Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Filter bubbles

Our democracies rely on informed decision making. The internet is an asset when it comes to sharing of information, but as with any tool it needs to be used properly for the desired effect. The problem today is that we have too much available information and in order to make any sort of decision - and in order to find time to eat and sleep - we need to filter this information. From an evolutionary perspective, this is not a new problem in that our brains constantly filter information and only process the most relevant parts. That has advantages and disadvantages. What is new about the filtering we need for online information is that the filters are designed by some software engineers rather than by Nature, and they haven't proven their usefulness during thousands of years.

The risks that come with the filtering of information are a returning theme on this blog. In my post The Spirits that We Called I argued that the right filtering of information is crucial because people don't make a lot of effort questioning the order or relevance of information. If it doesn't come "cheaply," in the sense of it not requiring time and effort, it's likely to have low impact, thus the importance of search engines and social networks for democracy. From an evolutionary perspective the limiting of time spent on information gathering is just a careful dealing with resources and not irrational at all. That has always been the case, but the internet vastly centralizes provision of information and amplifies its impact at the same time. The consequence to draw, as I argued in my post Can Technology make us happy?, is that we should be very careful with designing information structure and filters. Do we really get the information that we need? One of the biggest problems, I think, is The Illusion of Knowledge that leads people to believe they have all the relevant information already.

Some days ago I saw the below TED talk by Eli Pariser, who makes this point extremely well. If you have ten minutes of time, they are well spend on the below video.

27 comments:

Steven Colyer said...

I don't have to watch that video Bee, to answer your relevant question, although I do look forward to watching it and doing so in the future, so thanks.

Regarding your questions, we do not have all the information we need. But Google is a darned good start, huh? :)

As far as "having all the relevant information already", only a fool would think so. We're not fools. Google doesn't have everything. Sometimes, a brother or sister just has to DIG. And what is THAT called again? Oh yeah ...

REsearch.

Uncle Al said...

Data to information is bridged by education (formal, autodidact, experience) and volition. Spring 2011, the US Bible Belt is enjoying kisses of its God of many parts, flavors, and creative bloodlettings. What would filtration separate? Request a valve.

1960s' social engineering declared all personal responsibility unlawful. The Social Contract provides all necessities, tranquilizes all anxieties, amuses all boredoms... for free! People do what they are told to do(Stanley Milgram, Philip Zimbardo). Don't think! Drink deep of gushing social networks.

Compassion, diversity, and faith are about data not information. If they are the winning hand, Uncle Al will apologize. If not, growing stacks of bodies will not complain. Reinstall the high pass filter of objective reality.

Plato said...

Hi Bee,

The bubble universe?

Interesting presentation on Ted.

What got me is the bubble one was placed in by comparison, and how you become according to the constituents of your own bubble, as to what was let in for you "as you search."

My thing as you know is how we can look at the world given the perspective we harbor, so what we harbor in my view, becomes you?

The way in which you then look at the world.

Your own algorithm?

I mean this is an idea I had way back when with the idea of emergence. Identifying the correct "algorithmic being" as you are born into the world from the world of possibility.

As futuristic as is sounded to me, it was a way in which I thought one might identify the soul of the you, you are.

Why I could talk about economic as an algorithm let loose on society. Why I might of talk about money as a model. Coin and it's representation.

As you gather your links for comparison, this is an information bubble with which you have contained aspects of who you are? The link you have created neurologically are pathway's yes? Your mind's perspective is growing according to what you are putting in that bubble?

If you are localized as toward your research question you are not a by product of the search feature no matter what they tell you?:)

Best,

Plato said...

Uncle Al,

Compassion, diversity, and faith are about data not information.

Sometimes it's important to go back to the roots of why something began in order to see data trains in context of how we take it for granted today. Data, as packets(sounds familiar) designed by gatekeepers within society?

Apathetic states leave no doubt for subversion of what you can become without even realizing it. That is why you have to be aware of what is going on, that what can subvert a whole population, is hidden.

Does one's despair reveal acquiescence to it? Not caring anymore? You got to get back up.

It's just plane nice that you are willing to change:)

Best,

Christine said...

in order to find time to eat and sleep - we need to filter this information

Huh? If someone got to the point that internet does that to him/her, it is time to look for medical help.

Plato said...

Just wanted you to extend your thoughts and feelings in regard to who the gatekeepers are and who controls the internet?

I believe we have had some discussions here in regard to that topic....and how relevant is this in the perception one can have about who controls the medium, controls the message/messengers?

How relevant is this toward your concerns about filtering Bee?

Best,

Plato said...

Canadian government plans to outlaw internet linking
Bill C-51: Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act

So is this the kind of Filtering you would want Bee? They can already track Isp signatures, so why control the hyper linking? Why wold they like to control you? Would they? Who decides?

Best,

Phil Warnell said...

HI Bee,

“We need the new gatekeepers to encode that sense of responsibility into the code that they are writing.....and I know there are a lot of people here, Larry and Sergey, people that helped build the web as it is and I’m grateful for that. But we really need you to make sure these algorithms have encoded in them a sense of the public life, a sense of civic responsibility. We need you to make sure that they are transparent enough so we can see what the world does, to determine what gets through our filters. And we need you to give us some control so that we can decide what gets through and what doesn’t---because I think we really need the internet to be that thing that we all dreamed of it being. We need it to connect us all together. We need it to introduce us to new ideas and new people and different perspectives and it’s not going to do that if it leaves us all isolated in a Web of One.”

-Eli Pariser, Beware online “filter bubbles”, TED.com

There’s not much more than can be said other than what Eli Pariser has warned about and which you have expanded upon. The only thing I would add is much of the bad filtering is resultant due to the imprecision and/or laziness of the inquisitor. So for instance, when Eli talks about the different results each of his friends who queried “Egypt” I’m not so surprised by the result. That is Google even gives one a list of options when you first start to enter a query with mine listing as Egypt news, Egypt, Egypt protest, Egypt gods and Egypt protests. That is one can refine the results either by stating it more clearly what you are looking for, or go on further with a advanced search which can narrow it further including being able to use Boolean logical operators.

This is just to point out, that what one does not simply rely upon the intensions of others, yet also the actions of our own; with old computer analogy for this being “garbage in garbage out”. So it comes down to what Marshall McCuhan reminded that all media does is create a space of possibilities which never existed before and it’s up to each of us as to how it will be utilized; that is both collectively and individually.

“a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence”

-Marshall McCuhan,”Understanding media: the extensions of man” (page 6)


Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...

HI Bee,

“We need the new gatekeepers to encode that sense of responsibility into the code that they are writing.....and I know there are a lot of people here, Larry and Sergey, people that helped build the web as it is and I’m grateful for that. But we really need you to make sure these algorithms have encoded in them a sense of the public life, a sense of civic responsibility. We need you to make sure that they are transparent enough so we can see what the world does, to determine what gets through our filters. And we need you to give us some control so that we can decide what gets through and what doesn’t---because I think we really need the internet to be that thing that we all dreamed of it being. We need it to connect us all together. We need it to introduce us to new ideas and new people and different perspectives and it’s not going to do that if it leaves us all isolated in a Web of One.”

-Eli Pariser, Beware online “filter bubbles”, TED.com

There’s not much more than can be said other than what Eli Pariser has warned about and which you have expanded upon. The only thing I would add is much of the bad filtering is resultant due to the imprecision and/or laziness of the inquisitor. So for instance, when Eli talks about the different results each of his friends who queried “Egypt” I’m not so surprised by the result. That is Google even gives one a list of options when you first start to enter a query with mine listing as Egypt news, Egypt, Egypt protest, Egypt gods and Egypt protests. That is one can refine the results either by stating it more clearly what you are looking for, or go on further with an advanced search which can narrow it further including being able to use Boolean logical operators.

This is just to point out, that what one does not simply rely upon the intensions of others, yet also the actions of our own; with old computer analogy for this being “garbage in garbage out”. So it comes down to what Marshall McCuhan reminded that all media does is create a space of possibilities which never existed before and it’s up to each of us as to how it will be utilized; that is both collectively and individually.

“a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence”

-Marshall McCuhan,”Understanding media: the extensions of man” (page 6)


Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

HI Bee,

“We need the new gatekeepers to encode that sense of responsibility into the code that they are writing.....and I know there are a lot of people here, Larry and Sergey, people that helped build the web as it is and I’m grateful for that. But we really need you to make sure these algorithms have encoded in them a sense of the public life, a sense of civic responsibility. We need you to make sure that they are transparent enough so we can see what the world does, to determine what gets through our filters. And we need you to give us some control so that we can decide what gets through and what doesn’t---because I think we really need the internet to be that thing that we all dreamed of it being. We need it to connect us all together. We need it to introduce us to new ideas and new people and different perspectives and it’s not going to do that if it leaves us all isolated in a Web of One.”

-Eli Pariser, Beware online “filter bubbles”, TED.com

There’s not much more than can be said other than what Eli Pariser has warned about and which you have expanded upon. The only thing I would add is much of the bad filtering is resultant due to the imprecision and/or laziness of the inquisitor. So for instance, when Eli talks about the different results each of his friends who queried “Egypt” I’m not so surprised by the result. That is Google gives one a scrolled list of options when you first start to enter a query, with mine listing as Egypt news, Egypt, Egypt protest, Egypt crisis, Egypt gods and Egypt riots. Further one can refine the results, either by stating it more clearly what you are looking for, or go proceed with an advanced search, which can narrow it further including being able to use Boolean logical operators.

This is just to point out, that what one gets is not simply rely upon the intensions of others, yet also the actions of our own; with old computer analogy for this being “garbage in garbage out”. So it comes down to what Marshall McCuhan reminded that all media does is create a space of possibilities which never existed before and it’s up to each of us as to how it will be utilized; that is both collectively and individually.

“a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence”

-Marshall McCuhan,”Understanding media: the extensions of man” (page 6)


Best,

Phil

P.S. Bee I attempted two earlier more enhanced posts (more HTML) yet the filters got me each of those time. Which just emphasises your point and Eli’s that these algorithms are so stupid :-)

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“We need the new gatekeepers to encode that sense of responsibility into the code that they are writing.....and I know there are a lot of people here, Larry and Sergey, people that helped build the web as it is and I’m grateful for that. But we really need you to make sure these algorithms have encoded in them a sense of the public life, a sense of civic responsibility. We need you to make sure that they are transparent enough so we can see what the world does, to determine what gets through our filters. And we need you to give us some control so that we can decide what gets through and what doesn’t---because I think we really need the internet to be that thing that we all dreamed of it being. We need it to connect us all together. We need it to introduce us to new ideas and new people and different perspectives and it’s not going to do that if it leaves us all isolated in a Web of One.”

-Eli Pariser, Beware online “filter bubbles”, TED.com

There’s not much more than can be said other than what Eli Pariser has warned about and which you have expanded upon. The only thing I would add, being much of the bad filtering is resultant due to the imprecision and/or laziness of the inquisitor. So for instance, when Eli talks about the different results each of his friends who queried “Egypt” I’m not so surprised by that. That is Google even gives one a list of options when you first start to enter a query with mine listing as “Egypt news, Egypt, Egypt protest, Egypt gods and Egypt crisis. That is one can refine the results either by stating it more clearly what you are looking for, or option for a advanced search which can narrow it further, including being able to incorperate Boolean logical operators.

This is just to point out, that what one gets doesn’t simply rely upon the intensions of others, yet also actions of our own; with old computer analogy for this being “garbage in garbage out”. So it comes down to what Marshall McCuhan reminded, that all a media does is create a space of possibilities which never existed before and it’s up to each of us as to how it will be take form in respect to it utility; that is both collectively and individually.

“a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence”

-Marshall McCuhan,”Understanding media: the extensions of man” (page 6)


Best,

Phil

P.S. Bee , sorry to be such a bother, yet if you do look into the blocked messages could you please erase all but this one. That is concede not only are the algorithms stupid, yet also at times those who are impacted by them:-)

Uncle Al said...

Reality is not a peer vote. Recursion and positive feedback are poorly modeled by differential equations. Best efforts will not substitute for knowledge,

http://www.fourmilab.ch/fourmilog/archives/Daily/2011/2011-05/2011-05-12.html

If stupidity got you into this mess, more stupidity will not get you out. Stupidity is not a bouyant medium. Compromise as a global solution is mathematically impossible,

http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/comprom.htm

You cannot filter gold nuggets from dross if there are no gold nuggets.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi All,

Just as a point of interest, if you go to Eli Pariser’s talk right now you can exchange live comment with him.
Best,

Phil

Plato said...

Just to make it easier to see such comments are possible I thought how easy it might be by linking to the page?

Is this right?

Best,

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

Actually the discussion I was mentioning is taking place here. I would highly recommend to anyone looking in at the TED lectures on a regular basis as they represent a wide range of subjects and perspectives.

Best,

Phil

Plato said...

Thanks Phil,

Real time is important as to keeping up too and including perspectives that we can share in the minute..while we can be vague and cost time as to assisting and expanding the points of view

So then as you are tracking you must leave the tidbits(hyperlink) of the trail you are following, so others might see?

In no way do I imply that as science research this is ones responsibility....it's just plain nice to see where these nuggets are developing.

Best,

Eric said...

I think filter bubbles are very relevant to the understanding of reality. As Eli said, the technology of search engines can wall you off from the truth. This is something new and I wasn't aware that they were doing that based on individual profiles. This is not good.

It is especially bad because it plays into the natural human tendency to wall oneself off from uncomfortable realities. Many people (this has no relation to intelligence as measured by IQ test, it may even have an inverse relationship) simply cannot accept a fact that goes against their philosophical signature. It is just too big a threat to them.

Take the assassination of OBL. I've seen many people of a particular bent say that he is still living because no pictures of his corpse were available. They want to believe this because it allows some of their preconceived notions about Barack Obama to survive. Mostly these views are that he is too codling of criminals and Bush was the macho man.

Another distortion comes from the other side where people want to believe that OBL was a special case where his actions were so criminal that he didn't deserve a trial. All I can say is that principles of jurisprudence don't have escape clauses. If Americans had a real belief in the
American system of justice through the jury system there would have been an outcry at the summary justice given him, especially if he was unarmed at the time of confrontation. The fact is that the American people, and Obsma too, felt good about killing him outright. It was an emotional response winning over the correct response.

Don't think I'm saying this because I have any sympathy for OBL. I don't. But what happened goes against every stated principle of the USA. Not that these contradictions about what we say and do should come as a surprise to anyone by now.

Eric said...

To relate the topical subject of OBL's death back to the theme of Bee's - both sides, left and right have emotional baggage they are carrying that distorts reality. If the right wing wants to believe in nonsense about OBL survival a search engine should not reinforce that by bringing up links that corroborate that myth.

Similarly, because the left is glad he is dead they should not be given an easy out to think this acceptable justice. But if they do a search on OBL and all the links from their reliable leftist sources say that this kind of justice is acceptable in this particular case. That is not good. It opens the road for justice based on emotional satisfaction instead of the rule of law. The Internet should not reinforce human foibles, which it now seems to be doing.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Eric,

“The Internet should not reinforce human foibles, which it now seems to be doing.”

I was wondering what had you to come to this conclusion, for as with all which is referred to as media it being of human invention. That is as Marshall McLuhan would have recognized, even a light bulb is a media, as it creates a space in the darkness that never existed before. However what is done with this space correlates to the possibilities which media opens in respect to how we are able and choose to utilize it.

“All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values”

- Marshall McLuhan

Best,

Phil

Eric said...

Hi Phil,
I agree that the Internet is a creation of our intellect so we cannot say it is inherently bad, unless our intellect is bad. I'm not saying that. But if you interact locally in your community you will usually find people you can get along with well and others that you just stay off certain topics with. So we all can get what we need while also getting feedback about how far we are off the beaten path we are from the majority.

But when you interact on the Internet it is a non-local interaction generally. You are able to wall yourself off from unattractive realities local realities, if you so desire. You have the option of living in a bubble reality and many people chose that. Bit Some of those people don't even realize they are doing that. Not good. I think we are all guilty of that to some extent. It can get pretty out of hand over time and o think the Internet has led to the worst hyper-partisanship I've seen in my lifetime.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

I see you posted the same query regarding pending legislation within the TED discussions, to which I’ve already responded; although it appears as if you didn’t see it. Never the less, yes I would agree essentially what the bill is proposing is a type of filtering, yet it’s of a kind that we’ve had for a long time being censorship.

That is beginning with the first person to draw a painting on a cave wall we had media and as soon as that was done the leader of the tribe (or members of it) could have decided to had it erased and/or persecute the artist for painting it; thus this is not a new concern. However, there is a distinction to be made between what this is and the concern Eli Pariser is warning about, since censorship and persecution are there for all to see, while Pariser’s threat is hidden and therein subliminal.

Thus the dangers you speak about we already have counterbalances for, such as constitutions and supreme courts; while for Eli’s there are currently none. However, it is also to ask, did you truly think that such a powerful media as this, was going to escape the same scrutiny, control and yes even manipulation that the others have faced throughout the ages; for if you did that would suggest you just don’t understand the nature of humanity or the media it creates. This is not to claim this is how it should be, yet simply to recognize how it is, as by doing so and caring about it being the only way both humanity, along with the media which shapes and reflects it will ever be able to change for the better.

So the bottom-line being, is to recognize only with such understanding, that as the media changes we must adapt to those changes. The good news is this can be accomplished aided by the enlightenment and guidance of the new prophets, with Eli Pariser being just one of the newest of many.

"The medium, or process, of our time - electric technology is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing us to reconsider and re-evaluate practically every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted. Everything is changing: you, your family, your education, your neighborhood, your job, your government, your relation to "the others”. And they're changing dramatically."

- Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is The Massage”, Random House Publishers (1967)

Best,

Phil

Plato said...

Phil:However, there is a distinction to be made between what this is and the concern Eli Pariser is warning about, since censorship and persecution are there for all to see, while Pariser’s threat is hidden and therein subliminal.

Phil, the point is to be aware of who can become the designers of the Hidden Filters. That is a global perspective of management of the internet.

Yes Eli is talking about Google, Facebook, but I am making one aware if the potential is great, management of the internet and those who manage it, then you have to be aware that they too, are the Gate Keepers?

That is my question, about what is hidden from perspective.

Selectively this does not sit with the bubbles some are involvement in, yet remain unaware of the bubble they can become by being wrapped in the larger bubble of understanding called the internet.

Again, I would point back to what I said about emergence and the algorithm, you being, and what is attached to all that you can and will become given the parameters of the internet and what it will allow?

Phil:However, it is also to ask, did you truly think that such a powerful media as this, was going to escape the same scrutiny, control and yes even manipulation that the others have faced throughout the ages;

You also missed the point abuot who owns the medium owns the message.:)The danger then are thus magnified by who owns the internet? Who owns it Phil?

I am not unaware of the potentials realized that politically can be mastered by using the internet to advance social media to help people become aware? Imagine if one were to say that this is not right and so the political message I have is not appropriate according to the "Masters of the Internet?"

Owning Broad casting stations one can have a political bend too that allow the work of manipulation on it's readers. You have to be aware of that too.:)

White Space is an important subject when it comes to frequencies and those who would design their own equipment. Copyleft on hardware development aside from the big telecoms?

Richard Stallman had mention at a municipal level of possibly challenging creating the hardware. A choice other then, the big telecoms to me it seems the right thing to do for accessing knowledge without charge and discrimination.

The Universal Library. They of Google might called Google books, but that has always been my point about access to information. Access to the Library.

Best,

Eric said...

Though I'm not a big quoter I just ran into this sardonic quote from Mark Twain that I can't resist.

“Don’t part with your illusions; when they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.”

A saying for our times.

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Hmmm, huge population of unbound planetary-mass objects.

Identified via microlensing.

Sounds familiar.

RLO
DSR

Kay zum Felde said...

Hi Bee,

I didn't know, that google is now personalized, although I wondered some time ago on the new google, which started looking for additional keywords following the first keywords. From facebook I knew, I red it somewhere. It is a shame.

Question is how to change this, how to put pressure on google and facebook. In case of google, one can use other search engines like yahoo. Hopefully they don't have such a personalized engine.

Best, Kay

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Test, please excuse and ignore.