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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 12 April 2019, 5:02 pm

The national animal of Scotland

Sir Paul Callaghan said we need to build an environment where talent wants to live, where we have 100 companies at the $1 billion mark that aren't farms, and that we absolutely can build this second string to our economic bow.

If his spiritual home Callaghan Innovation's latest report is anything to go by, we're getting on with it, albeit in a relatively stately manner.

Callaghan Innovation's Growing the Pie report looks at the number of tech companies that exist today and their impact on the economy and says we have nine billion dollar companies (unicorns, in the parlance) in the broadly-defined tech sector.

Sure, A2 Milk is in there, along with Fisher and Paykel which are tech companies only if you stretch your arms out really wide, but we'll take them as a win. They sit along side the more obvious players - Xero and TradeMe - and the ones that make me smile, like Rocket Lab.

But for me the real fun is the next layer, the half-unicorns, and the one below that (donkeys?) because they are full of potential and promise.

The real problem they face is finding the talent to help drive these companies, so I'd like to see more effort put into the education sector (although apparently degrees are old hat now) and into marketing ICT as the career path of choice.

Because it's the next nine I'm really interested in, and then the nine after that.

Techblog - Nine unicorns down, many more to come

Callaghan Innovation - NZ 'unicorns' create more than $34 billion in value

Stuff - University degrees no longer needed in tech industry?

NZ Herald - Govt demands higher standard from incubators in new funding programme

 

Getting copyright right

While we're busy re-doing the 4G wars (and the 3G wars, and does anyone else remember GSM vs CDMA?), and unbundling, and even now I see the laying of a submarine cable called Southern Cross, it's time to revisit another perennial favourite.

Yes, hasta la vista baby, it's back. The Copyright Act is under review and the old creaky beast needs to hear from you.

Fortunately, InternetNZ has put together a submission that can be used as a template should you decide you want to have your say as well.

Our current act has had some brushing up and dusting off over the years but is, in essence, very old. While we all had fun laughing as politicians discussed the crazy new world of the internet at the last review (and if you watched the "debate" you'll never ever forget it, no matter how hard you try) the bare bones of the act's origin story in 1994 remain and that's too long given what's changed in the meantime.

The issues aren't too dissimilar either, but at least this time when Gareth Hughes stands up in the House and asks if the new act will take into account Netflix and online streaming, the minister is much less likely to say "I don't know what Netflix is".

Seriously now.

We still have to find a way to protect content creators from having their work stolen and passed off as someone else's. We have to find a way to encourage creative types to use the power of their brains to build something from nothing and to share it with the world and to make money from it.

But we also have to avoid criminalising customers who have always been the scapegoat for problems inherent in the business models that were built off the back of a different era of technology.

And speaking of tech, we have to avoid breaking things like the internet, or the ability to cast a TV show from one device to another, or to buy a product in one place and have it play in another.

So there's a lot to do and a lot of pressure to get it right. The EU has just introduced two new directives that have been described as fantastic wins for copyright and the death of content sharing (don't ask - we've written about it before) all of which would suggest the need for a bit of thought and contemplation on the appropriateness of our footwear before we rush in.

Which is where InternetNZ comes in. The link is below - have a read and get involved if you dare.

MBIE - Copyright Act Review

Techblog - Copyright updating, please wait

 

Facebook doubles down

Facebook has had a jolly hard look at itself and decided to implement some changes. First, it'll be putting in a delay for live video streaming and training up a new squad of moderators to be better trained at stopping objectionable material from being broadcast. It's introducing new reporting tools that allow users to alert moderators to questionable content and seek immediate action. It's working on the algorithm to ensure extremist material doesn't get promoted above and beyond the legitimate stuff and it's hiring a team of reviewers who will sift through all groups looking for hate speech, extremism and anything that might set alarm bells ringing.

Sorry, no, that's all fake news. Facebook has had a jolly hard look at itself and decided to do nothing. Nothing at all. Facebook Live will continue with its current unmoderated, real-time approach to streaming atrocities for all to see and the algorithm remains sacrosanct. Thou Shalt Not Question The Algorithm.

It's quite pathetic but not unexpected, although it did lead to one well-known privacy commissioner to call Facebook "morally bankrupt pathological liars" which probably means he's off the Christmas card list.

But the more we look at Facebook, at its business model, at its past promises and at its future direction, the worse it all looks.

The Christchurch shootings weren't the first time Facebook has failed to act on its live video streaming platform, but that's really only one aspect of the problem. A much bigger failing is the way it has monetised extremism and cares not a jot whether users become enraged pathologically damaged killers or not.

The New York Times piece (link below) paints a grim picture, but one passage stands out for me:

University of Warwick, scrutinized every anti-refugee attack in Germany, 3,335 in all, over a two-year span. In each, they analyzed the local community by any variable that seemed relevant. Wealth. Demographics. Support for far-right politics. Newspaper sales. Number of refugees. History of hate crime. Number of protests.

One thing stuck out. Towns where Facebook use was higher than average, like Altena, reliably experienced more attacks on refugees. That held true in virtually any sort of community - big city or small town; affluent or struggling; liberal haven or far-right stronghold - suggesting that the link applies universally.

Their reams of data converged on a breathtaking statistic: Wherever per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the national average, attacks on refugees increased by about 50 percent.

That sound you can hear is alarm bells ringing in every corner of society. How can civil society function with that level of animosity being encouraged in order to make a buck? How can we continue to allow such a provably dystopian model to post propaganda and call it news?

It's not just extremist white supremacy Nazis we have to worry about, it's the anti-vaccination brigade who are literally killing children with half-baked, under-informed views created to attract attention and clicks and a dribble of revenue from this publishing house that calls itself a platform.

This influence goes beyond cat videos and the disruption of mainstream media. We're now talking about derailing public health initiatives that should be making our lives collectively better, about influencing elections and about encouraging genocide, all in the name of better engagement scores.

The danger we face is that we either do nothing, and Facebook and its ilk press on, or we do too much, and we end up over-regulating the net and free speech and discourse and we all become subject to excess surveillance and random acts of State Control. And then there's the question of whether any regulation we might impose would help other social media companies come into the market or hinder them - leaving the status quo with Facebook at the top of the dog pile.

Treading a fine line is going to take some very delicate footwork.

New York Times - Facebook Fueled Anti-Refugee Attacks in Germany, New Research Suggests

Newsroom - How the world is tackling social media regulation

The Register - You were warned and you didn't do enough: UK preps Big Internet content laws

NZ Herald - Comment: Three things PM Jacinda Ardern needs to do about Google, Facebook

Gizmodo - Here's 40 Pages of Facebook Trying to Figure Out What to Do About White Nationalism

NZ Herald - Most Kiwis want govt to take harder line on social media: UMR Research

Frontier Myanmar - The hate speech threat to the 2020 election

NZ Herald - Top Kiwi police officer targeted by US anti-gun control group

NZ Herald - Facebook are 'morally bankrupt, pathological liars' - NZ Privacy Commissioner

NZ Herald - Chris Keall: The glaring flaw in Zuckerberg's Facebook Live defence

Stuff - Christchurch shooting: Facebook reportedly told US Congress livestream didn't have 'enough gore' for system to catch

The Spin Off - This is not the internet you promised us


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