Emergent Optimisation

blackbeardblog:

Emergent Optimisation

To understand this post you need to look at this other post I just reblogged. So open that in a new tab.

That post is a nested reblog thread. One of the things people really hate about Tumblr is nested reblog threads – they are ugly and clunky and hard to read. What could possibly be good about them?

They are also a form that Tumblr has perfected, and done so in a way unique to the platform. So they’re a brilliant example of social media form generating social media content.

Look at that thread about the keycode. It has multiple authors reblogging and adding to a single post, but it forms a coherent narrative (correction, correction to the correction, then extended theorising on top of the correction, a reaction post, then a punchline post, then an applause post.)

That’s cool, but it’s nothing new in itself – you see funny Facebook threads, messageboard zingers, etc. But Tumblr is particularly good at making these nested threads which work as narratives and as jokes across a bunch of authors. You see them a lot, and now the site’s been running a while, you often see the same post return with new additions. How? The clue is in the notes – almost 400,000 – and in how content works on Tumblr.

On Tumblr, when you reblog something it becomes a post on your own Tumblr – a separate piece of content, either identical to the original or with your own additions. Anyone who follows you can then reblog your post. By default they keep your additions.

This is the key point – nobody else does that. Facebook shares don’t do that. Retweets don’t do that. The Tumblr reblog is a subtly unique mode of sharing because it gives secondary contributions equal weight. It removes control of a post from its poster, and turns it into a pass-the-parcel game. (This is one of the reasons why fandoms and Tumblr go so well together).

Secondary contributions can branch off, though. A post like the keycode one, with 400,000 notes, will have gone through a vast number of reblogs. I can’t go back and check, but I would hypothesise that there will be a lot of different versions on the way to the one I reblogged. There will be versions that fizzle out, and versions where the arguments keep going rather than being elegantly built on. Most intriguingly, there will be versions close to the one I blogged but where the applause post comes to soon or some other vital piece goes missing.

In other words, what’s happening is an evolutionary process. A piece of content mutates, and the best versions of it survive and spread, until ultimately you get something which is so well paced it feels like it was scripted. When that finds its way to you, you tend not to think about all the builds and iterations that brought it to you – it feels seamless, just part of the way Tumblr is. “What You See Is All There Is”, as Daniel Kahneman puts it. You don’t notice the process that created the post.

But really this is incredible. In research terms, what these nested reblogs are doing is a combination of co-creation (multiple authors), optimisation (gradual refinement) and A/B testing (parallel versions exposed to different groups in the wild). If this was a testing tool from a research company it would be amazing.

But it’s not, and it’s not something mandated by Tumblr or (I’m betting) consciously built in. It’s an emergent property of the platform and how its dashboards work, that happens freely and uncontrollably. That is just fantastic. Sometimes I bloody love social media.

(There is a downside, of course – emergent optimisation is value-neutral. This has two consequences. Posts are being optimised only for popularity, not for accuracy. This becomes a real problem in factual threads, where corrections and debunkings may not be the things which ‘succeed’. The other issue is that emergent optimisation treats filter bubbles like ecosystems. The same post about, say, Lena Dunham, might circulate independently in pro-Girls and anti-Girls circles, adapting to fit each of them. That isn’t really a ‘problem’, though.)

algopop:

“As algorithmic systems become more prevalent, I’ve begun to notice of a variety of emergent behaviors evolving to work around these constraints, to deal with the insufficiency of these black box systems…The first behavior is adaptation. These are situations where I bend to the system’s will. For example, adaptations to the shortcomings of voice UI systems — mispronouncing a friend’s name to get my phone to call them; overenunciating; or speaking in a different accent because of the cultural assumptions built into voice recognition. We see people contort their behavior to perform for the system so that it responds optimally.”
Alexis Lloyd (NYTimes R&D) shares some interesting views under the title In the Loop: Designing Conversations with Algorithms.

algopop:

As algorithmic systems become more prevalent, I’ve begun to notice of a variety of emergent behaviors evolving to work around these constraints, to deal with the insufficiency of these black box systems…The first behavior is adaptation. These are situations where I bend to the system’s will. For example, adaptations to the shortcomings of voice UI systems — mispronouncing a friend’s name to get my phone to call them; overenunciating; or speaking in a different accent because of the cultural assumptions built into voice recognition. We see people contort their behavior to perform for the system so that it responds optimally.”

Alexis Lloyd (NYTimes R&D) shares some interesting views under the title In the Loop: Designing Conversations with Algorithms.

Foc.us: The first commercial tDCS headset that lets you safely overclock your brain

After an interminable wait, the first brain-boosting tDCS headset has finally received FCC approval and will begin shipping in the next few days. Dubbed the Foc.us, the headset jolts your prefrontal cortex with electricity, improving your focus, reaction time, and ability to learn new skills. The Foc.us is being targeted at gamers looking to improve their skillz, but tDCS has the potential to improve — or more accurately to overclock — almost every aspect of your life.

To give its full name, tDCS stands for transcranial direct current stimulation. Transcranial simply means that the direct current (i.e. from a battery rather than the AC mains) is passed across a region of your brain. In the case of the Foc.us, the direct current passes between the cathode and anode, which are placed over your prefrontal cortex. Basically, by pumping electrons into your brain, your neurons, which communicate via spikes of electricity, become more excitable. This means that they can fire more quickly, improving your reaction time. Furthermore, when you remove the current, your neurons are imbued with additional neuroplasticity — in other words, they more readily make new connections, improving your ability to learn new skills.

ataxiwardance:

businessinsider:

You can’t expect negotiations with French to be like negotiations with Americans, and the same holds true for cultures around the world.

These diagrams reveal how to negotiate with people around the world. 

ataxiwardance: My humble addition: “Tumblr.”

Exposure to information -> immediate pre-rational emotional endorsement or rejection -> semi-conscious categorization of stimulus into category of emotion -> pre-packaged single word synopsis of said emotion

e.g. “Dead” or “This” or “I can’t.”

"Cryptocurrencies will create a fifth protocol layer powering the next generation of the Internet. Humans don’t *need* math-based cryptocurrencies when dealing with other humans. We walk slowly, talk slowly, and buy big things. Credit cards, cash, wires, checks – the world seems fine. Machines, on the other hand, are far chattier and quicker to exchange information.

The Four Layers of the Internet Protocol Suite are constantly communicating. The Link Layer puts packets on a wire. The Internet Layer routes them across networks. The Transport Layer persists communication across a given conversation. And the Application Layer delivers entire documents and applications. This chatty, anonymous network treats resources as “too cheap to meter.” It’s a giant grid that transfers data but doesn’t transfer value. DDoS attacks, email spam, and flooded VPNs result. Names and identities are controlled by overlords – ICANN, DNS Servers, Facebook, Twitter, and Certificate “Authorities.”

Where’s the protocol layer for exchanging value, not just data? Where’s the distributed, anonymous, permission-less system for chatty machines to allocate their scarce resources? Where is the “virtual money” to create this “virtual economy?” Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are already trustless – any machine can accept it from any other, securely. They are (nearly) free. They are global – no central bank required, and any machine can speak the language. And they’re one to two steps from being quick, anonymous, and capable of authentication.

Suppose we had a QuickCoin, which cleared transactions nearly instantly, anonymously, and for infinitesimal mining fees. It could use the Bitcoin blockchain for security or for easy trading in and out. SMTP would demand QuickCoin to weed out spam. Routers would exchange QuickCoin to shut down DDoS attacks. Tor Gateways would demand Quickcoin to anonymously route traffic. Machines would bypass centralized DNS and OAuth servers, using Coins to establish ownership. Why stop at one Coin? Let’s posit a dozen new Appcoins. Using application-specific coins rewards the open-source developers with a pre-mined quantity. A TorCoin can be paid to its developers and gateways and by Tor users, achieving consensus via proof-of-bandwidth. We can allocate any scarce network resource this way – i.e., BoxCoin for Storage, CacheCoin for Caching, etc. Lets move on to other networks.

Can a completely distributed grid of small generators trade power with each other, using a decentralized and trustless cryptocurrency? Can a traffic jam of self-driving cars clear itself as the computerized vehicles bid for right of way? Can a mass of people crossing a street take priority over a single car waiting at the traffic light, as their phones vote, trustlessly and reliably, for their presence? Can we efficiently route networks of assets like water and power, and liabilities like pollutants and sewage, across a distributed grid? Can we trade stocks and financial assets with no brokers, custodians, or agents?”

Every review of Black Widow in 'Captain America' is wrong
tumblr_n2x5mqOdU61rv45fro3_1280.jpg (JPEG Image, 994 × 562 pixels)

hellotailor:

While Johansson’s first Marvel appearance in Iron Man 2 may have relied somewhat upon sex appeal, this was quickly nixed in favor of characterizing her as the most cerebral Avenger. Her most important scenes in The Avengers relied upon her intelligence and skills as a spy, to the extent that she even managed to outwit Loki, the God of Lies. At the end of the movie, she’s the one who closes the portal that let all the aliens into New York. Then in Winter Soldier she’s given second billing to Captain America, a meaty role that showcases a wide-ranging skillset that stretches far beyond just “kicking ass.” At no point during any of these movies does she seduce anyone, by the way.

Sadly, there’s very little sign of this character in the most easily accessible reviews of both The Avengers and Winter Soldier. Judging by the Guardian, WSJ, or New Yorker, Black Widow is more like a blow-up doll with a black belt. By their logic, if she’s wearing a tight outfit, then she must be a sexy ass-kicker, meaning that she must be the token female character, and therefore is little more than eye candy.

With that thought process in mind, it must make perfect sense to relegate Black Widow to a single sniggering comment about her catsuit, because obviously Scarlett Johansson is just there for decoration. And if you’ve read in the New York Times that Black Widow is a token female character, then chances are you’ll have internalized that opinion before you even buy a ticket. The feedback loop of misogynist preconceptions continues on, and in the end, we all lose out.

the-uncomfortable:

uncomfortable wine glass— Katerina Kamprani

the-uncomfortable:

uncomfortable wine glass

— Katerina Kamprani