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Thursday, 22 March 2018

Wooden Boy: Common | The worst job in the world | Down by the Atmospheric River | The Problem with Facebook (adventures in galaxy brain)

Wyrley and Essington Canal W275 010 | by touluru

Wyrley and Essington Canal W275-010. | The Wyrley and Essington Canal (that is currently in water) runs between Brownhills and Wolverhampton in the West Midlands of England. Memorial bench ---- "In Loving Memory of Clive Michael Ault 17.1.44 – 6.1.17 | Husband – Father – Grandfather – Brother – Councillor – Friend | He will be missed by all" | Looking west to Pelsall Works Bridge: photo by touluru, 26 February 2018

Wooden Boy: Common 

Here, (HA!) breath comes
Earth arc plain 
in pool
Arc broke
Beasts err
We be burdens burdens’ glow
A now ohs forhowever
long gone
There are flowers
NO you don’t know

Wooden Boy: Common, from The Little Wooden Boy, 2 February 2018

Wyrley and Essington Canal W270 – 027 | by touluru

Wyrley and Essington Canal W270-027. | The Wyrley and Essington Canal (that is currently in water) runs between Brownhills and Wolverhampton in the West Midlands of England. Memorial bench ---- In Loving Memory of Stephen White 'Pinky' |"You're Here For A Good Time | Not A Long Time" |11-06-1956 To 31-03-2014: photo by touluru, 26 February 2018

Da que pensar "en que mundo vivimos" | by Herrera Fotografías

Da que pensar "en que mundo vivimos": photo by 3rp@co, 27 February 2018

Sem abrigo (Homeless) | by A. Paulo C. M. Oliveira

Sem abrigo (Homeless) [Portugal]: photo by A. Paulo C. M. Oliveira, 10 March 2018

Sem abrigo (Homeless) | by A. Paulo C. M. Oliveira

Sem abrigo (Homeless) [Portugal]: photo by A. Paulo C. M. Oliveira, 10 March 2018

Sem abrigo (Homeless) | by A. Paulo C. M. Oliveira

Sem abrigo (Homeless) [Portugal]: photo by A. Paulo C. M. Oliveira, 10 March 2018

Children of refugees | by Very_Sprng

Children of refugees [Tel Aviv]: photo by Very_Sprng, 10 March 2018

Children of refugees | by Very_Sprng

Children of refugees [Tel Aviv]: photo by Very_Sprng, 10 March 2018

Children of refugees | by Very_Sprng

ML_CardiffBirmingham_180310 | by Lofthouse_Matty

ML_CardiffBirmingham_180310 | CARDIFF, UNITED KINGDOM. March 10 2018. Football match between Cardiff City and Birmingham City in the Sky Bet EFL Championship. Final score at the Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff City 3-2 Birmingham City. ©Photo Matthew Lofthouse - Freelance Photographer: photo by Lofthouse_Matty, 2 March 2018

Fés - narrow alley | by chrisbastian44

 Fés - narrow alley [Fés-el-Bali, Morocco]: photo by Charles Bastian, 7 March 2018

Fés - narrow alley | by chrisbastian44

 Fés - narrow alley [Fés-el-Bali, Morocco]: photo by Charles Bastian, 7 March 2018

Fés - narrow alley | by chrisbastian44

 Fés - narrow alley [Fés-el-Bali, Morocco]: photo by Charles Bastian, 7 March 2018

Untitled | by Soumyendra Saha

Untitled | by Soumyendra Saha
Untitled: photo by Soumyendra Saha, 21 March 2018

Untitled | by Soumyendra Saha

#01 | by Sohail Bin Mohammad

 #01 [Dhaka]: photo by Sohail Bin Mohammad, 8 March 2018

#2 | by pratyay

#2 | by pratyay

#2 | by pratyay

#2 [Dhaka]: photo by pratyay, 16 March 2018

In the megacity: The worst job in the world

The dysfunctional megacity: why Dhaka is bursting at the sewers: Cities can be dense without being overpopulated. But in the world’s most crowded city, the drains can’t cope – creating a grim new job: Poppy McPherson in Dhaka for The Guardian,

After decades cleaning the sewers of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s crowded capital, Sujon Lal Routh has seen plenty of misery. But the tragedy of 2008 was the worst. After a day of heavy rainfall left the streets flooded – as usual – seven workers were assigned to clear a blocked manhole in Rampura, in the centre of the city. Normally, cleaners cling to ropes to stop them getting sucked in by surging water when they clear blockages. But this group were new to the job. “They didn’t know about the impending danger or how to work in that situation,” says Sujon. “So, sewer water swallowed them.”
Bystanders smashed the road open with hammers and shovels. Eventually, they dragged out three workers, dead. Another four were seriously injured; one later died in hospital. “The accident instilled fear in us, and for months we were even afraid to look into the sewers,” says Sujon.
During Bangladesh’s relentless monsoon season, Dhaka is submerged several times a month. The overburdened drains clog and the low-lying city fills with water like a bathtub. Newspapers such as the Dhaka Tribune bemoan the inundation with pictures of flooded buses and quotes from peeved commuters and despondent urban experts: “Dhaka underwater again”; “It’s the same old story.”

On the sides of the roads, in the blinding rain, the ragtag army of sewer cleaners goes to work. Some poke bamboo sticks into the manholes. Others are plunged, half-naked, into the liquid filth and forced to scoop out the sludge with their bare hands. "The world's worst job", global media declared last year after pictures of the workers neck-deep in waste went viral.
According to UN Habitat, Dhaka is the world’s most crowded city. With more than 44,500 people sharing each square kilometre of space, and more migrating in from rural areas every day, the capital is literally bursting at the seams – and the sewers. The cleaners, who make about £225 per month, risk their health and their lives to prop up infrastructure that is groaning under the weight of the population.
Overpopulation is usually defined as the state of having more people in one place that can live there comfortably, or more than the resources available can cater for. By that measure, Dhaka is a textbook example.
“There are cities bigger in size than Dhaka in the world,” says Prof Nurun Nabi, project director at the department of population sciences at the University of Dhaka (“They call me Population Man. Like Superman,” he says). “But if you talk in terms of the characteristics and nature of the city, Dhaka is the fastest growing megacity in the world, in terms of population size.”
Cities can be densely populated without being overpopulated. Singapore, a small island, has a high population density – about 10,200 per sq km – but few people would call it overpopulated. The city has grown upwards to accommodate its residents in high-rises, some with rooftop “sky-gardens” and running tracks.
Overpopulation happens when a city grows faster than it can be managed.

A sewer cleaner in Dhaka.: photo by Zakir Chowdhury/Barcroft Images via The Guardian, 21 March 2018

“The government has been trying to manage Dhaka city well, but has not been as successful as expected,” says Sujon, the sewer cleaner, over a creamy cup of cha, Bangladeshi tea, in the modest flat he shares with his family in bustling central Dhaka. Outside, painted rickshaws tinkle through narrow, waterlogged streets.
While Bangladesh is majority Muslim, like many in his profession, Sujon is Hindu. Hindus were singled out for persecution during the country’s war for independence from Pakistan and remain subject to discrimination. He is also a dalit, belonging to the caste known throughout south Asia as “untouchables” and consigned to menial jobs. In Bangladesh, they are called by the derogatory term methor – “those who clean shit”.
“I have inherited this from my forefathers and have no other work skills,” says Sujon, who is tall and in his early 40s, with a long, thin face and neat moustache. “I have a family to maintain, children to offer education and monthly bills to pay, including rent. I’m forced to do this job, although I know it brings me disrespect and disgrace.”
It is thankless, dangerous work. A friend of Sujon’s was killed when a septic tank he was cleaning exploded. Recently, Sujon’s brother, Sushil, had to hang on to a leaking gas pipeline while trying to clear a 10-foot-deep manhole. “If we had a washer or pump machine, the risk could be reduced,” he says. “We could use the pump to dry up the manhole before going down to clear it up. Also, we need to have a ladder to go down. But we just get an order to get the work done, so we manage people and try to finish it as quickly as possible.”

Then there are the health effects. Sujon blames a mysterious skin rash on the hours spent submerged.
“The sewerage lines are acidic and poisonous due to rotten filth,” he says. “So cleaners are 100% sure to have health problems, especially skin problems. Often they don’t realise it at all. They’ll buy and drink some local liquor, feel dizzy and fall asleep. They’ll be out of this world by then. If they had their senses they would realise the damage being done slowly.”
To live in Dhaka is to suffer, to varying degrees. The poor are crammed into sprawling shantytowns, where communicable diseases fester and fires sporadically raze homes. Slum-dwellers make up around 40% of the population. The middle and upper classes spend much of their time stuck in interminable traffic jams. The capital regularly tops “least liveable cities” rankings. This year it sat behind Lagos, Nigeria, and the capitals of war-ravaged Libya and Syria.
And that’s an improvement, jokes Nabi during an interview at his office at the University of Dhaka, whose lush tropical grounds provide the city with rare green space. Like many Bangladeshi academics grappling with the host of crises bearing down on the country, Nabi treats his subject matter with a mix of wry humour and optimism. “In the rankings, for a couple of years, we were No 1,” he says.
It wasn’t always like this. In the 1960s, before Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan in 1971, Nabi recalls, it was possible to drive down empty roads in Dhaka. People bathed in Mughal-era canals in the old part of the city, which is still home to centuries-old architecture, although much has been razed in pursuit of development. The canals have been filled in, cutting off a vital source of drainage.
Like much of the world,  Bangladesh has undergone rapid, unplanned urbanisation. The economic opportunities conferred by globalisation, as well as climate-induced disasters in rural and coastal areas, have driven millions to seek better fortune in the capital, putting a strain on resources. “We can see a huge avalanche coming towards the city from the rural areas,” says Nabi. “People are pouring, pouring, pouring in. Do we have the housing infrastructure to accommodate them? Where are the facilities for poor people to live?”
Bangladesh’s reluctance to decentralise and invest in cities beyond Dhaka has compounded the problem, he says. “You go to India, just the neighbouring country, you will find Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, so many cities where you can live,” says Nabi. “You can survive. Here, we only have Dhaka still.”

Cleaning sewers has been described as the world’s worst job.: photo by KM Asad/Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock via The Guardian, 21 March 2018

For most of modern history, cities grew out of wealth. Even in more recently developed countries, such as China and Korea, the flight towards cities has largely been in line with income growth. But recent decades have brought a global trend for “poor-country urbanisation”, in the words of Harvard University economist Edward Glaeser, with the proliferation of low-income megacities.

According to Glaeser’s research, in 1960 most countries with a per capita income of less than $1,000 had urbanisation rates of under 10%. By 2011, the urbanisation rate of less developed countries stood at 47%.
In other words, urbanisation has outpaced development, resulting in the creation of teeming but dysfunctional megacities such as Lagos, Karachi, Kinshasa and Dhaka.
Dense urban populations, Glaeser writes, bring benefits such as social and creative movements as well as scourges like disease and congestion. “Almost all of these problems can be solved by competent governments with enough money,” he writes. In ancient Rome, Julius Caesar successfully fought traffic by introducing a daytime ban on the driving of carts in the city. Baghdad and Kaifeng, China, meanwhile, were renowned for their waterworks. “These places didn’t have wealth, but they did have a competent public sector,” writes Glaeser.
In much of the developing world today, both are in short supply.
In Dhaka, management of the city falls to a chaotic mix of competing bodies. “The lack of coordination between government agencies that provide services is one of the major obstacles,” says Nabi.
Seven different government departments – including two separate mayors – are working to combat waterlogging, an arrangement that has led to a farcical game of buck-passing. In July, mayor of south Dhaka Sayeed Khokon stood knee-deep in water and said the Water Supply and Sewage Authority (Wasa) was liable but could not “be seen much at work”. 

Wasa subsequently blamed Khokon. Elsewhere, north Dhaka’s late mayor Annisul Huq, also visiting waterlogged areas, turned to a reporter in exasperation and asked: “Someone tell me what is the solution?”
Taqsem Khan, Wasa’s managing director, says that, since natural sources of drainage are scarce, the government has to pump water out of the city through several thousand kilometres of pipeline laid across the city.
“The reason why there is water congestion in Dhaka city is because it’s a megacity – its population growth is too high,” he says. “Wasa once worked for six million people, but today there are about 15 million people … That is the reason why the natural water bodies and water drainage systems have been destroyed and housing has been built up.”
In 2013, the city signed a deal to dredge some of the canals – following the example of Sylhet, another Bangladeshi city suffering from waterlogging – but there has been little sign of progress.

But dysfunctional administrations have not always been an obstacle to getting things done in Bangladesh. The country has won praise for its adaptation-focused response to climate change.

And some urbanists are rethinking the prevailing negative view of slums, while urbanisation – which tends to bring declining birth rates – can be a partial solution to overpopulation.

Glaeser points out that social movements formed in the confines of urban areas can have the power to change and discipline governments.

“Many stories will be written by the people of this nation – forget about the political parties,” says Nabi. “Someday they will wake up and be forced to comply with their speech.”

In the meantime, however, the unchanged misery of the sewer cleaners serves as a reminder that, as cities grow, they tend to get more unequal.

Sujon says his community is shunned by both Muslims and Hindus. “Nobody comes to hear our plight, not even local journalists,” he says. His daughters conceal their origins even from their friends. “Our children can go to school, but they must hide their background and real identity to avoid being ostracised and humiliated,” he says.

“The whole system is against us, against our progress and our development. Bangladesh gained independence in 1971, but our community’s conditions remain the same.”

Dhaka: the city where climate refugees are already a reality: Poppy McPherson in Dhaka for The Guardian, 1 December 2015

Every day, another 2,000 people move to the Bangladeshi capital. It’s nothing new – for generations Dhaka has been a magnet for those escaping rural poverty – but now climate change is accelerating the race to the city

Parul Akter travelled across Bangladesh to escape the flood waters, but they seem to have followed her. The shack she shares with her husband and four children in Dhaka, the nation’s capital, sits on the edge of the sprawling Korail slum – next to a lake. When it rains, dank water sloshes into their shelter. Only the bed, raised up on bricks, stays dry. 

“This room is all we have, so we need to stay here no matter what happens,” said Akter.

Seven years ago, a monsoon flood left nothing standing in their village, located in Bhola on the country’s south-west coast. “We had no option but to climb up the banks with our belongings immediately,” said Akter. “Within a week, we moved to Dhaka to start a new life.”

Every day, some 2,000 people settle in the Bangladeshi capital. It’s nothing new – for generations the city has been a magnet for men and women escaping rural poverty. But now there’s another driver that experts say has accelerated the race to the capital: the Earth’s changing climate, which has already made life extremely difficult in stretches of this pancake-flat country threaded with rivers. 

In the coming decades, millions more “climate refugees” around the world are expected to make similar journeys. In a cruel irony, many will wind up in cities even more ill-equipped to withstand the changing climate.

Bangladesh contributes just 0.4 metric tonnes per capita to the carbon emissions fuelling climate change (the US produces 17 and the UK 7.1), but will suffer its effects badly. Within three decades, the country is expected to be at least 2C hotter. By 2080, the seas could be 2ft higher.
The glaciers in the Himalayas will melt faster, sending more floodwaters to batter the Bay of Bengal. Cyclones will wrack the coast more frequently, and with more intensity. Salty seawater will pollute drinking supplies. Fertile land will be destroyed.

In a cruel irony, many refugees will wind up in cities even more ill-equipped to withstand the changing climate

Some of this is already happening. There have not been many studies indisputably tying Bangladesh’s rural exodus to climate. But research indicates that the majority of migrants hail from coastal areas that are already experiencing rising sea levels, increased salinity, destructive floods and cyclones. At least 400,000 people move to Dhaka every year, according to the World Bank, while the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates  that 70% of Dhaka’s slum-dwellers moved there fleeing some sort of environmental shock.

In 2012, A S Moniruzzaman Khan, the director of the Centre for Climate Change and Environmental Research at BRAC University, tracked 1,500 families migrating to cities, mostly Dhaka.
Almost all cited the changing environment as the biggest reason for their decision. They were struggling to find fresh water to drink, as rising seas spilled into rivers.
“Ten years back, the area was freshwater – now it is not,” Khan said. He heard of women and children having to walk an extra five hours each day to find clean water. The task was considered too dangerous, so men went instead – taking a sizeable chunk out of the earnings of the family’s main breadwinner. “If you provide water, this migration issue would probably never come,” said Khan.

It’s not just Bangladesh. All over the world, people are or will be on the move – in Africa, largely due to drought; in Asia, floods. By 2060, there could be between 25 million and 1 billion environmental migrants. And cities will be their primary destination. Foresight, a UK government research body, says that by 2060 there will be 192 million more people living in vulnerable urban coastal floodplains, mainly in Asia.
“Those moving to water-stressed or low-lying coastal cities in developing countries may paradoxically find themselves exposed to greater climate-change related risks,” a 2014 report by IOM reads.
Part of the problem is population. Asia’s megacities show no signs of shrinking, even as rising sea levels render them more vulnerable to storm surges.
A 2011 study of the 20 most populous cities expected to be exposed to coastal flooding by 2070 placed Dhaka third, behind Mumbai and Calcutta. Also in the top 10 are Guangzhou, Ho Chi Min City, Shanghai, Bangkok and Yangon. Miami is the only city in a developed country to feature on the list.
But despite the challenges, solutions for environmental migrants rarely feature on urban development plans. 

Climate refugees still have no legal standing under international law. No binding global agreements contain provisions for them, despite the first assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1990 suggesting that “the gravest effects of climate change may be those on human migration”.
Specialists had hoped that the climate talks in Paris starting on 30 November would persuade countries to prioritise the issue. But environmental migration has reportedly been removed from the final agenda, though it could be reintroduced during negotiations.

In Dhaka, meanwhile, a teeming megacity of more than 15 million people packed into a 325 sq km radius, the climate refugees are finding a city where everything is clogged – from roads and pavements to rivers and drains.
The slums, already home to hundreds of thousands, are expanding rapidly. Within two decades, the city’s population could double to 30 million.

Within three decades, Bangladesh is expected to be at least 2C hotter. By 2080, the seas could be 2ft higher

“Every boat has a carrying capacity, every city has a carrying capacity,” said Sarder Shafiqul Alam, a senior researcher at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development and Bangladesh’s representative at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Asian Climate Change Resilience Network. “If that carrying capacity is over-burdened and over-burdened, what will happen? Boat will capsize. City will do something like that.”
People coming to Dhaka after environmental disasters face more problems, he said. “They’re not getting enough safe water to drink; they’re not getting sanitation facilities.”
In yet another irony, even though Dhaka is prone to flooding, it is also running dry. About 90% of the city’s water supplies come from ground reserves, which are depleted by three metres a year. There’s a supply-demand gap of 500m litres a day, according to a 2014 report, leading to chronic shortages and protests in the summer months.

On the face of it, climate change is poised to be the latest disaster to cripple Bangladesh, a nation that has been beset by compounding crises since it was founded in 1971.
But Bangladeshis are accustomed to bouncing back. Or, as Khan puts it: “Our people like to face challenges.”
The country boasts the world’s largest non-profit, BRAC, and is the birthplace of micro-finance, thanks to Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus. Armies of field workers have responded to climate challenges with innovation. Farmers whose salt-washed land is unfit to grow regular rice have turned to salt-tolerant strains, or raised shrimp instead. And there has been a concerted effort to persuade villagers not to leave their homes.

Some people argue, however, that environmental migrants have a legal claim to be resettled on public land. S M Mahmudul Hasan, 55, a community leader at Korail, has an encyclopedic knowledge of the residents, mostly families who migrated from places such as Bhola and Barial.
“They have lost their houses in natural disasters and have had no income in the villages,” he said.
Most now eke out a living as street sweepers, rickshaw drivers and domestic workers in slums where they face the constant threat of eviction. They miss the countryside. 

“Life in the village was good,” said Helena Akter, whose home in Barisal was swallowed by the river. “We had land to cultivate and our family lived happy all year round. In Dhaka, we struggle for survival.” But, she adds, “It feels good to be in Dhaka. Although we are poor, we don’t need to be afraid of losing our house in the river any more.”


Bangladeshi pedestrians cross an iron bridge as smoke rises from a garbage dump fire below, by Munir Uz Zaman: image via AFP Photo @AFPphoto, 12 June 2017

Down by the Atmospheric River
Authorities ordered about 2,400 #Ventura County residents to flee their homes Tuesday afternoon as a massive #storm lumbered out of the eastern Pacific Ocean and headed towards #SouthernCalifornia: image via luis sinco @luissinco, 11:01 PM 20 March 2018

Warm humid air streaming up from the vicinity of Hawaii is making it feel tropical outside. Heavy rain and windy conditions are still on track tonight - Thu am. #cawx #castorm: image via NWS Bay Area @NWSBayArea, 1:10 PM 21 March 2018

Lots of talk about #Atmospheric River  - So what are Atmospheric Rivers? #PineappleExpress #cawx #castorm #AR: image via NWS Bay Area @NWSBayArea, 8:56 AM 20 March 2018

This really is a spectacular, photogenic storm. #Atmospheric River becoming entrained in warm sector of deepening cut-off low to the west, exhibiting "textbook" #PineappleExpress structure. Can't take my eyes off the satellite imagery. #CAwx #CAwater: image via Daniel Swain @Weather_West, 2:30 PM, 20 March 2018

This really is a spectacular, photogenic storm. #Atmospheric River becoming entrained in warm sector of deepening cut-off low to the west, exhibiting "textbook" #PineappleExpress structure. Can't take my eyes off the satellite imagery. #CAwx #CAwater: image via Daniel Swain @Weather_West, 2:30 PM, 20 March 2018

This really is a spectacular, photogenic storm. #Atmospheric River becoming entrained in warm sector of deepening cut-off low to the west, exhibiting "textbook" #PineappleExpress structure. Can't take my eyes off the satellite imagery. #CAwx #CAwater: image via Daniel Swain @Weather_West, 2:30 PM, 20 March 2018

This really is a spectacular, photogenic storm. #Atmospheric River becoming entrained in warm sector of deepening cut-off low to the west, exhibiting "textbook" #PineappleExpress structure. Can't take my eyes off the satellite imagery. #CAwx #CAwater: image via Daniel Swain @Weather_West, 2:30 PM, 20 March 2018

The community of #Montecito continues to absorb steady rainfall as a #PineappleExpress passes over damaged neighborhoods. @melissaetehad @latimes: image via Robert Gauthier @rgaut999, 3:56 PM 20 March 2018

 Los Alamitos wants nothing to do with California's 'sanctuary state' laws. Will it start a new resistance?: image via The Los Angeles Times @latimes, 10:40 PM 20 March 2018

It's quite clear that #Trumpism is alive and well in #LosAlamitos as the city council votes to oppose #California #SanctuaryState law. @theCindyCarcano @latimes.: image via Robert Gauthier @rgaut999, 10:18 PM 19 March 2018

All over #Montecito, some of the only people I see left in the mandatory evacuation zone are workers. “It’s because we are poorer,” Horacio Rangel told me, while putting drywall up in a new fancy pizza place. #CAstorm: image via Emily Guerin @guerinemily, 6:08 AM 21
March 2018

adventures in galaxy brain

I just poked Zuck and you should too: image via Olivia Solon @oliviasolon,
tell me about it
Replying to
I can't poke him :(

Replying to
I can't poke him :(

8h8 hours ago
Replying to
ok, but you are on facebook. if you are trolling someone on their own social media platform, you are still the product. whose trolling who?
Replying to
I think you can only poke if you have a mutual friend. I can report his profile to Facebook though.
No poke option anymore godammit
Several billion dollars says he will ignore you
Replying to
TIme to end this 12:00 PM 21 Mar 2018

ZUCK: yea so if you ever need info about anyone at harvard
ZUCK: Just ask

ZUCK: I have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sns

FRIEND: what!? how'd you manage that one?

ZUCK: people just submitted it

ZUCK: I don't know why

ZUCK: they "trust me"

 ZUCK: dumb fucks

I think I was probably 19 when I was one of the “dumb fucks” who handed Zuckerberg my personal information without realizing the implications.: tweet via Julia Carrie Wong @juliacarriew, 17 March 2018 

  He’s hiding with all the other Treason Weasels.: via Joe @joemamma1, 9:48 PM, 19 March 2018

Your miserable offspring

Pinochet accepting nomination, Santiago, 1988 | by Marcelo  Montecino

Pinochet accepting nomination, Santiago, 1988: photo by Marcelo Montecino, 19 March 2019

The Problem with Facebook: Unrolled thread from @fchollet: François Chollet @fchollet, 21 March 2018

The problem with Facebook is not *just* the loss of your privacy and the fact that it can be used as a totalitarian panopticon. The more worrying issue, in my opinion, is its use of digital information consumption as a psychological control vector. Time for a thread.

The world is being shaped in large part by two long-time trends: first, our lives are increasingly dematerialized, consisting of consuming and generating information online, both at work and at home. Second, AI is getting ever smarter.

These two trends overlap at the level of the algorithms that shape our digital content consumption. Opaque social media algorithms get to decide, to an ever-increasing extent, which articles we read, who we keep in touch with, whose opinions we read, whose feedback we get.

Integrated over many years of exposure, the algorithmic curation of the information we consume gives the systems in charge considerable power over our lives, over who we become. By moving our lives to the digital realm, we become vulnerable to that which rules it -- AI algorithms.

If Facebook gets to decide, over the span of many years, which news you will see (real or fake), whose political status updates you’ll see, and who will see yours, then Facebook is in effect in control of your political beliefs and your worldview.

This is not quite news, as Facebook has been known to run since at least 2013 a series of experiments in which they were able to successfully control the moods and decisions of unwitting users by tuning their newsfeeds’ contents, as well as prediction user's future decisions.

In short, Facebook can simultaneously measure everything about us, and control the information we consume. When you have access to both perception and action, you’re looking at an AI problem. You can start establishing an optimization loop for human behavior. A RL loop.

A loop in which you observe the current state of your targets and keep tuning what information you feed them, until you start observing the opinions and behaviors you wanted to see.

A good chunk of the field of AI research (especially the bits that Facebook has been investing in) is about developing algorithms to solve such optimization problems as efficiently as possible, to close the loop and achieve full control of the phenomenon at hand. In this case, us.

This is made all the easier by the fact that the human mind is highly vulnerable to simple patterns of social manipulation. While thinking about these issues, I have compiled a short list of psychological attack patterns that would be devastatingly effective.

Some of them have been used for a long time in advertising (e.g. positive/negative social reinforcement), but in a very weak, un-targeted form. From an information security perspective, you would call these "vulnerabilities": known exploits that can be used to take over a system.

In the case of the human mind, these vulnerabilities never get patched, they are just the way we work. They’re in our DNA. They're our psychology. On a personal level, we have no practical way to defend ourselves against them.

The human mind is a static, vulnerable system that will come increasingly under attack from ever-smarter AI algorithms that will simultaneously have a complete view of everything we do and believe, and complete control of the information we consume.

Importantly, mass population control -- in particular political control -- arising from placing AI algorithms in charge of our information diet does not necessarily require very advanced AI. You don’t need self-aware, superintelligent AI for this to be a dire threat.

So, if mass population control is already possible today -- in theory -- why hasn’t the world ended yet? In short, I think it’s because we’re really bad at AI. But that may be about to change. You see, our technical capabilities are the bottleneck here.

Until 2015, all ad targeting algorithms across the industry were running on mere logistic regression. In fact, that’s still true to a large extent today -- only the biggest players have switched to more advanced models.

It is the reason why so many of the ads you see online seem desperately irrelevant. They aren't that sophisticated.
Likewise, the social media bots used by hostile state actors to sway public opinion have little to no AI in them. They’re all extremely primitive. For now.

AI has been making fast progress in recent years, and that progress is only beginning to get deployed in targeting algorithms and social media bots. Deep learning has only started to make its way into newsfeeds and ad networks around 2016. Facebook has invested massively in it.

Who knows what will be next. It is quite striking that Facebook has been investing enormous amounts in AI research and development, with the explicit goal of becoming a leader in the field. What does that tell you? What do you use AI/RL for when your product is a newsfeed?

We’re looking at a powerful entity that builds fine-grained psychological profiles of over two billion humans, that runs large-scale behavior manipulation experiments, and that aims at developing the best AI technology the world has ever seen. Personally, it really scares me.
If you work in AI, please don't help them. Don't play their game. Don't participate in their research ecosystem. Please show some conscience.


TC said...

Wooden Boy is our favourite living English poet, and would rank highly among the dead ones, were he to die tomorrow perish the pensum, and join the Dead Poets Society.

But not the Mork and Mindy Society mind. Not after all that puppy punching we heard about just moments before airtime on the morning news beam from that planet Mork and Mindy came from. I believe Keir Dullea came from there also, as the capsule neared Jupiter.

Aside, will they have to take mad puppy punching Robby's name off the tunnel that was named in his honour, the rainbow one hard by the Waldo Grade?

And who was Waldo, and who would want either a Grade, or a tunnel wreathed with exhausts and emissions, named after them, anyway, but a dead murican from an outer galaxy?

For the right price anything.

So.. we are at the moment having the Pineapple Prelude to the Deep Low and 3 Day Trough that will ensue as the cold front passes through, with its lightning, hail, thunder, car crashes, and "multiple" assholes on the freeway feeder bearing down on the pedestrian crossing much as unleashed smart missiles gone nuts. Madame B braved the broken steps and collapsing hillside and insane freeway feeder on her actual rueful final no escape golden anniversary, the poor lustrous thing more a wonder every day as she is and went to get fish. But Wooden Boy already knew that.

She reported Safeway was not only not crowded, but dead empty, as at end of world.

If only!

TC said...

Al Green: Take Me To the River (live 1975)

Marvin Gaye: What's Going On | What's Happening Brother (live Chicago 27 September 1972)

TC said...

Norah Jones with Puss 'n Boots joined by Neil Young for 'Down by the River' at the Bridge School Benefit #28 on 25 October 2014

TC said...

btw IMHO Genius moment in the brilliant M Gaye vid 1:15 - 1:25 camera isolates MG with James Jamerson

Hanford Woods said...

Please Tom, no more pictures of Neil Warnock. I will expect a compensatory Slavisa Jokanovic in the next day or two

TC said...

Hanf I knew that one would smoke you out of the foetid Cottage.

I'll have you know NW has been moonlighting as a public bench designer in the Wolverhampton area and it's him fashioned that wrought iron black beauty adorning the top of the page.

Now do not blame Wooden Boy, who is of Welsh lineage yet a proud Brum citizen to this very day and hour.

What's more I must add he cares not a fig about the fitba. Nor would I were it not for a chance at a bit of the Other not that being tinkered with by a member of sporting management as we hear so much of nowadays would be a desideratum really, but you know what we say, any way out of the death lock of the Championship must be a good way. Perforce.

Wooden Boy said...

Thanks for the post, Tom

Marvin: a voice that is is nothing less than beauty singing of our inescapable ugliness.

I'd love to pipe some of that Dhaka sewage into Zuckerberg's post-PoMo office.

Wooden Boy said...

James Jamerson on bass too...

TC said...

Best bass player ever... and wonderful poem, a bit of living breathing overheard (inner?) dialogue from a Springtime that may or may not ever arrive... we all needed that and thank you very much for it WB. As ever, all love from us to K & yourself.