November 20, 2018

11 Things We’d Really Like to Know: How Will We Outsmart A.I. Liars?

With these techniques, machines are also learning to read and write. For years, experts questioned whether neural networks could crack the code of natural language. But the tide has shifted in recent months.

Organizations such as Google and OpenAI, an independent lab in San Francisco, have built systems that learn the vagaries of language at the broadest scales — analyzing everything from Wikipedia articles to self-published romance novels — before applying the knowledge to specific tasks. The systems can read a paragraph and answer questions about it. They can judge whether a movie review is positive or negative.

This technology could improve phishing bots such as SNAP_R. Today, most Twitter bots seem like bots, especially when you start replying to them. In the future, they will respond in kind.

The technology also could lead to the creation of voice bots that can carry on a decent conversation — and, no doubt one day, will call and persuade you to divulge your credit-card information.

These new language systems are driven by a new wave of computing power. Google engineers have designed computer chips specifically for training neural networks. Other companies are building similar chips, and as these arrive, they will accelerate A.I. research even further.

Jack Clark, head of policy at OpenAI, can see a not-too-distant future in which governments create machine-learning systems that attempt to radicalize populations in other countries, or force views onto their own people.

“This is a new kind of societal control or propaganda,” he said. “Governments can start to create campaigns that target individuals, but at the same time operate across many people in parallel, with a larger objective.”

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/19/science/artificial-intelligence-deepfakes-fake-news.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Founder’s Big Idea to Revive BuzzFeed’s Fortunes? A Merger With Rivals

He pointed to how Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have had to answer for the latest content crisis plaguing social media. In addition to Russia’s misinformation campaign to try to sway the 2016 presidential election in the United States, hate speech and conspiracy theories regularly show up on their platforms.

“Having some bigger companies that actually care about the quality of the content feels like something that’s very valuable,” he said.

Though initial discussions involving a few companies have taken place, they were all very preliminary, according to five people with knowledge of the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions. BuzzFeed has spoken to at least one other company, while other publishers have had separate discussions, these people said. Mr. Peretti declined to name which companies he has talked to regarding any potential mergers.

Any deal would be difficult to pull off given the number of investors involved and the compounding losses that would result from combining several money-losing start-ups. Staff cuts would be inevitable.

Still, publishers have been getting squeezed by the tech platforms as online advertising rates continue to level off.

“If BuzzFeed and five of the other biggest companies were combined into a bigger digital media company, you would probably be able to get paid more money,” he said .

Content companies everywhere are hurting, especially after Facebook introduced a sweeping change in 2016 that significantly reduced the visibility of articles and videos from publishers in News Feed, its main artery of content. Vice Media will be profitable by the “next fiscal year,” the chief executive Nancy Dubuc said, but staff cuts would be needed to meet that goal. Vox Media, publisher of The Verge and Eater, has struggled to hit its more ambitious revenue targets. Group Nine, owner of popular sites such as The Dodo and Now This, has sought ways to get better ad terms from Facebook and Google. Refinery29, a publisher focused on videos aimed at young women, recently had to lay off nearly 10 percent of its staff.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/19/business/media/buzzfeed-jonah-peretti-mergers.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

CNN’s Jim Acosta Has Press Pass Restored by White House

But Mr. Trump, a devoted news consumer who relishes his coverage, plays up his conflicts with reporters in part to excite his supporters. He has held far fewer formal news conferences than his predecessors, and the daily White House briefing has virtually disappeared on his watch.

Revoking Mr. Acosta’s White House badge was the most severe step yet, and it soon became apparent that the move would not pass legal muster: After suing last week, Mr. Acosta was granted the temporary return of his credentials by a federal judge.

A back-and-forth ensued over the weekend. Bill Shine, the deputy chief of staff for communications, sent a letter to Mr. Acosta that listed several reasons that his pass had been revoked, perhaps an attempt to satisfy the judge’s request for a clear rationale. CNN’s lawyers called the note an “after-the-fact concocted process.” By Monday afternoon, the sides had reached a resolution.

Aides to Mr. Trump say that the president does not mind answering questions, pointing to his numerous impromptu sessions with reporters during White House photo-ops and Marine One departures. The aides complain about reporters who they say do not respect the solemnity of the setting, even as Mr. Trump flouts many of the norms associated with his office.

“The White House’s interaction is, and generally should be, subject to a natural give-and-take,” Ms. Sanders wrote on Monday, suggesting that the onus was on the press corps to ensure that a “code of conduct” did not become necessary.

That notion read more like a warning — behave or else — and the Correspondents’ Association seemed unmoved.

“For as long as there have been White House press conferences, White House reporters have asked follow-up questions,” the group wrote on Monday. “We fully expect this tradition will continue.”

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/19/business/media/jim-acosta-press-pass-cnn.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

No More Laughs as White House Correspondents’ Dinner Turns to a Historian

Some critics have long viewed the night as problematic. Kyle Pope, the editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, wrote in April that the dinner was “destined to be either sycophantic, on one extreme, or meanspirited, on the other. Neither is a good look at a time when trust in media is tenuous.”

The last dinner to feature a non-comedian took place in 2003, when Ray Charles performed; President George W. Bush also skipped the usual roast in part because the country had recently invaded Iraq. Jay Leno appeared the following year, and Mr. Little’s snoozy set was followed in 2008 by the talk-show host Craig Ferguson.

In the past, some correspondents have called for eliminating the comedian entirely and refocusing the dinner on the First Amendment. The plan met resistance from those who enjoy the celebrity quotient of the evening, which has acquired the once-ironic, now-earnest Washington nickname of “#nerdprom.”

For now, it seems like the more sober side of the debate has prevailed.

Mr. Chernow, 69, is known for Pulitzer Prize-winning histories of presidents and statesmen, including the Hamilton biography that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash-hit musical. For those curious about his speaking style, he offered a preview on Monday in a statement distributed by the Correspondents’ Association.

“Freedom of the press is always a timely subject and this seems like the perfect moment to go back to basics,” Mr. Chernow wrote. He added, “While I have never been mistaken for a stand-up comedian, I promise that my history lesson won’t be dry.”

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/19/business/media/ron-chernow-white-house-correspondents-dinner.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Mediator: The Facebook Movie Told Us What We Needed to Know About Mark Zuckerberg

Mr. Sorkin and Mr. Fincher took a few liberties with the facts. But “The Social Network” was based on real events, many of them chronicled in “The Accidental Billionaires,” a 2009 book by the journalist Ben Mezrich. And the film’s portrayal of the budding tech magnate as someone more interested in growing his creation than in who might be hurt by it has stood the test of time.

Watching this origin story unfold from stadium seating eight years ago, I thought I was seeing a series of hard lessons learned as a callow 19-year-old came of age. Streaming it in 2018, I saw something else: the beginning of a pattern that has become all too familiar.

It goes like this. Something bad happens of increasingly severe consequence on Facebook (say, Russian election meddling in the United States, or the incitement of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar). After it is called out, Mr. Zuckerberg or another company official vows to do better. And when the heat is off, the cycle begins anew.

The pattern repeated last week when a meticulously reported New York Times investigation revealed Facebook’s bare-knuckled efforts to deflect blame and undermine critics as it came under scrutiny for enabling the spread of misinformation in the run-up to the 2016 election.

Facebook, which had no comment on Sunday, has responded defensively.

“The reality of running a company of more than 10,000 people,” Mr. Zuckerberg said on Thursday, “is that you’re not going to know everything that’s going on.”

It was a baffling explanation for anyone who took him and his deputy, Sheryl Sandberg, at face value when they swore, not long ago, that they would work openly to assert more control over the platform to stop misinformation campaigns, privacy breaches and incitements to violence.

Nothing was more at variance with their promises of transparency than The Times’s revelation that the company had hired Definers Public Affairs, whose founders are known in Republican circles as lords of the so-called “dark arts” of political opposition research.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/18/business/media/mark-zuckerberg-facebook-movie-the-social-network.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

The Facebook Movie Told Us What We Needed to Know About Mark Zuckerberg

Mr. Sorkin and Mr. Fincher took a few liberties with the facts. But “The Social Network” was based on real events, many of them chronicled in “The Accidental Billionaires,” a 2009 book by the journalist Ben Mezrich. And the film’s portrayal of the budding tech magnate as someone more interested in growing his creation than in who might be hurt by it has stood the test of time.

Watching this origin story unfold from stadium seating eight years ago, I thought I was seeing a series of hard lessons learned as a callow 19-year-old came of age. Streaming it in 2018, I saw something else: the beginning of a pattern that has become all too familiar.

It goes like this. Something bad happens of increasingly severe consequence on Facebook (say, Russian election meddling in the United States, or the incitement of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar). After it is called out, Mr. Zuckerberg or another company official vows to do better. And when the heat is off, the cycle begins anew.

The pattern repeated last week when a meticulously reported New York Times investigation revealed Facebook’s bare-knuckled efforts to deflect blame and undermine critics as it came under scrutiny for enabling the spread of misinformation in the run-up to the 2016 election.

Facebook, which had no comment on Sunday, has responded defensively.

“The reality of running a company of more than 10,000 people,” Mr. Zuckerberg said on Thursday, “is that you’re not going to know everything that’s going on.”

It was a baffling explanation for anyone who took him and his deputy, Sheryl Sandberg, at face value when they swore, not long ago, that they would work openly to assert more control over the platform to stop misinformation campaigns, privacy breaches and incitements to violence.

Nothing was more at variance with their promises of transparency than The Times’s revelation that the company had hired Definers Public Affairs, whose founders are known in Republican circles as lords of the so-called “dark arts” of political opposition research.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/18/business/media/mark-zuckerberg-facebook-movie-the-social-network.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Better Local Journalism, by Local Reporters, Is the Goal of a New Database

She hopes word of mouth will be a catalyst.

“National editors are an ‘if you build it they will come’ sort of thing,” Ms. Baird said when asked how she planned to encourage larger news organizations to use the database.

The database could also be a boon for regional publications. Christina C. Smith, an assistant professor of mass communication at Georgia College who specializes in community journalism, said that for regional papers like The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, budget cuts often lead to a decline in coverage of smaller towns’ local politics, and subsequently in the paper’s local character that once enticed readers and advertisers.

A recent study by the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism found that almost 1,800 papers in the United States have closed or have merged with other papers since 2004, and of the 3,143 counties in the United States, half currently have only one newspaper, often a weekly.

“It’s a vicious cycle because circulations are on decline because ad revenue is declining, but those things are declining because they’re not giving their audience anything to pay for,” Ms. Smith said.

Shoeleather, she said, could perhaps highlight subjects that would otherwise go uncovered.

Steven Waldman, the president and co-founder of Report for America, a nonprofit group that has installed reporters in local newsrooms across the country, agreed. “If there had been earlier coverage of the opioid problem and a better connection between national and local media, we would have seen this as a national problem sooner,” he said. “So you can see patterns.”

Ms. Baird, who is funding the project herself and hopes to eventually add employees, said she planned on developing Shoeleather into a resource hub with paid memberships, similar to freelancer media databases like Study Hall. Paying would give someone access to benefits like Shoeleather-organized journalism workshops or conferences.

“The plan is always be around,” Ms. Baird said. “To be a resource.”

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/18/business/media/shoeleather-local-reporting.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

‘Fantastic Beasts’ Sequel Is a Soft No. 1 at the Box Office

LOS ANGELES — For months, Warner Bros. marketers did everything they could to stir interest in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” the second of the studio’s five lavish Harry Potter prequels. The hard sell appears to have worked overseas. But initial ticket sales were soft in the United States and Canada, where audiences are more susceptible to reviews.

And the reviews were sickly — the worst for J.K. Rowling’s movie-verse by far — potentially hurting the all-important Warner franchise going forward: When audiences feel let down by one chapter in a film series, it is harder to get them to care about the next one.

“The Crimes of Grindelwald” took in an estimated $62.2 million at 4,163 theaters in North America, about 16 percent less than “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” collected over its first three days in 2016. “The Crimes of Grindelwald” received a B-plus grade from ticket buyers in CinemaScore exit polls, down from an A for the previous installment.

[Read Manohla Dargis’s review of “The Crimes of Grindelwald”]

Overseas, the new movie rolled out in 79 markets and sold an estimated $191 million in tickets, a total that Warner described as “spectacular” in a statement on Sunday. Turnout in Russia was particularly strong, Warner said. Attendance at Imax theaters across the globe was also robust. Ron Sanders, the studio’s president of worldwide theatrical distribution and home entertainment, said that the film’s “very successful opening” set it up well to play “throughout the holiday season.”

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/18/movies/fantastic-beasts-crimes-of-grindelwald-box-office.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Facebook Fallout Ruptures Democrats’ Longtime Alliance With Silicon Valley

“These companies are going to have to recognize that they have to change,” Mr. Benioff added. “And the C.E.O.s have to change. And if they don’t change, those C.E.O.s will be removed by boards and by shareholders.”

No Democrat embodies the tensions between tech and Washington like Mr. Schumer himself. In 2011, he joined Ms. Sandberg to announce the opening of the company’s first East Coast engineering office, in New York City, where he had worked to promote start-ups and other tech businesses.

In 2015, Ms. Sandberg co-hosted a fund-raiser for Mr. Schumer in her Bay Area home, according to a Facebook employee briefed on the event. (The same trip featured a Schumer fund-raiser held by Bruce Sewell, then Apple’s general counsel, and attended by Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, according to an executive who declined to be named.).

By the end of the 2016 cycle, Mr. Schumer had raised more money from Facebook employees than any other Washington lawmaker. All told, Senate Democrats have benefited from over $3 million in political contributions from Facebook’s employees and founders over the years.

The technology industry — and Facebook in particular — was also a partner to Democrats in policy battles. Mr. Zuckerberg founded a Washington advocacy group to press for immigration reform, a top priority for Mr. Schumer and other Democratic leaders. More recently, tech companies like Netflix allied with Democrats in the fight over net neutrality rules.

Relations began to cool after the 2016 elections, when evidence mounted that Facebook and YouTube had become fertile ground for foreign interference and domestic misinformation, threatening not only the party’s values but also its electoral prospects.

Early last year, Senator Jon Tester, the Montana Democrat, walked over to the Capitol to deliver a warning to Mr. Schumer, newly elected as Democratic minority leader.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/17/technology/facebook-democrats-congress.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

How to Talk to People, According to Terry Gross

“Well, I don’t think it is in my self-interest to tutor people on how to dodge a question,” Ms. Gross said. But, when pressed — perhaps regretting the previous advice she gave to this interviewer about how to get people to answer questions they don’t want to answer (“keep asking”) — she suggests using honesty. Say, “I don’t want to answer that,” or, if that’s too blunt, hedge with a statement like, “I’m having a difficult time thinking of a specific answer to that.” Going the martyr route with something like, “I’m afraid by answering that I’m going to hurt somebody’s feelings and I don’t want to do that,” is another option.

Ms. Gross wishes that everyone would pay attention to other people’s body language. “Try to pick up on when you’ve kind of lost somebody’s attention,” she said. That way, you can avoid boring your fellow interlocutor to death or holding someone up from getting to wherever they may actually need to be. If the person engaging you in ceaseless chatter won’t take the hint, Ms. Gross again recommends honesty. “Well, there’s the truth, which is I’d love to talk some more, but I’m really late,” even, she says, if it feels rude to cut things off. “If a person is being insensitive to you, you don’t have a commitment to be beholden to their insensitivity.”

Ms. Gross prefers to interview artists and creators over politicians, and she approaches those baskets of interviewees differently. Politicians, she believes, “owe us an answer,” and so she, in her own very Terry Gross way will “keep asking and re-asking and asking, and maybe I’ll ask it in separate ways, and maybe I’ll point out that they haven’t yet answered the question.” She prefers, however, to interview people who work in arts and culture, and offers those subjects more leeway to set parameters for the conversation. “I tell people that if I ask them anything too personal they should let me know and I’ll move on,” she said. “I want the liberty to ask anything with the understanding that if I’m pushing too far, my guest has the liberty — and they know they have the liberty — to tell me that I’m going too far. And once you told somebody that, you’ve committed to it, and you better fulfill the commitment.”

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/17/style/self-care/terry-gross-conversation-advice.html?partner=rss&emc=rss