September 28, 2011

Democratization of the Surveillance State [3:48 pm]

Help Wanted - Busybodies with Cameras [pdf]

Known here sarcastically as paparazzi, people like Mr. Im stalk their prey and capture them on film. But it is not celebrities, politicians or even hardened criminals they pursue. Rather, they roam cities secretly videotaping fellow citizens breaking the law, deliver the evidence to government officials and collect the rewards.

“Some people hate us,” said Mr. Im. “But we’re only doing what the law encourages.”

[...] “I’m making three times what I made as an English tutor,” said Mr. Im, 39, who began his new line of work around seven years ago and says he makes about $85,000 a year.

Bounties have a history in South Korea; for decades, the government has offered generous rewards to people who turned in North Korean spies. But in recent years, various government agencies have set up similar programs for anyone reporting mainly petty crimes, some as minor as a motorist tossing a cigarette butt out the window.

Snitching for pay has become especially popular since the world’s economic troubles slowed South Korea’s powerful economy. Paparazzi say most of their ranks are people who have lost their jobs in the downturn and are drawn by media reports of fellow Koreans making tens of thousands of dollars a year reporting crimes.

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September 26, 2011

Another OnStar Challenger [8:34 am]

It looks like typical Senatorial grand-standing, until you get to the last paragraph of the quote below: NY Sen. Schumer accuses OnStar of invading privacy [pdf]

The OnStar automobile communication service used by 6 million Americans maintains its two-way connection with a customer even after the service is discontinued, while reserving the right to sell data from that connection.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York says thats a blatant invasion of privacy and is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. But OnStar says former customers can stop the two-way transmission, and no driving data of customers has been shared or sold.

“OnStar is attempting one of the most brazen invasions of privacy in recent memory,” said Schumer, a Democrat. “I urge OnStar to abandon this policy.”

But the General Motors Corp. OnStar service says customers are thoroughly informed of the new practice. If a customer says he or she doesn’t want to have data collected after service is ended, OnStar disconnects the tracking.

And although OnStar reserves the right to share or sell data on customers’ speed, location, use of seat belts and other practices, a spokesman says it hasn’t done so and doesn’t plan to.

… until OnStar gets a subpoena or a National Security letter, for example.

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September 25, 2011

Ya Think?! [2:19 pm]

Well, they’re still probably ahead of the music industry — Movie studios give up the DVD ghost, look to the Internet [pdf]

After desperate attempts to prop up the industrys once-thriving DVD business, studio executives now believe the only hope of turning around a 40% decline in home entertainment revenue lies in rapidly accelerating the delivery of movies over the Internet.

[...] “The days of baby steps on the Internet are over,” said David Bishop, president of Sony Pictures’ home entertainment unit. “It’s now critical that we experiment as much as possible and determine how to build a vibrant market for collecting digital movies.”

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September 11, 2011

New Advances in “Works for Hire” [2:37 pm]

Computer-Generated Articles Are Gaining Traction [pdf]

The company’s software takes data, like that from sports statistics, company financial reports and housing starts and sales, and turns it into articles. For years, programmers have experimented with software that wrote such articles, typically for sports events, but these efforts had a formulaic, fill-in-the-blank style. They read as if a machine wrote them.

But Narrative Science is based on more than a decade of research, led by two of the company’s founders, Kris Hammond and Larry Birnbaum, co-directors of the Intelligent Information Laboratory at Northwestern University, which holds a stake in the company. And the articles produced by Narrative Science are different.

“I thought it was magic,” says Roger Lee, a general partner of Battery Ventures, which led a $6 million investment in the company earlier this year. “It’s as if a human wrote it.”

Experts in artificial intelligence and language are also impressed, if less enthralled. Oren Etzioni, a computer scientist at the University of Washington, says, “The quality of the narrative produced was quite good,” as if written by a human, if not an accomplished wordsmith. Narrative Science, Mr. Etzioni says, points to a larger trend in computing of “the increasing sophistication in automatic language understanding and, now, language generation.”

As usual, the reason it’s impressive is that it works at all, not that it’s producing deathless prose. But, it seems like it would be a great tool for first pass writing, with a human cleaning it up afterward. Of course, at that point, the question of whose writing it is also starts to get very murky….

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