Neville Hobson https://www.nevillehobson.com www.nevillehobson.com Sun, 17 Dec 2017 11:44:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 3316880 SDF Podcast 14: Looking forward by looking back https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/12/13/sdf-podcast-14-looking-forward-looking-back/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/12/13/sdf-podcast-14-looking-forward-looking-back/#respond Wed, 13 Dec 2017 10:20:47 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/?p=49426 Neville Hobson
SDF Podcast 14: Looking forward by looking back

As the Small Data Forum progresses through its early teenage years – our latest podcast is episode 14 already – regular co-hosts Thomas Stoeckle, Neville Hobson, and Sam Knowles are taking the opportunity to look forward by looking back. Patients of our own medicine, you might say, we’re using the year end and what we’ve […]

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Neville Hobson
SDF Podcast 14: Looking forward by looking back

Janus

As the Small Data Forum progresses through its early teenage years – our latest podcast is episode 14 already – regular co-hosts Thomas Stoeckle, Neville Hobson, and Sam Knowles are taking the opportunity to look forward by looking back.

Patients of our own medicine, you might say, we’re using the year end and what we’ve observed and learned in 2017 to enter the predictive analytics business.

We take our inspiration from Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, transitions, and time, after whom January is named. A sculpture of Janus appears at the top of this blog, from the Vatican Museum.

This episode’s show notes were written by Sam Knowles.

In our latest pod, we’re all making our predictions for what we expect to see happen in 2018

Notably, in how we believe organisations will make better use of data and analytics to thrive and grow. Along with the tinsel, we thought it was time for us to get out our data-driven crystal balls and tea leaves.

During the lifetime of the Small Data Forum, there have been seismic changes in the geopolitical landscape, driven by political parties’ and their leaders’ smarter use of data.

How different the world might be today had Remain, Clinton, Le Pen, May, and Merkel beefed up their analytics teams and consultants in the way that Farage, Trump, Macron, Corbyn, and the AfD plainly did. Often working with the same, small group of businesses and consultants.

While we’ve been “on air”, politics has woken up to the power that comes from understanding what voters think, feel, and intend to do – and all through little big data analytics. It’s also learned how to harness the potential of clustering and microtargeting, using the right messaging derived from nudge theory and behavioural economics.

At the same time, malign interference in the political process has become increasingly apparent, thanks to the confirmed spread of fake content on Facebook, Twitter, and Google-owned YouTube – the vectors of memetic transmission – from Russian and Macedonian bot farms. This phenomenon has Neville wondering whether we are all just “mice in a wheel”. Quite so, Slartiblartfast.

So, to our predictions for the new year.

For Thomas:

  1. Europe will take back control, using GDPR and ePrivacy regulation. This may have unintended impacts on communications measurement and evaluation, especially influencer tracking
  2. Applied artificial intelligence will begin to transform the industry, with speech-to-text, real natural language processing, and machine learning all enabling communicators to create “insight on steroids”
  3. And, Manchester City will win the Premiership. That last one through the gritted teeth of an Arsenal supporter.

For Neville:

  1. In 2018, we will see chatbots, AI, and digital personal assistants (DPAs) truly come of age. This means:
    – Chatbots will be used for great customer experience and employee effectiveness
    – AI will help in crunching huge datasets and initial analytics
    – DPAs will start making more and better decisions for you
  2. The New Year will also usher in the era of trust and shifts at scale, online. It will never have been more important – or more possible – to prove your trustworthiness. As an individual, as a citizen, and as an organisation or corporation

And for me?

  1. One of the major disruptive, data-driven businesses of the new economy will fall foul of GDPR during its first year of operation. Given the hack on its customer data earlier this year, I’m backing Uber to be the first to clock a €20m fine from the EU.
  2. YouTube will have a pretty parlous year, financially, as advertisers lose patience with ad misplacement and permanently withdraw from a marketplace they consider to be too poorly managed and unregulated.
  3. And, Theresa May will not celebrating New Year’s Eve 2018/19 at either Chequers or Number 10 Downing Street, unless she’s the guest of the new Prime Minister. Unlikely, as the new incumbent will be Corbyn or – at an outside punt – Leadsom or Govey.

2017 has made compelling viewing and listening for those interested in how the ever-more sophisticated reading of the digital runes is affording competitive advantage.

To those who’ve been with us on the ride on the Small Data Forum, thanks for your support. And for those about to stumble across our offering to the world and become part of the community, we can’t wait to welcome you on board.

Listen to Episode 14:

Sam KnowlesSam Knowles is Founder & MD of Insight Agents, a corporate and brand storytelling business. He has almost 30 years’ experience helping organisations communicate better, clearer, simpler. Data and statistics are the foundation of the stories Sam helps companies to build; evidence-based, data-driven, insight-rich narrative. But only the foundation, before the tools and techniques of story take over.

With a PhD in experimental psychology, Sam has just written an intensely-practical guide to his craft called “Narrative By Numbers: How To Tell Powerful and Purposeful Stories With Data.” It will be published by Routledge in February 2018.

(Image at top of Janus Bifrons from the Vatican Museum, courtesy of Wikipedia.)

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SNCR fake news study: high stakes for marketers in survey findings https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/12/11/sncr-fake-news-study-high-stakes-marketers-survey-findings/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/12/11/sncr-fake-news-study-high-stakes-marketers-survey-findings/#respond Mon, 11 Dec 2017 10:29:00 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/?p=49369 Neville Hobson
SNCR fake news study: high stakes for marketers in survey findings

You can summarise what marketers think about fake news with this – they are ambivalent about what ought to change, and are reluctant to alter their own business practices. That’s a key finding from the results of an online survey-based research study carried out between August-November 2017 by The Society for New Communications Research of […]

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Neville Hobson
SNCR fake news study: high stakes for marketers in survey findings

digital-marketing

You can summarise what marketers think about fake news with this – they are ambivalent about what ought to change, and are reluctant to alter their own business practices.

That’s a key finding from the results of an online survey-based research study carried out between August-November 2017 by The Society for New Communications Research of The Conference Board (SNCR).

Led by SNCR Fellow Jeff Pundyk, a former Senior Vice President at The Economist, the prime purpose of the research project is to explore businesses’ contribution to the problem of fake news – particularly how ad-supported media models enable it – and what marketing and communications professionals can do about it. (The research team comprises a number of SNCR Fellows including me.)

The online survey measured the awareness, attitudes and actions to address the problem of fake news by marketing and communications professionals – in particular, those who have direct budget or management responsibility for paid content marketing, paid social, native and programmatic advertising.

Among the overall findings:

  • 56 percent of marketers cite editorial content as the source of fake news
  • 40 percent cite native advertising or paid content marketing as the source of fake news
  • If their ads appear adjacent to fake news, over 80 percent of marketers believe their brands will be harmed by the affiliation
  • Fewer than half (42 percent) say that they were aware of ads adjacent to fake news content
  • Nearly 70 percent say they have a negative or very negative impression of the advertiser in those positions
  • 20 percent say it erodes consumer trust in the brand
  • And nearly half say they do not know all the sites where their advertising runs

Coming to Terms with Fake News

In his initial report, Pundyk says that when asked who should take the lead in solving the problem, the highest proportion of survey respondents (83%) said publishers and media companies.

whoshouldtakethelead

Running a close second to that clear majority view was social media platforms (73%), with technology partners (56%) coming third.

The overall response mix that includes brands/advertisers (53%), search platforms (52%) and agencies (49%) were sufficiently close to each other to suggest ambivalence about what needs to change for marketers to effectively address the genuine issue of fake news.

That said, Pundyk notes that many in the industry are starting to take on the issue.

He cites Proctor & Gamble (P&G), the world’s largest advertiser, who cut $140 million from its quarterly ad spend earlier this year. citing concerns over brand safety. Since then P&G has insisted that all digital programs be accredited by the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) to fight fraudulent metrics, a closely related issue tied to programmatic advertising.

The subject of fake news is one that occupies the minds and attention of governments, businesses and individuals, and is likely to continue as a matter of major concern in 2018. As Pundyk says in his concluding remarks:

Now more than ever, brand building is about establishing trust with customers and prospects. The SNCR study indicates that marketers – those with the most leverage – are acutely aware of the risk but remain divided about how to move things forward. And while the advertising models that built the world’s most valuable brands are exposed, the stakes are even higher for society. Advertising serves a public good when it supports credible content providers. When it fails – when brands forgo their social responsibility – brands, communities, and democratic institutions are all undermined.

More information from the SNCR study will be available in the coming weeks. If you’re a Conference Board member, look out for details soon. If you’re not and would like information, contact Alex Parkinson, SNCR’s Senior Researcher and Associate Director.

(Image at top via Pixabay. CC0)

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New Report on Change Agents: the Unsung Heroes in Digital Transformation https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/12/07/change-agents-unsung-heroes-digital-transformation/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/12/07/change-agents-unsung-heroes-digital-transformation/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 07:23:00 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/?p=49233 Neville Hobson
New Report on Change Agents: the Unsung Heroes in Digital Transformation

According to Brian Solis, the real (often untold) stories about digital transformation are the human struggles “change agents” face as they try to modernize their organizations. There are always colleagues, managers and others who don’t get it. Solis – futurist, best-selling business-book author and principal analyst at Prophet’s Altimeter Group – has written a 29-page […]

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Neville Hobson
New Report on Change Agents: the Unsung Heroes in Digital Transformation

butterfly

According to Brian Solis, the real (often untold) stories about digital transformation are the human struggles “change agents” face as they try to modernize their organizations. There are always colleagues, managers and others who don’t get it.

Solis – futurist, best-selling business-book author and principal analyst at Prophet’s Altimeter Group – has written a 29-page report that examines how the people behind digital transformation lead change from within their organizations.

From the report’s executive summary:

In a world where digital technology is evolving faster than organizations can adapt, it’s no secret that companies are investing in digital transformation and corporate innovation. But who is leading the charge? Often, it’s the individuals who share a deep expertise and passion for digital. And while these “digital change agents” are striving to bring change from within their respective group in the organization, they aren’t necessarily seasoned or trained at navigating the cultural dynamics that drive change throughout an organization.

With support and guidance from the C-Suite, change agents spread digital literacy, drive collaboration between silos, build internal bridges with executives, and help accelerate their organization’s progress across Altimeter’s “Six Stages of Digital Transformation.”

Solis says that “The Digital Change Agent’s Manifesto” is the result of more than five years of research and 30 interviews with those who have led digital transformation initiatives within some of the world’s most renowned brands, including Coca-Cola, Equifax, FCC, NFL, Samsung, Starbucks, and Visa, among many others.

Report Highlights

The Digital Change Agent's Manifesto

  • Although digital transformation is one of the biggest trends in business today and companies are investing heavily in new technologies and innovations, many still do so as a grassroots effort driven by resourceful individuals – digital change agents – across the organization.
  • Digital change agents are passionate about digital innovations and ardent believers in their potential to help the organization succeed – but they are sometimes reluctant to step into a leadership or change-management role.
  • Change agents can rise from anywhere in the organization and often begin as digital advocates – employees who introduce or promote new digital ideas or products – and eventually progress to experienced transformers.
  • To garner support across the organization, change agents quickly realize that they must acquire basic change-management skills if they are to secure cross-functional collaboration and leadership support.
  • Change agents often take on informal functions – data gatherers and storytellers, influencers and case makers, relationship builders, and champion – to navigate the human aspects of change and digital transformation.
  • When trying to rally support for digital transformation initiatives, change agents eventually learn to face detractors and manage behavioural challenges (ie, managing ego, bias, fear, and self-doubt) in others and themselves.
  • Change agents should operate from a strategic manifesto to guide them in their digital transformation efforts, expedite change, and minimize complications and detractions:
  1. Embrace being a catalyst.
  2. Organize with other change agents.
  3. Learn to speak the language of the C-Suite.
  4. Make allies.
  5. Spread digital literacy.
  6. Create a digital transformation roadmap.
  7. Link digital transformation efforts to business and individuals’ goals.
  8. Set metrics and milestones.
  9. Democratize ideation.
  10. Capitalize on their own inherent “super powers.”
  • Leaders should identify and publicly support change agents to make enterprise-wide digital transformation a mandate.

The Digital Change Agent’s Manifesto” is a valuable collection of insights from someone who is regarded as one of the most credible and compelling writers and speakers on topics and themes related to business disruption, transformation, and change.

Do you challenge the status quo in your organization? If you do, you’ll find this “manifesto” most useful. Get a copy for your boss. (And for the bigger picture view, get the companion report “The 2017 State of Digital Transformation.”)

Free PDF download.

Nothing Happens When Everything Stays The Same

(Photo at top by Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash. Gapingvoid cartoon used with CC permission.)

First published as New Report on Change Agents: the Unsung Heroes in Digital Transformation on Neville Hobson

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Should you place your trust in the mainstream media? https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/11/27/place-trust-mainstream-media/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/11/27/place-trust-mainstream-media/#respond Mon, 27 Nov 2017 07:16:00 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/?p=49003 Neville Hobson
Should you place your trust in the mainstream media?

The results of a survey published last month suggest that journalists believe fake news is creating new trust in traditional media around the world. According to the 2017 Ogilvy Media Influence survey, traditional media was found to be the most trusted news source globally by 52 percent of journalists surveyed across North America, Europe, the […]

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Neville Hobson
Should you place your trust in the mainstream media?

Newspapers

The results of a survey published last month suggest that journalists believe fake news is creating new trust in traditional media around the world.

According to the 2017 Ogilvy Media Influence survey, traditional media was found to be the most trusted news source globally by 52 percent of journalists surveyed across North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

The reporters and producers reflected on the role of social media, company websites and other factors in the importance of trusting traditional news sources. Many agreed that with fake news being such a popular debate, there is an increased need and pressure for stronger reporting in order to re-build trust.

The survey results showed that, globally, Facebook is the number one gatekeeper for news, edging out legacy traditional media sources and significantly outpacing other social networks and digital platforms like Google and Twitter.

Does all this add up to greater trust in the media as Ogilvy claims?

Not according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism who says that most people don’t trust the mainstream media and are even more suspicious of social media.

The latest Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism [published in June] found high scepticism about news and comment, with 33 percent of more than 70,000 consumers polled in 36 countries saying they can’t rely on the news to be true.

Perhaps a key differentiator between the two surveys mentioned is that one asked news creators – journalists and other members of the mainstream media – for their views, while the other asked news consumers for theirs.

There is one question mark to consider, though. Other research-based information published recently says that many consumers get most of their news from social networks (a majority of consumers do so in the US), but they don’t trust such sources as much as they do traditional ones, ie, the mainstream media. Yet that’s not where many people increasingly go for their news.

An even bigger question mark comes from Richard Edelman, CEO of the eponymous PR firm (and publishers of the annual Trust Barometer reports), in a post earlier this month on the results of a flash poll in the US on the impact of fake news on trust in the mainstream media.

The sad conclusion that has been drawn by a majority of Americans is that fake news is created by the media with a motive, destruction of political opponents.

In writing about the key findings of his firm’s study, Edelman states simply that fake news is decreasing trust in traditional news organizations, a stark opposite view to that in Ogilvy’s survey (but, noting again, that one surveyed members of traditional news organizations).

Still, Edelman articulates a credible perspective.

The mainstream media is categorized as elitist and politicized, unable to carry out its vital role of truth-telling as the fourth estate in global governance. We opt instead for opinion based on personal experience, using the social platforms as equivalent or superior forms of communication.

That’s a similar-looking media landscape in the UK from what I observe.

In reality, the subject of researching trust in the media, mainstream or social, is a complex topic where comparative views are tricky given the huge variances in survey participants, methodologies and measurement standards.

Due Diligence

Much of the narrative surrounding this topic focuses on what the media must do from a journalism point of view. In other words, report the facts and create great content whether in print, TV, radio or online.

Is that really enough?

In this context, I think there are three essential challenges that must be met before anyone can lay claim to trust in the media:

  1. The news being reported
  2. Who is reporting it
  3. Where it’s being reported

The rise to prominence of social media over the past five years or so as another “channel” in the news ecosystem makes such challenges ever more important to address as the mainstream media no longer has exclusivity in reporting news.

And no longer can you simply trust a favourite or preferred outlet just because a) you’ve read/watched/listened to it for years; or b) they’ve always been first with the news.

Now, you have to question each of those three challenges in order to arrive at a state of trust.

It might go like this:

Verify the news being reported – that can be a relatively simple activity such as what you see in one medium – mainstream or social – you check where else the same thing is being reported. Nowadays you have free tools and services that can help you conduct verification of facts and truth: Full Fact to name but one in the UK; likewise, FactCheck.org in the US.

Look into the credentials of the reporter of the news – find out about the reporter, starting with a Google search. This is especially important when you’re looking into someone like you or I, ie, people who aren’t professional journalists yet who often report news. You need to get a good sense of that reporter’s impartiality (or otherwise) as well as reputation.

Check the reputation of the place from which the news is coming – you need to have a very clear and confident sense that the place where you see news is a credible outlet for that news. This applies whether it’s a mainstream media organization, a citizen journalist and her blog, or someone with lots of followers on Facebook. And never assume anything: just because a given news outlet is based in the US or Europe and has a credible-looking website, for example, there’s no guarantee that it’s a purveyor of real news and not the fake kind.

A few days ago, I noticed on the BBC News website a link at the foot of some news reports saying “Why you can trust BBC News.”

Trust

Clicking that link took me to a page with a huge amount of information and links that, collectively, offered many answers to that simple question.

In explaining the content on this page, the BBC says:

Research shows that, compared with other broadcasters, newspapers and online sites, the BBC is seen as by far the most trusted and impartial news provider in the UK.

Even so, we know that identifying credible journalism on the internet can be a confusing experience. We also know that audiences want to understand more about how BBC journalism is produced.

For these reasons, BBC News is making even greater efforts to explain what type of information you are reading or watching on our website, who and where the information is coming from, and how a story was crafted the way it was. By doing so, we can help you judge for yourself why BBC News can be trusted.

We are also making these indicators of trustworthy journalism “machine readable”, meaning that they can be picked up by search engines and social media platforms, helping them to better identify reliable sources of information too.

Some years ago, the BBC made public its complete Editorial Guidelines, previously a collection of documents only visible internally. It explains and sets out in considerable detail how the end-to-end process of research into a story, verification of it and related actions, to publishing it as news should be carried out and by whom.

Such public disclosure by a news-gathering and -broadcasting organization is a foundational element in trust of that organisation and what it does. It goes a long way towards generating the right climate for trust to be created and believed by other people. And this approach in explaining “Why you can trust BBC News” takes this to a new level.

In today’s climate of general mistrust, we all need every help to foster the opposite – a climate of trust. It’s a great example of what the mainstream media can do beyond the obvious to meet the three challenges I mentioned earlier.

(Photo at top via Pixabay. CC0)

Related reading:

Plus two recent episodes of the Small Data Forum podcast in which fake news and trust feature prominently in our discussion:

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A closer look at Creative Commons licenses https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/11/21/closer-look-creative-commons-licenses/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/11/21/closer-look-creative-commons-licenses/#respond Tue, 21 Nov 2017 07:36:00 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/?p=48820 Neville Hobson
A closer look at Creative Commons licenses

One of the great things about social media and social networks is the ability they offer to anyone to share a thought, an idea, or an expression, with anyone else who has a connection to the global internet. Take the photo above, for instance. It’s of the Trevi Fountain in Rome on a beautiful sunny […]

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Neville Hobson
A closer look at Creative Commons licenses

Trevi Fountain

One of the great things about social media and social networks is the ability they offer to anyone to share a thought, an idea, or an expression, with anyone else who has a connection to the global internet.

Take the photo above, for instance. It’s of the Trevi Fountain in Rome on a beautiful sunny late autumn day and I took the photo on a visit there in 2016. I’ve not widely shared it before now although it’s been in my Flickr stream since then, and now it’s embedded in this post.

What if you like the photo and want to use it in some way, personally or professionally? As I own the copyright to the photo, you’d likely want to reach out and see what permission you need to use it.

There’s an easier and much simpler way to do that called Creative Commons. The licenses you or anyone can acquire from this non-profit organization are provided free and are based upon copyright.

They replace individual negotiations for specific rights between copyright owner (licensor) and licensee, which are necessary under an “all rights reserved” copyright management, with a “some rights reserved” management employing standardized licenses for re-use cases where no commercial compensation is sought by the copyright owner.

I began using a Creative Commons license when I started blogging in 2002. I saw it as a great way to enable others to make use of the words I write and images I create without the complexity and cost of traditional rights management. It made it easy for syndication especially.

So I made everything I create and publish in this blog available under a Creative Commons license, which continues thus today. That means anyone can use any of my content – words, images, audio, video – without asking me beforehand if they’re willing to abide by the terms of the license.

It does surprise me that more people aren’t aware of Creative Commons or the benefits its licenses provide to copyright owners and those wishing to use an owner’s intellectual property. This is especially so regarding photography where demand for visual communication is increasing rapidly.

To help you see the light, here is a great guide to understanding Creative Commons and its licensing system written by Andrea Feustel at Copytrack.com, included in this post with their permission. Based in Berlin, Germany, Copytrack stands for just and fair management of intellectual property on the internet.

While the guide applies broadly to any content you can create and wish to share, the focus is very much on photography.

If you have searched for free images then you have probably come across Creative Common licenses (CC Licenses)

Despite them being a practical opportunity to handle image licensing quick and easily, there are still many image users unsure how they work.

Just because the licenses are without cost does not mean they are without rules. These rules can alter from picture to picture, each allowing the image user to use the images in completely different ways. To help understand CC licenses, Copytrack explains all the key signs, their different meanings, and what users have to watch out for when using CC Licenses.

Put simply, Creative Common licenses are licensing contracts that answer the most important questions when it comes to the rightsholder’s rights. A key point to note is that CC licenses are valid worldwide. There are a lot of terms with the licenses that can be combined differently to create different contracts. All the licenses have one thing in common – they can be used for free. As well as an author and image, source must always be given and the licenses are irreversible. That means, if a photo is shared once with a creative common license it can never be removed.

To help users quickly establish how photos can and can’t be used multiple signs are used to represent each term. The licenses vary in three major ways. First, the permission to edit work. Secondly, the ability to pass on modified version of the work. The last point defines if the image can be used commercially or not. The one rule that always remains is that the creators have to be named and sources have to be provided.

The four license terms can result in the following combinations and Creative Common licenses as letter codes:

Creative Commons licenses

CC by: This is the simplest license. The user is only obliged to give attribution. They are allowed to use, edit and use the photo for commercial purposes.

CC by-sa (Attribution & Share Alike): This license restricts the distribution of a modification of the photograph. This must be provided under the same conditions as the original work.

CC by-nd (Attribution & No Editing): This license does not allow you to edit the photo. However, it may be used for commercial purposes as long as the image is not modified in any way.

CC by-nc (Attribution & non-commercial use): This license prohibits the commercial use of images. Therefore, the use of the photo for profit-making purposes is not permitted, e. g. in an online shop or for resale of products.

CC by-nc-sa (named, non-commercial & share like): This license permits only non-commercial use of the photo. In addition, edited works may only be passed on under the same terms as the original.

CC by-nc-nd (Attribution, non-commercial use & no editing): This license allows you to use the image for non-commercial purposes; however, it is not permitted to edit the original.

Caution when giving attribution

All Creative Commons licenses require attribution. However, according to the license agreement, it is not enough to give only the name of the photographer. A number of assignments are required next to the name:

  • the name or, if indicated instead, the pseudonym of the copyright holder, usually the photographer
  • if the right holder has made an attribution to a third party (e. g. to a foundation, publishing house or newspaper), the name or designation of that third party
  • the title of the photograph
  • if a link to the source of the photograph or to the photographer is provided
  • the license under which the photo is offered
  • changes made by the user to the photo

Not everything is clearly regulated

In some areas, however, the CC licenses remain unclear. For example, the license terms do not explain in detail what is meant by the term “commercial”. It is only defined as quite vaguely that a commercial act is an act which is mainly aimed at or directed towards a commercial advantage or a contractually owed monetary disposition. Not where the photo is used, but how.

In short, Creative Commons licenses are a way for photographers to share their photos with third parties in a controlled manner. Through their use, the photographer creates legal certainty in large parts, both for himself and for the photographer. This may also allow them to better distribute work. As the attribution must always be given, a picture passed on under the CC license can also have a considerable advertising advantage for the photographer.

About Copytrack:

Copytrack (www.copytrack.com) was founded in 2015 by Marcus Schmitt and currently employs around 25 people from legal, IT, customer service and finance. The service supports photographers, publishers, image agencies and e-commerce providers. It includes a risk-free search of the global Internet for image and graphics data uploaded by users at Copytrack are found with a hit accuracy of 98 per cent. The customers define if images are used without a license and even determine the amount of subsequent fees supported by an automatic license calculator on the portal. Copytrack is fully responsible for an out-of-court solution in over 140 countries as well as a legal solution in the areas relevant to copyright law. If the image has been successfully licensed, the rights holder receives up to 70 percent of the agreed sum. The pure search function is free of charge.

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A minimalist look to blogging https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/11/20/minimalist-look-blogging/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/11/20/minimalist-look-blogging/#comments Mon, 20 Nov 2017 08:02:28 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/?p=48765 Neville Hobson
A minimalist look to blogging

Today, this blog gets a design refresh with a new theme that presents a minimalist look to the world. This is version 10.0 of a website running on WordPress that I first started in early 2006 following four years variously on Blogger, Movable Type and TypePad. All these services were stalwarts in the early days […]

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Neville Hobson
A minimalist look to blogging

Blue suede shoes

Today, this blog gets a design refresh with a new theme that presents a minimalist look to the world.

This is version 10.0 of a website running on WordPress that I first started in early 2006 following four years variously on Blogger, Movable Type and TypePad. All these services were stalwarts in the early days of blogs and blogging.

I don’t want to make a huge deal out of what essentially is the installation of a new WordPress theme. It’s a bit like a new wardrobe when you buy a new outfit or shoes, etc – it’s the same you underneath, just perhaps a little better presented.

What I’ve done is given the site a new look and and a better feel with the Twenty Seven Pro theme running on the Genesis Framework. I made some light customisation to the child theme’s functionality and style so it doesn’t stray far from the original design as envisioned by its creator Brian Gardner.

This marks my return to Genesis after a year or so away, tinkering with minor changes in the meantime on other themes and designs. I think Genesis is the best foundation for self-hosted WordPress sites that money can buy, one reason why I started using it five or six years ago.

In working on the minor customisations this past weekend, I enjoyed practising my small knowledge of PHP and CSS. For what I wanted to do, you don’t need to be a coding expert, just have some basic knowledge and help from tools like CSS Hero and the essential ‘inspect’ feature in browsers like Chrome. Not only that, the latest WordPress version now includes very useful functionality such as code highlighting and flagging up errors it spots. That was a huge help.

Best of all, though, was the Genesis developer community on Facebook (a private group) and its generous sharing of tips, tricks and acquired knowledge that helped me surmount a few obstacles that otherwise I’d still be here with today on a site still in development.

Of course, all of this might be moot if you never visit the site and instead get the content via email or RSS subscription. That’s how I get most of the content from blogs and other places I’m interested in.

There are some other things I want to do here so there will be further changes during the weeks ahead. In the meantime, do please check out the new wardrobe if you have a few minutes – I think it looks quite smart.

(Photo at top via Pixabay. CC0)

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For Immediate Release 113: Not a 280-Character Episode https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/11/14/immediate-release-113-not-280-character-episode/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/11/14/immediate-release-113-not-280-character-episode/#respond Tue, 14 Nov 2017 10:29:00 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/?p=48594 Neville Hobson
For Immediate Release 113: Not a 280-Character Episode

Shel and I recorded the November edition of the monthly Hobson & Holtz Report podcast. We had a great chinwag on these topics: A follow-up to our KFC story (about 11 herbs and spices); the social media team struck again. Twitter has made its new expanded 280 character count available to almost everyone. Not everyone […]

First published as For Immediate Release 113: Not a 280-Character Episode on Neville Hobson

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Neville Hobson
For Immediate Release 113: Not a 280-Character Episode

appiiscreens

Shel and I recorded the November edition of the monthly Hobson & Holtz Report podcast. We had a great chinwag on these topics:

  • A follow-up to our KFC story (about 11 herbs and spices); the social media team struck again.
  • Twitter has made its new expanded 280 character count available to almost everyone. Not everyone is happy about it.
  • Uber’s new CEO took an investigator’s advice and scrapped the company’s old values statements. Instead of simply crafting a new one, he crowdsourced it to his employees, who responded in a big way.
  • The traditional media thinks the fake news problem is elevating trust in the traditional media. Audiences don’t agree.
  • When pregnant US mums get information from a website with social media elements, they’re more likely to get their children vaccinated and keep those vaccinations up to date. There are lessons here about mixing content and social media that go beyond healthcare.
  • A blockchain startup aims to change the CV forever, which could also change the nature of employment. Meanwhile, Microsoft has connected Office 365 and LinkedIn’s Resume Assistant.
  • Taylor Swift’s attorneys created a crisis that could have been averted with advice from a PR professional.
  • Dan York’s Tech report includes Dan’s take on Twitter’s new character count along with more news from Twitter, including a technical issue affecting search results around words related to sexuality, longer name lengths, and problems with its user verification process. Dan also covers the impending release of WordPress 4.9 and the upcoming “Freedom on the Net” report.

Listen Now

Or download the MP3 file.

Links for this Episode:

Links from Dan York’s report:

(Image at top via APPII)

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Twitter offers richer scope with 280 characters https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/11/09/twitter-280-characters/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/11/09/twitter-280-characters/#comments Thu, 09 Nov 2017 07:21:00 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/?p=48444 Neville Hobson
Twitter offers richer scope with 280 characters

Since Twitter first appeared in 2006, the notion of sharing your thoughts and those of others in a concise 140-character message you can create and share from myriad devices has become an enduring aspect of the social web. Today for many, it’s an essential communication tool that enables direct and unfiltered connection between individuals that […]

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Neville Hobson
Twitter offers richer scope with 280 characters

Twitter

Since Twitter first appeared in 2006, the notion of sharing your thoughts and those of others in a concise 140-character message you can create and share from myriad devices has become an enduring aspect of the social web.

Today for many, it’s an essential communication tool that enables direct and unfiltered connection between individuals that results in engagement and even relationships. For others, it’s seen as a marketing channel that pays only lip service to authenticity. And for others still, it’s a dark place filled with fake news, misinformation and propaganda.

One thing many of its roughly 100 million global daily active users might agree about is that Twitter can be a challenge to get a message across in only 140 characters. It often requires some smart thinking about words, grammar and meaning, requiring clever editing to get all you want to say into those 140 characters. It can be super challenging when you have URLs and hashtags to include, too.

So Twitter’s news on November 7 that it has increased the maximum character limit to 280 – double the original number – is good news to those who wish for a larger canvas upon which to write their public thoughts.

My reaction was a positive one: while it may well encourage verbose junk tweets, overall I see it will be a useful aid to discussion and engagement.

{tweet}

The new 280-character limit that is rolling out to Twitter users worldwide follows testing Twitter conducted in September. Twitter says the novelty of being able to use double the space as before had people doing some innovative tweeting, flexing their new scope, as it were.

During the first few days of the test many people Tweeted the full 280 limit because it was new and novel, but soon after behavior normalized. We saw when people needed to use more than 140 characters, they Tweeted more easily and more often. But importantly, people Tweeted below 140 most of the time and the brevity of Twitter remained.

As you’d expect on Twitter, the news generated plenty of amusement along with criticism. The #280characters hashtag is a smorgasbord of the witty as well as the lame, and anything in between.

Not everyone likes it:

{Tweet}

There’s even an extension for the Chrome browser, published by Slate, that will only let you tweet in 140 characters:

If you’re visiting Twitter.com in Chrome, 140 will cut everyone’s tweets down to 140 characters. And better yet, 140 will restrict your tweets to 140 characters, too.

Others were imaginative in their embrace of 280 characters:

{Tweet}

And the devilishly comical:

{Tweet}

It’s worth noting that the increase in available characters doesn’t apply if you tweet in Japanese, Korean or Chinese. Twitter says:

Japanese, Korean, and Chinese will continue to have 140 characters because cramming is not an issue in these languages. In fact, these languages have always been able to say more with their Tweets because of the density of their writing systems. We shared more about this thinking and our research here.

Note, too, that this change doesn’t apply to Twitter direct messages that you send privately to other users – the limit for a DM has been a huge 10,000 characters since 2015.

How does it work?

If you use the official Twitter app on your Android mobile device, you’ll be able to tweet and retweet up to 280 characters. I was able to do that from yesterday morning. The same should apply on Twitter for iOS although one friend reported yesterday he couldn’t yet. If you can’t, it’s worth checking your app store to see if there’s an updated version for your mobile device.

If you use TweetDeck or the Tweeten desktop app for Windows, you will be able to use 280 characters.

It was a different story yesterday when I tried to tweet from a website using a Twitter sharing button – the popup window that appears when you do that only gave me 140 characters. It could be a caching issue as some commented when I tweeted about it, or maybe still to come in what Twitter is rolling out.

{Tweet}

Will having 280 characters make any difference in your Twitter experience, how you use the service and how you interact with others?

It’s a good question, one that Twitter offered some thoughts about from their September test:

In addition to more Tweeting, people who had more room to Tweet received more engagement (Likes, Retweets, @mentions), got more followers, and spent more time on Twitter. People in the experiment told us that a higher character limit made them feel more satisfied with how they expressed themselves on Twitter, their ability to find good content, and Twitter overall.

Even with double the character account for tweets, Twitter is designed for concise expression. If you want to write an essay, there’s Facebook, Medium or your blog.

My own view is that having 280 characters available means that you will be able to express your thoughts, or add opinion to retweets, with the confidence that you will have enough space especially if you find 140 characters a ceiling you frequently bump up against (that’s my experience about 60% of the time). That doesn’t mean you will use 280 characters each time, just that you could if you think it’s really necessary.

{Tweet}

Happy tweeting!

First published as Twitter offers richer scope with 280 characters on Neville Hobson

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SDF Podcast 13: 1984 meets Pavlov’s dogs https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/11/06/sdf-podcast-13-1984-meets-pavlovs-dogs/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/11/06/sdf-podcast-13-1984-meets-pavlovs-dogs/#comments Mon, 06 Nov 2017 10:06:00 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/?p=48355 Neville Hobson
SDF Podcast 13: 1984 meets Pavlov’s dogs

“Trust, but verify” is a phrase that was used often by Ronald Reagan. It is more than a little ironic that this is originally a Russian proverb (Doveryai, no proveryai). Trust is also what links the various topics in episode 13 of our podcast (with show notes written by Thomas Stoeckle). From Chinese citizen scores […]

First published as SDF Podcast 13: 1984 meets Pavlov’s dogs on Neville Hobson

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Neville Hobson
SDF Podcast 13: 1984 meets Pavlov’s dogs

Trust

“Trust, but verify” is a phrase that was used often by Ronald Reagan. It is more than a little ironic that this is originally a Russian proverb (Doveryai, no proveryai).

Trust is also what links the various topics in episode 13 of our podcast (with show notes written by Thomas Stoeckle).

From Chinese citizen scores to alleged irregularities in the UK referendum and the US presidential election, the implications of GDPR and the prospects of blockchain: trust is the glue that should hold together the fabric of such interactions, in private as well as public contexts.

China scores its citizens

Writer and academic Rachel Botsman calls her analysis of our hyperconnected, hyperpartisan times Who Can You Trust. Both Neville and I are currently reading the book, and it will feature in our next podcast (by which time I suspect Sam might also be among the readers).

It first caught our attention in the form of an article in Wired magazine, discussing the Chinese citizen score in some depth (as an excerpt from the book). A powerful piece which Sam calls ‘ideologically driven’.

There is something binary about the collectivist vs individualist perspective that he detects, reminiscent of the communist vs capitalist paradigm of the Cold War era.

This is all about the vision of the Chinese government to develop a social credit system to rate all citizens on trust and build a culture of sincerity. The article quotes from the original policy document:

“It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility.”

Neville notices the aspect of “gamified obedience” described by Botsman: Amazon or Netflix style user transparency, yet with a kind of Orwellian political purpose: capitalist can-do, but with Communist Party oversight.

Tencent and Alibaba, two of the leading Chinese technology companies, are part of the current test phase. What is gamified is also susceptible to gaming: this example of the Sesame credit score shows the tight connection between government intentions and commercial (self)interests.

1984

We discuss the somewhat dystopian “Orwell’s 1984 meets Pavlov’s dogs” scenario, conscious that this really isn’t a million miles away from the obsession with ratings and rankings that is also prevalent in Western social media use.

Whether it is Facebook likes or Twitter followers, the latest scores from our Fitbit, the hyperbolic promises of the quantified self and the Internet of Things – datafication and gamification are here to stay.

US Senate Hearings with Facebook, Google and Twitter

Big Brother’s use of big data was also the focus of US Senate Hearings into the role of big tech companies in the 2016 presidential elections.

The Wall Street Journal described it as industry conglomerates’ rites of passage: similar to railroad barons, oil, pharma, tobacco and banking giants before – presenting themselves to Capitol Hill to ask forgiveness for their trespasses.

Or in this case, to explain the fake news and misinformation impact on the 2016 election. A comprehensive write-up can be found in The Atlantic, by the exceptionally well-informed Alex Madrigal.

Recently published research by two American communication scholars, Shannon McGregor & Daniel Kreiss, highlights the role of tech firms in the 2016 US presidential elections.

A related Vice article makes this very explicit:

“All major tech platforms now employ significant ad sales staff based in DC to take advantage of congressional and presidential election cycles.”

Neville is surprised at the sheer scale and opacity of political involvement on behalf of the big tech firms. His plea for greater transparency requires investigative journalism joining forces with citizen journalists, something we see at play when journalists such as Carole Cadwalladr ask the Twitter collective to help verify and corroborate a story.

Reflecting on the use and abuse of data, Sam recalls a recent talk by Guy Standing, author of The Precariat. The precariat is a new social class, constantly faced with uncertainty over their future, knowledgeable and with access to information, yet without direction and purpose.

They can be found on the right (as atavists, looking backwards and being amenable to right-wing populism) and on the left (as progressives, seeking utopia). Demagogues are tapping into this Zeitgeist, and the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter earn good money from facilitating.

Optimists and Pessimists

Neville calls this a moral maze, and quotes a recent Nieman Labs article about a study based on interviews with internet and tech experts, and their views on solving the fake news and misinformation crisis.

The consensus was – there is no consensus.

There is an almost even split between optimists (those who see the glass half full, who believe in human nature and the power of technology to fix the problems), and pessimists (those who see the glass half empty, who worry about primal instincts and the fact that our brains aren’t wired to cope with the pace of technological change).

Full - Empty

Digital Populism in Germany

Meanwhile, Germany is coming to terms with the fact that for the first time since the 1960s, a far-right party is represented in parliament.

Research by Reuters Institute for Journalism showed that that right-leaning media (especially digital only channels) generated much more engagement than their limited posting activity and reach would suggest. Which means they were pretty good at hitting the sweet spot of their target audience.

It is clear that Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) ran the most digitally savvy campaign of all the German political parties.

A Guardian article stated that AfD’s massive vote gains reflect the extreme right’s ability to conquer online space and win the information war with sophisticated obfuscation and disruption tactics.

According to The Atlantic, they had competent support from the US in Harris Media, a conservative leaning communications and digital strategy firm that worked for Donald Trump, for Sarah Palin, but also for UKIP in the run up to Brexit.

GDPR is Coming Fast

Whilst everybody is trying to figure out what political lessons to learn from recent events, whether and how more regulation is required to serve both public, and private interests – GDPR is drawing closer, and Neville reminds us that it is really only 200 days away (at the time of writing this post, pretty much exactly 200 days and 12 hours…).

Plenty of companies are not ready, and they don’t seem to grasp the breadth and depth of record keeping requirements, of proof of compliance and the need for a data protection officer and the risk of hefty fines.

Businesses in the marketing and communications space also need navigate between the roles of data controller or data processor, as outlined in this useful guide.

An informative and insightful polemic by marketing expert Samuel Scott in The Drum provided Sam with a favourite digital marketing quote, by Doc Searls:

“Madison Avenue fell asleep, direct response marketing ate its brain, and it woke up as an alien replica of itself.”

What used to be the creative process of storytelling become a digital marketers’ numbers game.

But now, Sam muses, with the potentially compounding effects of adblocking, GDPR and ePrivacy on programmatic real time targeting, it might just be that advertising and communications will have to go back to the quality of creative.

Blockchain – Hype or Hard Fact?

Our final topic of this episode is blockchain, which according to the Gartner hype cycle is past the “peak of inflated expectations,” and heading into the “trough of disillusionment.”

Sam reflects on the almost Communist idea behind it, the promise of radical democracy. Harvard Business Review published “The Truth About Blockchain” recently, and that truth seems to be that blockchain is coming, but not over night: it is a foundational, rather than a disruptive technology.

Its impact on economic and other social systems will be huge, and its adoption gradual.

Neville points out that the coverage of blockchain is mainly driven by hugely technical explanations. We would all benefit from better understanding, and a good starting point might be this 3,500 word ‘plain English guide’ on The Next Web.

And yet blockchain isn’t even the latest cry in ‘distributed ledger technology’. That epithet goes to hashgraph, which is said to be safer, faster and cheaper to run. Yet as Sam rightly observers, the history of bubbles and market crashes is long and rich.

Future Topics

We will continue to observe and discuss, and it doesn’t seem as if we might be running out of topics any time soon.

Facial recognition is evolving in leaps and bounds – with China again the main driving force, with the least restrictions (this 6 minute Economist video is instructive).

And, talking of moral mazes, there is the baffling case of Saudi Arabia granting citizenship to Sophia the robot. But that’s for episode 14.

Listen to episode 13:


Thomas Stoeckle
Thomas Stoeckle leads strategic business development at LexisNexis Business Insight Solutions (BIS). Prior to joining LexisNexis, he was group director and global analytics lead at W2O Group, and managing director at Report International (now CARMA).

A marketing communications researcher and business leader with 20-plus years’ experience in helping clients make sense of their global (social) media footprint, and how that affects perception and reputation, he believes passionately in meaning and insightful business story-telling through robust data evidence and compelling visualisation.

Originally from Germany, Thomas has been living and working in London for more than 16 years. A digital Neanderthal among digital natives, he is keenly aware that adequate solutions to communications problems demand fluency in the three languages of humans, machines, and business.

First published as SDF Podcast 13: 1984 meets Pavlov’s dogs on Neville Hobson

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Artificial intelligence risks GM-style public backlash, experts warn https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/11/03/ai-backlash-experts-warn/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2017/11/03/ai-backlash-experts-warn/#respond Fri, 03 Nov 2017 07:22:00 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/?p=48241 Neville Hobson
Artificial intelligence risks GM-style public backlash, experts warn

Researchers say social, ethical and political concerns in the UK about artificial intelligence (AI) are mounting and greater oversight is urgently needed, according to the Guardian. Otherwise, we could expect to see the kind of social disruption that greeted the advent of genetically-modified (GM) foods during the past decades. The Guardian’s report notes that there […]

First published as Artificial intelligence risks GM-style public backlash, experts warn on Neville Hobson

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Neville Hobson
Artificial intelligence risks GM-style public backlash, experts warn

Stop the Robots

Researchers say social, ethical and political concerns in the UK about artificial intelligence (AI) are mounting and greater oversight is urgently needed, according to the Guardian. Otherwise, we could expect to see the kind of social disruption that greeted the advent of genetically-modified (GM) foods during the past decades.

The Guardian’s report notes that there are no testing standards or requirement for AI to explain their decisions. There is also no organisation equipped to monitor and investigate any bad decisions or accidents.

AI has entered public consciousness during the past couple of years with largely a negative focus. In how AI is reported in the media – mainstream and social – that focus tends to be about how the robots are coming to take away our jobs, our livelihoods, our comfort zones.

Undoubtedly, elements of AI – notably automation and machine learning – will have a significant and long-lasting effect on work and workplaces: how work is done and who does it. We already have examples where serious experiments and testing are taking place where automation will replace the roles of people in some manual jobs that, broadly speaking, are repetitive and predictable.

Amazon, for example, is experimenting in the UK with warehouse automation that could transform its logistics and supply chain as the FT reports:

The technology shows the transformation happening at the core of the logistics sector. Many functions that were once solely done by human hands are being carried out by robots as advanced automation takes root.

Watch the FT’s 5-minute video in its report – it’s very good and includes a segment on what grocery retailer Occado is also doing in this area.

In the US, retailing giant Walmart is testing robots in supermarkets to handle tasks like scanning shelves for out-of-stock items, incorrect prices and wrong or missing labels – the kind of work previously done by people, who aren’t well suited for this type of job in the long term nor do it well.

The white collar is also in the sights of AI and automation. Earlier this year, Bloomberg reported on JP Morgan’s experiments with machine learning that use a computer program to analyse legal agreements quicker and more accurately than armies of lawyers:

The program, called COIN, for Contract Intelligence, does the mind-numbing job of interpreting commercial-loan agreements that, until the project went online in June, consumed 360,000 hours of work each year by lawyers and loan officers. The software reviews documents in seconds, is less error-prone and never asks for vacation.

Bloomberg’s report had arguably the best financial story headline of 2017 as this screenshot shows.

JP Morgan software

These three examples are really the tip of an immense iceberg indicating the scale of change that is just ahead. While it’s clear that some jobs will be directly affected – meaning workers affected will lose them or need to be retrained for other work (a huge topic in itself) – it’s also clear that other jobs will produce benefits beyond the obvious (faster, greater accuracy, saving cost, etc) where repetitive and predictable work – think of the JP Morgan example – is done by computers and machines thus enabling the humans to focus on things we are good at, ie, cognitive work that isn’t repetitive and predictable.

That is what I call ‘augmented intelligence.’

This is just part of a still-emerging and -evolving landscape that, without a regulatory framework, will have profound implications for the well-being or otherwise of all of us. The Guardian’s report I mentioned earlier and embedded below is a great introduction to the idea of standards and accountability and what we should expect.

(Photo at top via The Verge.)


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Artificial intelligence risks GM-style public backlash, experts warn” was written by Ian Sample Science editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 1st November 2017 10.30 UTC

The emerging field of artificial intelligence (AI) risks provoking a public backlash as it increasingly falls into private hands, threatens people’s jobs, and operates without effective oversight or regulatory control, leading experts in the technology warn.

At the start of a new Guardian series on AI, experts in the field highlight the huge potential for the technology, which is already speeding up scientific and medical research, making cities run more smoothly, and making businesses more efficient.

But for all the promise of an AI revolution, there are mounting social, ethical and political concerns about the technology being developed without sufficient oversight from regulators, legislators and governments. Researchers told the Guardian that:

  • The benefits of AI might be lost to a GM-style backlash.
  • A brain drain to the private sector is harming universities.
  • Expertise and wealth are being concentrated in a handful of firms.
  • The field has a huge diversity problem.

In October, Dame Wendy Hall, professor of computer science at Southampton University, co-chaired an independent review on the British AI industry. The report found that AI had the potential to add £630bn to the economy by 2035. But to reap the rewards, the technology must benefit society, she said.

“AI will affect every aspect of our infrastructure and we have to make sure that it benefits us,” she said. “We have to think about all the issues. When machines can learn and do things for themselves, what are the dangers for us as a society? It’s important because the nations that grasp the issues will be the winners in the next industrial revolution.”

Today, responsibility for developing safe and ethical AI lies almost exclusively with the companies that build them. There are no testing standards, no requirement for AIs to explain their decisions, and no organisation equipped to monitor and investigate any bad decisions or accidents that happen.

A central goal of the field of artificial intelligence is for machines to be able to learn how to perform tasks and make decisions independently, rather than being explicitly programmed with inflexible rules. There are different ways of achieving this in practice, but some of the most striking recent advances, such as AlphaGo, have used a strategy called reinforcement learning. Typically the machine will have a goal, such as translating a sentence from English to French and a massive dataset to train on. It starts off just making a stab at the task – in the translation example it would start by producing garbled nonsense and comparing its attempts against existing translations. The program is then “rewarded” with a score when it is successful. After each iteration of the task it improves and after a vast number of reruns, such programs can match and even exceed the level of human translators. Getting machines to learn less well defined tasks or ones for which no digital datasets exist is a future goal that would require a more general form of intelligence, akin to common sense.

“We need to have strong independent organisations, along with dedicated experts and well-informed researchers, that can act as watchdogs and hold the major firms accountable to high standards,” said Kate Crawford, co-director of the AI Now Institute at New York University. “These systems are becoming the new infrastructure. It is crucial that they are both safe and fair.”

Many modern AIs learn to make decisions by being trained on massive datasets. But if the data itself contains biases, these can be inherited and repeated by the AI.

Earlier this year, an AI that computers use to interpret language was found to display gender and racial biases. Another used for image recognition categorised cooks as women, even when handed images of balding men. A host of others, including tools used in policing and prisoner risk assessment, have been shown to discriminate against black people.

The industry’s serious diversity problem is partly to blame for AIs that discriminate against women and minorities. At Google and Facebook, four in five of all technical hires are men. The white male dominance of the field has led to health apps that only cater for male bodies, photo services that labelled black people as gorillas and voice recognition systems that did not detect women’s voices. “Software should be designed by a diverse workforce, not your average white male, because we’re all going to be users,” said Hall.

Poorly tested or implemented AIs are another concern. Last year, a driver in the US died when the autopilot on his Tesla Model S failed to see a truck crossing the highway. An investigation into the fatal crash by the US National Transportation Safety Board criticised Tesla for releasing an autopilot system that lacked sufficient safeguards. The company’s CEO, Elon Musk, is one of the most vocal advocates of AI safety and regulation.

Yet more concerns exist over the use of AI-powered systems to manipulate people, with serious questions now being asked about uses of social media in the run-up to Britain’s EU referendum and the 2016 US election. “There’s a technology arms race going on to see who can influence voters,” said Toby Walsh professor of artificial intelligence at the University of New South Wales and author of a recent book on AI called Android Dreams.

“We have rules on the limits of what you can spend to influence people to vote in particular ways, and I think we’re going to have to have limits on how much technology you can use to influence people.”

Even at a smaller scale, manipulation could create problems. “On a day to day basis our lives are being, to some extent, manipulated by AI solutions,” said Sir Mark Walport, the government’s former chief scientist, who now leads UK Research and Innovation, the country’s new super-research council. “There comes a point at which, if organisations behave in a manner that upsets large swaths of the public, it could cause a backlash.”

Leading AI researchers have expressed similar concerns to the House of Lords AI committee, which is holding an inquiry into the economic, ethical and social implications of artificial intelligence. Evidence submitted by Imperial College London, one of the major universities for AI research, warns that insufficient regulation of the technology “could lead to societal backlash, not dissimilar to that seen with genetically modified food, should serious accidents occur or processes become out of control”.

Scientists at University College London share the concern about an anti-GM-style backlash, telling peers in their evidence: “If a number of AI examples developed badly, there could be considerable public backlash, as happened with genetically modified organisms.”

But the greatest impact on society may be AIs that work well, scientists told the Guardian. The Bank of England’s chief economist has warned that 15m UK jobs could be automated by 2035, meaning large scale re-training will be needed to avoid a sharp spike in unemployment. The short-term disruption could spark civil unrest, according to Maja Pantic, professor of affective and behavioural computing at Imperial, as could rising inequality driven by AI profits flowing to a handful of multinational companies.

Subbarao Kambhampati, president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, said that although technology often benefited society, it did not always do so equitably. “Recent technological advances have been leading to a lot more concentration of wealth,” he said. “I certainly do worry about the effects of AI technologies on wealth concentration and inequality, and how to make the benefits more inclusive.”

The explosion of AI research in industry has driven intense demand for qualified scientists. At British universities, PhD students and postdoctoral researchers are courted by tech firms offering salaries two to five times those paid in academia. While some institutions are coping with the hiring frenzy, others are not. In departments where demand is most intense, senior academics fear they will lose a generation of talent who would traditionally drive research and teach future students.

According to Pantic, the best talent from academia is being sucked up by four major AI firms, Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook. She said the situation could lead to 90% of innovation being controlled by the companies, shifting the balance of power from states to a handful of multinational companies.

Walport, who oversees almost all public funding of UK science research, is cautious about regulating AI for fear of hampering research. Instead he believes AI tools should be carefully monitored once they are put to use so that any problems can be picked up early.

“If you don’t continuously monitor, you’re in danger of missing things when they go wrong,” he said. “In the new world, we should surely be working towards continuous, real-time monitoring so that one can see if anything untoward or unpredictable is happening as early as possible.”

That might be part of the answer, according to Robert Fisher, professor of computer vision at Edinburgh University. “In theory companies are supposed to have liability, but we’re in a grey area where they could say their product worked just fine, but it was the cloud that made a mistake, or the telecoms provider, and they all disagree as to who is liable,” he said.

“We are clearly in brand new territory. AI allows us to leverage our intellectual power, so we try to do more ambitious things,” he said. “And that means we can have more wide-ranging disasters.”

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First published as Artificial intelligence risks GM-style public backlash, experts warn on Neville Hobson

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