The Corner

Science & Tech

Right Elbows and Left Hooks

A figure from the movie The Terminator is displayed on October 7, 2011, inside the house in Thal, Austria, where Arnold Schwarzenegger was born. (Herwig Prammer / Reuters)

Sorry for the gory picture up there. Michael Wooldridge, a computer scientist at Oxford, is always being asked about The Terminator — and he addresses it in his new book, A Brief History of Artificial Intelligence: What It Is, Where We Are, and Where We Are Going. I have written about the book, here. Such an interesting subject, and, of course, an important one.

Here on the Corner, I’d like to take up an issue I do not in my piece. Professor Wooldridge has a section on fake news. I’ll quote a slice of it:

All social media platforms rely on you spending time interacting with them — it gives them the opportunity to show you advertisements, which is how these platforms ultimately make their money. If you like what you see on the platform, then you are going to spend more time on it than you would do otherwise. So social media platforms have an incentive not to show you the truth but to show you what you like. How do they know what you like? You tell them, every time you press the Like button.

Clear enough.

CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan has been doing highly interesting, and very moving, reporting on people who fall into QAnon and then get out of it, somehow. Here is a story from February 3 on Ashley Vanderbilt, a South Carolinian. The whole thing is powerful, but this is just a slice:

The 27-year-old mom is an avid user of the video app TikTok. It’s there, she says, that she was first introduced to QAnon.

She mostly followed entertainment accounts on the platform, but as the election neared she began interacting with pro-Trump and anti-Biden TikTok videos. Soon, she says, TikTok’s “For You” page, an algorithmically determined feed in the app that suggests videos a user might like, was showing her video after video of conspiracy theories.

Sure. But do you remember my right elbow? (What the . . .) Anyway, I wrote a piece about golf last month, in which I disclosed that I have long been trying to tame my right elbow. (Vexatious limb.) You look for a video or two on the proper use of the right elbow — and they (“they”) keep feeding you such videos.

Lately, I have been working on how to “compress” the ball. (Compression is next to godliness.) YouTube keeps saying, “Here you go, Jay, another video on compression. Oh, you didn’t like that one? Well, try this, it may be better.”

You know, I really appreciate it.

The other night, YouTube thought I would like a video of Grigory Ginzburg playing a Chopin polonaise. (They were right.) (Ginzburg was born in Russia in 1904 and died there in 1961.) Since then, I’ve been fed a diet of Ginzburg and have liked it.

All technology is double-edged, isn’t it? This is a trite observation, but a right one. You can cut your sandwich with your knife; you can cut your neighbor’s throat with it. You can go down a right-elbow rabbit hole; you can do down dark, dark rabbit holes.

Man must remain master of the machine, always, I would think. And be careful what you ask for.


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