Social media platforms are using the same techniques as gambling firms to create psychological dependencies and ingrain their products in the lives of their users, experts warn.
These methods are so effective they can activate similar mechanisms as cocaine in the brain, create psychological cravings and even invoke “phantom calls and notifications” where users sense the buzz of a smartphone, even when it isn’t really there.
“Facebook, Twitter and other companies use methods similar to the gambling industry to keep users on their sites,” said Natasha Schüll, the author of Addiction by Design, which reported how slot machines and other systems are designed to lock users into a cycle of addiction. “In the online economy, revenue is a function of continuous consumer attention – which is measured in clicks and time spent.”
Whether it’s Snapchat streaks, Facebook photo-scrolling, or playing CandyCrush, Schüll explained, you get drawn into “ludic loops” or repeated cycles of uncertainty, anticipation and feedback — and the rewards are just enough to keep you going.
“If you disengage, you get peppered with little messages or bonus offers to get your attention and pull you back in,” said Schüll. “We have to start recognising the costs of time spent on social media. It’s not just a game – it affects us financially, physically and emotionally.”
Recreating the slot machine
The pull-to-refresh and infinite scrolling mechanism on our news feeds are unnervingly similar to a slot machine, said Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist for Google who has been described as the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience.
“You pull a lever and immediately receive either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing,” Harris wrote.
We cannot know when we will be rewarded, and more often than not we don’t find anything interesting or gratifying, much like gambling. But that’s precisely what keeps us coming back.
“The rewards are what psychologists refer to as variable reinforcement schedules and is the key to social media users repeatedly checking their screens,” said Dr Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioural addiction and director of Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit.
“Social media sites are chock-a-block with unpredictable rewards. They are trying to grab users’ attentions … to make social media users create a routine and habitually check their screens.”
Like gambling, which physically alters the brain’s structure and makes people more susceptible to depression and anxiety, social media use has been linked to depression and its potential to have an adverse psychological impact on users cannot be overlooked or underestimated.
For instance, phone dependency, driven by high social-media usage, can lead us to think our phone is vibrating, or that we have received a message, even when we haven’t.
“Phantom calls and notifications are linked to our psychological craving for such signals,” said Professor Daniel Kruger, an expert in human behaviour, from the University of Michigan. “These social media messages can activate the same brain mechanisms as cocaine [does] and this is just one of the ways to identify those mechanisms because our minds are a physiological product of our brain.”
“There are whole departments trying to design their systems to be as addictive as possible. They want you to be permanently online and by bombarding you with messages and stimuli try to redirect your attention back to their app or webpage.”
However, the number of monthly active users of Facebook hit 2.13 billion earlier this year, up 14% from a year ago. Despite the furore around its data privacy issues, the social media monolith posted record revenues for the first quarter of 2018, making $11.97bn, up 49% on last year.
A key reason for this is because Facebook has become so entrenched in our lives: we can’t put it down.
Behavioural psychologist, Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, has conceptualised how people become attached to social media.
“It starts with a trigger, an action, a reward and then an investment and its through successive cycles, through these hooks, that habits are formed. We see them in all sorts of products, certainly in social media and gambling. This is a big part of how habits are changed.”
Once a habit is formed something previously prompted by an external trigger, like a notification, email, or any sort of ring or ding, is no longer needed, Eyal remarked.
It is replaced or supplemented with an internal trigger meaning that we form a mental association between wanting to use this product and seeking to serve an emotional need.
“The products are built to be engaging and what’s engaging for some is addictive for others, that’s clear.”
"...China has turned the northwestern region of Xinjiang into a vast experiment in domestic surveillance. WSJ investigated what life is like in a place where one's every move can be monitored with cutting-edge technology."
"We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short-term signals — hearts, likes, thumbs up — and we conflate that with value, and we conflate it with truth," he said. "And instead what it really is is fake, brittle popularity that's short-term and that leaves you even more — admit it — vacant and empty before you did it, because then it forces you into this vicious cycle where you're like, 'What's the next thing I need to do now because I need it back?'
If you have a moment take a look at Facebookistan
"...Until now, your eyes could only control the virtual world at the speed of thought. Now, your eyes will be able to gaze back at you, and open your mind to new possibilities. FOVE will transform your eyes from an input device into a tool with which to convey your will.This is a communication tool that supports connections between human beings, and between humans and objects, in a way that was never possible before." - read more - https://www.getfove.com/
"...Westpac PayWear uses the same contactless payment technology as your Debit Mastercard®. You simply tap the accessory wherever contactless payments are accepted and the transaction will be debited from your everyday bank account....In early 2018, our Westpac PayWear Designer range will be available. We are collaborating with iconic Australian designers who are designing unique accessories to suit different tastes, preferences and styles."
Google's 'Clips' product page - https://store.google.com/us/product/google_clips_specs
"...It uses AI to learn which faces are important to you, then starts automatically capturing photos and videos. I was similarly excited by early promotional videos of parents in Google Glass playing with their young kids, capturing photos and videos in a hands-free way that didn’t interrupt the moment."
"...Take a picture of your face and upload it to a mobile app managed by your city’s government. Tap in your ID card number and, if you live in Shanghai, within 24 hours you will receive all of the information the government has about you. If you have been a good boy and you have your papers in order, you will be rewarded. Your reward may be a discount coupon on your next flight back home, or free access to an exclusive arline lounge. But, what happens if you have been bad? We don’t yet know." - Read more > http://china-social-credit.com/2017/06/from-china-to-facebook/
"...Chinese officials say it’s a way to influence their citizens’ behavior to benefit society and move their country forward, but others think it’s just the latest step in the country’s long history of state surveillance." - Read more - https://www.pri.org/stories/2017-11-09/whats-your-citizen-trust-score-china-moves-rate-its-13-billion-citizens
"...CEO of Face++ Yin Qi suggested that under our mission to empower machines with eyes, building “city brain” is definitely the ultimate social goal for people who work at Megvii Face++"
"...It may be no surprise to many of you that China's communist government has been monitoring on its own citizens for years. What may be news to you is that it's been using an artificially intelligent supercomputer do more than watch but to actually manage city operations. It is the "City Brain" in Hangzhou, China that oversees 9+ million people. It tracks the traffic of cars, bicycles, buses, trains, airplanes; tracks crimes, purchases, text messages, phone calls, social media, and much more. The government tries to justify its violation of citizen privacy with statistics of fewer traffic jams, car accidents, and crimes. While these are positive results, the loss of rights and the slippery slope of digital dictatorship are costs much too high to pay. A society whose entire information channels are censored by a communist state may simply be ignorant of the consequences and/or have accepted misleading notions repeated often enough. "
"...state-of-the-art RFID localization systems fall under two categories. The first category operates with off-the-shelf narrowband RFID tags but makes restrictive assumptions on the environment or the tag’s movement patterns. The second category does not make such restrictive assumptions; however, it requires designing new ultrawideband hardware for RFIDs and uses the large bandwidth to directly compute a tag’s 3D location. Hence, while the first category is restrictive, the second one requires replacing the billions of RFIDs already produced and deployed annually. This paper presents RFind, a new technology that brings the benefits of ultra-wideband localization to the billions of RFIDs in today’s world. RFind does not require changing today’s passive narrowband RFID tags. Instead, it leverages their underlying physical properties to emulate a very large bandwidth and uses it for localization. Our empirical results demonstrate that RFind can emulate over 220MHz of bandwidth on tags designed with a communication bandwidth of only tens to hundreds of kHz, while remaining compliant with FCC regulations. This, combined with a new super resolution algorithm over this bandwidth, enables RFind to perform 3D localization with sub-centimeter accuracy in each of the x/y/z dimensions, without making any restrictive assumptions on the tag’s motion or the environment."
Read the paper - http://www.mit.edu/~fadel/papers/RFind-paper.pdf
More about the project - https://www.media.mit.edu/projects/rfid-localization/overview/
"...“We can cram more parameters into a smaller space and the computer can churn through it much, much faster,” said Dekel." - read more at https://blogs.microsoft.com/ai/2017/06/29/ais-big-leap-tiny-devices-opens-world-possibilities/
At the borderline of technology and biology, ‘bodyhacking’ pioneers are defying nature to redesign their own bodies. Is this really the future?
Read More - https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/oct/29/transhuman-bodyhacking-transspecies-cyborg
From Slashdot: "I deleted Facebook after it recommended as People You May Know a man who was defense counsel on one of my cases. We had only communicated through my work email, which is not connected to my Facebook, which convinced me Facebook was scanning my work email," an attorney told Gizmodo. Kashmir Hill, a reporter at the news outlet, who recently documented how Facebook figured out a connection between her and a family member she did not know existed, shares several more instances others have reported and explains how Facebook gathers information. She reports:
"Behind the Facebook profile you've built for yourself is another one, a shadow profile, built from the inboxes and smartphones of other Facebook users. Contact information you've never given the network gets associated with your account, making it easier for Facebook to more completely map your social connections. Because shadow-profile connections happen inside Facebook's algorithmic black box, people can't see how deep the data-mining of their lives truly is, until an uncanny recommendation pops up. Facebook isn't scanning the work email of the attorney above. But it likely has her work email address on file, even if she never gave it to Facebook herself. If anyone who has the lawyer's address in their contacts has chosen to share it with Facebook, the company can link her to anyone else who has it, such as the defense counsel in one of her cases. Facebook will not confirm how it makes specific People You May Know connections, and a Facebook spokesperson suggested that there could be other plausible explanations for most of those examples -- "mutual friendships," or people being "in the same city/network." The spokesperson did say that of the stories on the list, the lawyer was the likeliest case for a shadow-profile connection. Handing over address books is one of the first steps Facebook asks people to take when they initially sign up, so that they can "Find Friends."
The problem with all this, Hill writes, is that Facebook doesn't explicitly say the scale at which it would be using the contact information it gleans from a user's address book. Furthermore, most people are not aware that Facebook is using contact information taken from their phones for these purposes."
Writer and artist James Bridle writes in Medium:
"Someone or something or some combination of people and things is using YouTube to systematically frighten, traumatize, and abuse children, automatically and at scale, and it forces me to question my own beliefs about the internet, at every level.
To begin: Kid's YouTube is definitely and markedly weird. I've been aware of its weirdness for some time. Last year, there were a number of articles posted about the Surprise Egg craze. Surprise Eggs videos depict, often at excruciating length, the process of unwrapping Kinder and other egg toys. That's it, but kids are captivated by them. There are thousands and thousands of these videos and thousands and thousands, if not millions, of children watching them. [...] What I find somewhat disturbing about the proliferation of even (relatively) normal kids videos is the impossibility of determining the degree of automation which is at work here; how to parse out the gap between human and machine."
Sapna Maheshwari also explores in The New York Times:
"Parents and children have flocked to Google-owned YouTube Kids since it was introduced in early 2015. The app's more than 11 million weekly viewers are drawn in by its seemingly infinite supply of clips, including those from popular shows by Disney and Nickelodeon, and the knowledge that the app is supposed to contain only child-friendly content that has been automatically filtered from the main YouTube site. But the app contains dark corners, too, as videos that are disturbing for children slip past its filters, either by mistake or because bad actors have found ways to fool the YouTube Kids algorithms. In recent months, parents like Ms. Burns have complained that their children have been shown videos with well-known characters in violent or lewd situations and other clips with disturbing imagery, sometimes set to nursery rhymes."
Very horrible and creepy.
"Feeds need to die because they distort our views and disconnect us from other human beings around us. At first, I thought I was missing out on some Very Important Content. I felt disconnected. I fought against my own FOMO. But now, I don't feel anything. What's going on on Instagram? I don't care. Facebook is now the worst internet forum you can find. Twitter is filled with horrible, abusive people. Instagram has become a tiny Facebook now that it has discouraged all the weird, funny accounts from posting with its broken algorithm. LinkedIn's feed is pure spam.
And here's what I realized after forgetting about all those "social" networks. First, they're tricking you and pushing the right buttons to make you check your feed just one more time. They all use thirsty notifications, promote contrarian posts that get a lot of engagement and play with your emotions. Posting has been gamified and you want to check one more time if you got more likes on your last Instagram photo. Everything is now a story so that you pay more attention to your phone and you get bored less quickly -- moving pictures with sound tend to attract your eyes... [F]inally, I realized that I was missing out by constantly checking all my feeds. By putting my phone on 'Do Not Disturb' for days, I discovered new places, started conversations and noticed tiny little things that made me smile."
"As far as video games go, Operation Overmatch is rather unremarkable. Players command military vehicles in eight-on-eight matches against the backdrop of rendered cityscapes -- a common setup of games that sometimes have the added advantage of hundreds of millions of dollars in development budgets. Overmatch does have something unique, though: its mission. The game's developers believe it will change how the U.S. Army fights wars. Overmatch's players are nearly all soldiers in real life. As they develop tactics around futuristic weapons and use them in digital battle against peers, the game monitors their actions.
Each shot fired and decision made, in addition to messages the players write in private forums, is a bit of information soaked up with a frequency not found in actual combat, or even in high-powered simulations without a wide network of players. The data is logged, sorted, and then analyzed, using insights from sports and commercial video games. Overmatch's team hopes this data will inform the Army's decisions about which technologies to purchase and how to develop tactics using them, all with the aim of building a more forward-thinking, prepared force... While the game currently has about 1,000 players recruited by word of mouth and outreach from the Overmatch team, the developers eventually want to involve tens of thousands of soldiers. This milestone would allow for millions of hours of game play per year, according to project estimates, enough to generate rigorous data sets and test hypotheses."
Brian Vogt, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Capabilities Integration Center who oversees Overmatch’s development, says:
“Right after World War I, we had technologies like aircraft carriers we knew were going to play an important role,” he said. “We just didn’t know how to use them. That’s where we are and what we’re trying to do for robots.”
*An excerpt from the book The Rise of Big Data Policing: Surveillance, Race, and the Future of Law Enforcement (2017).
"Data-driven policing means aggressive police presence, surveillance, and perceived harassment in those communities. Each data point translates to real human experience, and many times those experiences remain fraught with all-too-human bias, fear, distrust, and racial tension. For those communities, especially poor communities of color, these data-collection efforts cast a dark shadow on the future."
"Shocking surveillance video shows the moment a Pittsburgh woman was knocked out cold by a man on a busy sidewalk — but that’s not the worst of it. The footage also shows the woman being beaten and robbed by bystanders — who proceed to take pictures of her, including selfies — as she lies unconscious on the ground.
A group of men can then be seen walking over to her — cellphones in hand, snapping pictures and video — as she lies unconscious on the sidewalk. Shortly after leaving, the men reportedly returned and began taking even more photos."
"One of the engineers behind Google's self-driving car has established a nonprofit religious corporation with one main aim – to create a deity with artificial intelligence. According to newly uncovered documents filed to the state of California in September 2015, Anthony Levandowski serves as the CEO and president of religious organisation Way of the Future."
Way of the Future’s startling mission: “To develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence and through understanding and worship of the Godhead contribute to the betterment of society.”
"Saudi Arabia has officially recognised a humanoid robot as a citizen, marking the first time in history that an AI device has been awarded such status.
Specific details of Sophia's citizenship were not discussed. It is unclear whether she will receive the same rights as human citizens, or if Saudi Arabia will develop a specific system devoted to robots.
The system could work in a similar way to the "personhood" status proposed by European Parliament earlier this year, which would see robots with AI given rights and responsibilities."