Monday, 17 September 2018

The Danger Of GMail's "Smart Replies"

At first I was annoyed by GMail's "Smart Reply" buttons because they represent a temptation to delegate (more) shaping of my human interactions to Google's AI ... a temptation that, for some reason known only to Google, can be disabled in the GMail mobile app but not the desktop Web client. I do not want the words I use to communicate, or the words others use to communicate to me, to be shaped by the suggestions of an algorithm that is most likely opaque even to its masters, let alone a mere consumer like me.

I just realized, though, that they're potentially a lot worse than that. I got an email suggesting I take an action, and the suggested "smart replies" are:

  • Sounds like a good idea.
  • I like that idea.
  • Yes, I agree.
But ... what if I don't agree? Does showing me only positive responses actually prime my brain to make me more likely to agree? Is it possible to tweak the wording of an email to ensure the algorithm produces responses of a particular type? (Probably.) More importantly, did anyone at Google actually consider and study such effects before rolling out this feature? Or did the team just roll out the feature, collect the bonus, and move on? If they did study it, are the results public and what were they? Wouldn't it be wise to require this kind of study and disclosure before subtly interfering with the cognitive processes of hundreds of millions of people?

For now I'm switching back to GMail Classic, and when (I assume) Google forces the new UI on me anyway, the path of least resistance will be to use a Firefox extension to block the Smart Reply buttons (yay Web!). Of course hundreds of millions of people will unwittingly submit to Google's reckless mental meddling.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

"Crazy Rich Asians"

Pretty good movie. A few observations... (Spoilers!)

I don't know what the ultra-rich really get up to, but for me the most absurd part of the movie was the MJ scene. Eleanor's early hand was trash; there was no way she she could have amassed the pungs-and-bamboos winning hand she did, not with Rachel also collecting bamboos.

Maybe I misunderstood everything, but didn't the Astrid-Michael subplot undermine the main plot by proving Eleanor was right all along? Michael and Astrid set aside their different backgrounds and family disapproval to marry (presumably for love), but Michael couldn't cope with the pressure and ruins their marriage ... just like Eleanor fears will happen with Rachel. Main plot: true love wins! Subplot: ... er no it doesn't.

The entire movie screams "FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS". In particular the idea that a man like Michael could not simply be grateful for his situation is marginally plausible but nearly unforgivable.

My source tells me the actors' Cantonese was pretty bad.

I'd watch Michelle Yeoh read the phone book.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Rangitoto Fog

Visiting Rangitoto is one of my favourite things to do in Auckland. Catch the 9:15am ferry from the downtown terminal, arrive on the island just before 10am, walk up to the top, see the incredible views over Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf, and then back down via the lava caves and easily make the 12:45pm ferry getting you back to the city by 1:30pm. You've experienced a unique 600-year-old island with extraordinary geology, flora and fauna, and had a good walk, in four hours.

Today was extra-special. Very thick fog blanketed the harbour and inner Gulf, and the ferry proceeded very slowly to the island; the trip that normally takes 30 minutes took 75. We passed a number of becalmed yachts that apparently were supposed to be racing, but instead were drifting aimlessly through the fog. It was surreal. Once we finally reached the island and headed inland, we almost immediately left the fog, but the fog left behind spiderwebs sparkling with dew and rocks steaming in the sun. From Rangitoto's summit we could still see large fog banks covering Waiheke Island, Motuihe Island, and much of the inner Gulf. It was wonderful!