The Obama administration may be shifting control of the country’s drone program from the Central Intelligence Agency to the Pentagon, but robots can still find jobs at Langley — as writers, apparently.
The CIA’s venture capital wing, In-Q-Tel, has invested an unknown amount in a company called Narrative Science, which codes software capable of turning massive data sets into easy-to-read written prose, according to All Things D.
Chicago-based Narrative Science got its start by turning baseball box scores into readable accounts of games — not unlike a piece you might see in your local newspaper’s sports pages.
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Naturally, Narrative Science raised many questions about the impact on journalism: Will we still need writers to pen rote accounts of the day’s events if robots can do the job just fine? Should more journalists move away from the “here’s what happened” to the “here’s why it matters”? And so on.
Despite its immediate impact in the journalism world, Narrative Science finds most of its clients in the financial services, marketing and research fields. The CIA fits into the latter category — the agency collects mounds of raw data, and its researchers would most likely appreciate an automated hand in turning all those figures into readable, actionable reports for agents and higher-ups.
“Narrative Science’s artificial intelligence platform analyzes data and communicates this information in a way that is easy to read and understand,” said Steve Bowsher, Managing Partner at IQT, in a press release. “We believe these advanced analytic capabilities can be of great value to our customers in the Intelligence Community.”
How should the CIA use artificial writers — if at all? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Earlier this month, Google ( GOOG ) overhauled YouTube’s comment section — the place where taste, logic, and decency go to die — and integrated Google+ in the hopes that attaching real names would lead to better discussions.
The response from users, however, was far from positive. Users bemoaned the erosion of privacy and the ability to post videos and comments anonymously. (Never mind the fact that any site with a Facebook ( FB ) comment section featuring real names contains just about as much ignorance and hate as your standard YouTube video.) They accused the move of being a blatant attempt to boost Google+ traffic and usage, and complained that the actual implementation of the comment section — wherein awful posts are pushed to the top simply because they have a large number of replies — is one of the worst design decisions Google has ever backed.
But if you thought the recent changes Google made to YouTube were bad before, wait until you hear the harrowing, nightmarish tale of what happened to Michael Janitch, a.k.a dutchsinse, when his account was flagged.
Janitch found himself at the mercy of a major security flaw in Google+, influenced by the company’s push to use real names on the social network. His dutchsinse profile on Google+ was flagged erroneously (and, with a heaping bowl of irony, anonymously) for being an imposter. In cases like these, Google tends to take a “shut down first, never ask questions later” approach and promptly deleted Janitch’s dutchsinse page. However, because his popular YouTube page is tied to that Google+ account, all his videos and subscribers were removed as well.
More than 800 videos and 75,000 subscribers accumulated over the course of three years gone, all because someone flagged his separate Google+ account. His YouTube account, according to Janitch, never received a single strike or violation otherwise.
Janitch wasn’t sent an email from YouTube or Google+ regarding the issue. And despite having his cell phone number tied to both accounts for log-in verification, he didn’t receive a mobile notification either.
Making matters even more Kafkaesque, not only is there absolutely no way to dispute the flag before Google automatically shuts down a profile, there is no official recourse to get your videos back. It took one of Janitch’s inside connections at Google to contact the policy team to restore his YouTube page, his videos, and his subscribers. But that still left Janitch without a means to use his Google+ account on YouTube without going through a confirmation process.
And that confirmation process is pretty horrifying, too.
From Google+, a user who has been flagged as an imposter is taken to a Reinstatement Request page which reads:
Google+ has always been about connecting just the right people. Whether you’re reaching out to an old friend or looking up the business hours of a local store on its Google+ Page, you want to be confident that these profiles and pages really represent who they say they do. We are concerned that your Google+ Page is impersonating another person or entity. In order to keep Google+ safe, we need to verify some information about your page.
From there, you identify the profile as either an individual or business, and then you’re taken to a form to confirm your identity.
How do you confirm your identity? A photo ID.
Proving that online anonymity has fully eroded on YouTube, Janitch was forced to send a copy of his passport to prove his identity. However, bear in mind, the Google+ profile was for “dutchsinse,” not Michael Janitch. Obviously, the name “dutchsinse” doesn’t appear anywhere on Janitch’s passport, so there was no simple way for him to confirm his online persona.
And Janitch had to go through this process six times.
Six times, someone with a grudge — or simply wishing to prove the absolute mess caused by YouTube’s Google+ integration — flagged Janitch’s account as an imposter and six times he had to jump through hoops in order to get it back. Of course, the user flagging the account doesn’t have to provide an ID in order to prove that Janitch was, in fact, impersonating him. Only the accused must prove his innocence.
It is astounding how many problems Google caused with this integration. Cleaning up YouTube comments is a wonderful notion, some might even say a pipe dream. But not only did Google exacerbate the problem — as evidenced by fake Google+ accounts and the lack of a character limit in the new comment section — it has penalized honest YouTube users with a confirmation rigmarole for erroneous accusations on a completely different site.
Google, it’s time to fix your fix.