red herrings. When it comes to privacy, Facebook has been getting into trouble, deflecting, apologizing, and failing to deliver on promises of meaningful privacy protections for more than a decade. And its CEO wants to distract us from that record with a few well-placed changes so we miss his dangerous inaction elsewhere. Even taking him at his word—a generosity Facebook certainly hasn’t earned—Zuckerberg’s essay shows that he fundamentally misunderstands what “privacy” means. Read more cynically, the post seems to use a narrow definition of the concept to distract us from the ways Facebook will likely continue to expand its invasion of our digital private lives for profit.

— Slate’s Ari Ezra Waldman writing about Mark Zuckerberg’s pledge to make Facebook a more privacy-centric “digital living room”.