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The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine

There’s a new automated propaganda machine driving global politics. How it works and what it will mean for the future of democracy.

“This is a propaganda machine. It’s targeting people individually to recruit them to an idea. It’s a level of social engineering that I’ve never seen before. They’re capturing people and then keeping them on an emotional leash and never letting them go,” said professor Jonathan Albright.

Albright, an assistant professor and data scientist at Elon University, started digging into fake news sites after Donald Trump was elected president. Through extensive research and interviews with Albright and other key experts in the field, including Samuel Woolley, Head of Research at Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project, and Martin Moore, Director of the Centre for the Study of Media, Communication and Power at Kings College, it became clear to Scout that this phenomenon was about much more than just a few fake news stories. It was a piece of a much bigger and darker puzzle -- a Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine being used to manipulate our opinions and behavior to advance specific political agendas.

 

Scout

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The future is now and it's happening fast. Makes you wonder if that lunatic in the subway talking about the guys in silicon valley who control his thoughts was really telling the truth..

 

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Thought this thread was going to be about joy division :(

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That's a fundamentally disturbing article :( Doesn't give much scope for optimism at all. Trump campaigning now makes perfect sense and alt right insane politics is here to stay for a very long time.

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Think this was touched on in Adam Curtis' Hypernormalisation which has been referenced quite a bit in various threads recently.

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3 hours ago, Jon said:

Thought this thread was going to be about joy division :(

Well I am relieved. I thought it was going to be about Janet Jackson. 

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Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media

With links to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and Nigel Farage, the rightwing US computer scientist is at the heart of a multimillion-dollar propaganda network...

...It’s money he’s made as a result of his career as a brilliant but reclusive computer scientist. He started his career at IBM, where he made what the Association for Computational Linguistics called “revolutionary” breakthroughs in language processing – a science that went on to be key in developing today’s AI – and later became joint CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets.

One of its funds, Medallion, which manages only its employees’ money, is the most successful in the world – generating $55bn so far. And since 2010, Mercer has donated $45m to different political campaigns – all Republican – and another $50m to non-profits – all rightwing, ultra-conservative. This is a billionaire who is, as billionaires are wont, trying to reshape the world according to his personal beliefs.

Grauniad

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Despite all the good AI can undoubtedly do, it will more likely be the case that it will do more harm than good for humanity. Private interests will mean that it will play a key role in rendering tens of millions of people in highly developed societies utterly redundant and if not perpetually unemployed then at least perpetually underemployed and in increasingly deeming roles, whilst the possibility of enlightened discourse in the public sphere is lost forever.  

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Nuance baby yeah! 

https://www.buzzfeed.com/kendalltaggart/the-truth-about-the-trump-data-team-that-people-are-freaking?utm_term=.jdlNr3ozp#.wq7E041gM

The Truth About the Trump Data Team that everyone is freaking out about

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Cambridge Analytica says its “behavioral communications” techniques helped land Trump in the White House. Don’t believe it, say former campaign staffers, employees, and other GOP digital strategists. “You get a lot of snake oil like this in data work,” one said.

 

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Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence?

We are in the middle of a technological upheaval that will transform the way society is organized. We must make the right decisions now...

... Everything started quite harmlessly. Search engines and recommendation platforms began to offer us personalised suggestions for products and services. This information is based on personal and meta-data that has been gathered from previous searches, purchases and mobility behaviour, as well as social interactions. While officially, the identity of the user is protected, it can, in practice, be inferred quite easily. Today, algorithms know pretty well what we do, what we think and how we feel—possibly even better than our friends and family or even ourselves. Often the recommendations we are offered fit so well that the resulting decisions feel as if they were our own, even though they are actually not our decisions. In fact, we are being remotely controlled ever more successfully in this manner. The more is known about us, the less likely our choices are to be free and not predetermined by others.

But it won't stop there. Some software platforms are moving towards “persuasive computing.” In the future, using sophisticated manipulation technologies, these platforms will be able to steer us through entire courses of action, be it for the execution of complex work processes or to generate free content for Internet platforms, from which corporations earn billions. The trend goes from programming computers to programming people.

Scientific American

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The first half is probably more relevant to the US politics thread.

The second half...

 

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Even This Data Guru Is Creeped Out By What Anonymous Location Data Reveals About Us

Using code and the web, a data scientist follows two unnamed people and learns just how much our anonymous location data can say about who we are...               
... “Companies often claim to have ‘anonymized’ your location history by taking your name off it,” says Peter Eckersley, the chief computer scientist of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “But that is totally inadequate because you’re probably the only person who lives in your house and who works in your office, and it’s easy for any researcher or data scientist to look at a location trace and figure out who it belonged to.”

 

Fast Company

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15 hours ago, Xann said:

John Lanchester discusses the extent to which Facebook has become a means of surveillance:

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...The second big shift around monetisation came in 2012 when internet traffic began to switch away from desktop computers towards mobile devices. If you do most of your online reading on a desktop, you are in a minority. The switch was a potential disaster for all businesses which relied on internet advertising, because people don’t much like mobile ads, and were far less likely to click on them than on desktop ads. In other words, although general internet traffic was increasing rapidly, because the growth was coming from mobile, the traffic was becoming proportionately less valuable. If the trend were to continue, every internet business that depended on people clicking links – i.e. pretty much all of them, but especially the giants like Google and Facebook – would be worth much less money.

Facebook solved the problem by means of a technique called ‘onboarding’. As Martínez explains it, the best way to think about this is to consider our various kinds of name and address.

For example, if Bed, Bath and Beyond wants to get my attention with one of its wonderful 20 per cent off coupons, it calls out:

Antonio García Martínez
1 Clarence Place #13
San Francisco, CA 94107

If it wants to reach me on my mobile device, my name there is:

38400000-8cfo-11bd-b23e-10b96e40000d

That’s my quasi-immutable device ID, broadcast hundreds of times a day on mobile ad exchanges.

On my laptop, my name is this:

07J6yJPMB9juTowar.AWXGQnGPA1MCmThgb9wN4vLoUpg.BUUtWg.rg.FTN.0.AWUxZtUf

This is the content of the Facebook re-targeting cookie, which is used to target ads-are-you based on your mobile browsing.

Though it may not be obvious, each of these keys is associated with a wealth of our personal behaviour data: every website we’ve been to, many things we’ve bought in physical stores, and every app we’ve used and what we did there … The biggest thing going on in marketing right now, what is generating tens of billions of dollars in investment and endless scheming inside the bowels of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, is how to tie these different sets of names together, and who controls the links. That’s it.

Facebook already had a huge amount of information about people and their social networks and their professed likes and dislikes. 2 After waking up to the importance of monetisation, they added to their own data a huge new store of data about offline, real-world behaviour, acquired through partnerships with big companies such as Experian, which have been monitoring consumer purchases for decades via their relationships with direct marketing firms, credit card companies, and retailers. There doesn’t seem to be a one-word description of these firms: ‘consumer credit agencies’ or something similar about sums it up. Their reach is much broader than that makes it sound, though. 3 Experian says its data is based on more than 850 million records and claims to have information on 49.7 million UK adults living in 25.2 million households in 1.73 million postcodes. These firms know all there is to know about your name and address, your income and level of education, your relationship status, plus everywhere you’ve ever paid for anything with a card. Facebook could now put your identity together with the unique device identifier on your phone.

lg.php?bannerid=3796&campaignid=1055&zonThat was crucial to Facebook’s new profitability. On mobiles, people tend to prefer the internet to apps, which corral the information they gather and don’t share it with other companies. A game app on your phone is unlikely to know anything about you except the level you’ve got to on that particular game. But because everyone in the world is on Facebook, the company knows everyone’s phone identifier. It was now able to set up an ad server delivering far better targeted mobile ads than anyone else could manage, and it did so in a more elegant and well-integrated form than anyone else had managed.

So Facebook knows your phone ID and can add it to your Facebook ID. It puts that together with the rest of your online activity: not just every site you’ve ever visited, but every click you’ve ever made – the Facebook button tracks every Facebook user, whether they click on it or not. Since the Facebook button is pretty much ubiquitous on the net, this means that Facebook sees you, everywhere. Now, thanks to its partnerships with the old-school credit firms, Facebook knew who everybody was, where they lived, and everything they’d ever bought with plastic in a real-world offline shop. 4 All this information is used for a purpose which is, in the final analysis, profoundly bathetic. It is to sell you things via online ads.

The ads work on two models. In one of them, advertisers ask Facebook to target consumers from a particular demographic – our thirty-something bourbon-drinking country music fan, or our African American in Philadelphia who was lukewarm about Hillary. But Facebook also delivers ads via a process of online auctions, which happen in real time whenever you click on a website. Because every website you’ve ever visited (more or less) has planted a cookie on your web browser, when you go to a new site, there is a real-time auction, in millionths of a second, to decide what your eyeballs are worth and what ads should be served to them, based on what your interests, and income level and whatnot, are known to be. This is the reason ads have that disconcerting tendency to follow you around, so that you look at a new telly or a pair of shoes or a holiday destination, and they’re still turning up on every site you visit weeks later. This was how, by chucking talent and resources at the problem, Facebook was able to turn mobile from a potential revenue disaster to a great hot steamy geyser of profit.

What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens. It’s amazing that people haven’t really understood this about the company. I’ve spent time thinking about Facebook, and the thing I keep coming back to is that its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality. Note that the company’s knowledge about its users isn’t used merely to target ads but to shape the flow of news to them. Since there is so much content posted on the site, the algorithms used to filter and direct that content are the thing that determines what you see: people think their news feed is largely to do with their friends and interests, and it sort of is, with the crucial proviso that it is their friends and interests as mediated by the commercial interests of Facebook. Your eyes are directed towards the place where they are most valuable for Facebook...

6

Here (registration required for full article).

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The Hidden Forces Behind Toutiao: China’s Content King

Toutiao, one of the flagship products of Bytedance*, may be the largest app you’ve never heard of–it’s like every news feed you read, YouTube, and TechMeme in one. Over 120M people in China use it each day. Yet what’s most interesting about Toutiao isn’t that people consume such varied content all in one place… it’s how Toutiao serves it up. Without any explicit user inputs, social graph, or product purchase history to rely on, Toutiao offers a personalized, high quality-content feed for each user that is powered by machine and deep learning algorithms.

Going a step further than merely serving up content, Toutiao’s algorithms also create content: During the 2016 Olympics, a Toutiao bot wrote original news coverage, publishing stories on major events more quickly than traditional media outlets. The bot-written articles enjoyed read rates (# of reads and # of impressions) in line with those produced at a slower speed and higher cost by human writers on average...

... Toutiao launched in 2012. The app uses machine and deep learning algorithms to source and surface content that users will find most interesting. Toutiao’s underlying technology learns about readers through their usage – taps, swipes, time spent on each article, time of the day the user reads, pauses, comments, interactions with the content and location – but doesn’t require any explicit input from the user and is not built on their social graph. Today, each user is measured across millions of dimensions and the result is a personalized, extensive, and high-quality content feed for every user, each time they open the app.

Y Combinator

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The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online

Experts are evenly split on whether the coming decade will see a reduction in false and misleading narratives online. Those forecasting improvement place their hopes in technological fixes and in societal solutions. Others think the dark side of human nature is aided more than stifled by technology...

... The 2016 Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the tumultuous U.S. presidential election highlighted how the digital age has affected news and cultural narratives. New information platforms feed the ancient instinct people have to find information that syncs with their perspectives: A 2016 study that analyzed 376 million Facebook users’ interactions with over 900 news outlets found that people tend to seek information that aligns with their views.

This makes many vulnerable to accepting and acting on misinformation...

 

Pew Research

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It's possible that companies like Facebook and Google will, in the future, be regulated in the same way that utilities are. This could well shake things up in the right direction.

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The Government’s new countermeasures against extremist communications are leading the UK down a dark road. First they pressured companies to compromise their products’ security for the sake of intelligence gathering. Now they want to coerce internet companies into policing their networks and threaten the public with harsh sentences for viewing illegal content.

ORG Petition

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