Note to self: Twitter is by the people, not we the people

The Pew Research Center reminds us that Twitter is not a proxy for the majority.

That feels like an obvious observation. Perhaps it’s even unnecessary. Surely we all know that blowhards mouthing off on Twitter are not duly appointed representatives for The People. Right?

But we forget that sometimes. The adrenaline kicks in when we see millions of passionate tweets zipping about. Reason is subsumed by volume and velocity. “Wow! The world really loves/hates this person/product/policy!”

That’s not true though. And we need to keep that in mind as each of us, individually, filters the signal from all that noise.

That’s why the Pew findings are so valuable.

This particular paragraph really drives the point home:

Twitter users are not representative of the public. Most notably, Twitter users are considerably younger than the general public and more likely to be Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party. In the 2012 news consumption survey, half (50%) of adults who said they posted news on Twitter were younger than 30, compared with 23% of all adults. And 57% of those who posted news on Twitter were either Democrats or leaned Democratic, compared with 46% of the general public.

I write this mostly as a warning to myself. I’m older than the demographic noted in that excerpt, but I tend to align with the political perspectives you see on Twitter and Reddit and the like. When I think back to the heated moments of the 2012 election, I can see now that I fell into the trap of emphasizing the predictions and conclusions I wanted to see — and I favored outlets that provided those comforts.

Notable things: How do you give ethics to a robot? Let’s keep political pundits honest with batting averages, ad-banner honesty from The Onion

Self-driving cars. Drones. Robot armies. All of these things are stepping from science fiction into our daily lives, yet we haven’t addressed a fundamental question:

How do we teach our machines to be ethical?

Gary Marcus explores the repercussions of machine ethics in this fascinating essay. Of particular note is the following excerpt, which contrasts machine ethics with humanity’s still-under-construction ethical methods:

The thought that haunts me the most is that that human ethics themselves are only a work-in-progress. We still confront situations for which we don’t have well-developed codes (e.g., in the case of assisted suicide) and need not look far into the past to find cases where our own codes were dubious, or worse (e.g., laws that permitted slavery and segregation). What we really want are machines that can go a step further, endowed not only with the soundest codes of ethics that our best contemporary philosophers can devise, but also with the possibility of machines making their own moral progress, bringing them past our own limited early-twenty-first century idea of morality.

In many ways what we’re searching for is a way to make machine ethics better than our own. How do you even begin to do that?


Proposed: A batting average for political pundits and pollsters.

+1


Every ad-driven website should be required, by law, to include this on their terms of service page:

… we can go through a whole dog-and-pony show here where I pretend that this column exists as a forum for ideas, and that I act as an independent voice who isn’t beholden to advertisers, and the power of the First Amendment, and blah blah, etc. etc. But let’s get real for a second here, okay? This column — nay, this entire website, this entire industry we call journalism — exists for one purpose and one purpose only: to sell ads. Lots of ads. Big, stupid ads. Ads with loud videos that play when you run your mouse cursor over them. Ads with pictures of supermodels and bacon cheeseburgers and beer bottles dripping with condensation. Ads with huge fricking graphics of SUVs that “drive” across your screen as though you were living in some sort of damned nightmare world. In short, ads that will make poor, honest working saps like you — yes, you, reader — click on them so that The Onion can continue stocking the coffers and I can continue to send my kid through four years of Cornell’s hotel management school.

Via The Onion