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Jeff Bezos, Can I Have a Word?

We cut the cord last year – we replaced cable TV with streaming services. There’s only one thing I really miss since making this decision: Morning news. Getting news from television while I have my breakfast (in one long show, with all the editorial choices made for me so I don’t have to make decisions before I’ve had my coffee) is an old habit.

These days, my only choice is an over-the-air broadcast from the local CBS affiliate. The on-air personalities are inoffensive, chatty and reasonably diverse. But the content is, I estimate, one third news and two thirds commercials (chiefly for prescription drugs, personal injury law firms and the CBS affiliate itself). As a source of news and insight, the experience is truly awful.

But it’s all I’ve got, because the major streaming services don’t do news. That’s a real shame.

I would love it if Amazon Prime created an on-demand, recorded but almost-current, not-last-night’s news program every morning that I could stream instead of subjecting myself to the watered-down chitchat I get on network TV. The show I envision would run two hours every morning, and be closer in concept to the PBS NewsHour than the network morning shows. It would have a ratio of 8:1 or 10:1 news to advertising instead of the infuriating mix I see now.

It might be pieced together and kept up-to-date by recording in 10-minute segments, quickly posting them for streaming, from about 5 am on, until there’s a two-hour sequence that I can select for streaming in one click.

Why do I single out Amazon? Because the biggest obstacle to creating a new vehicle for news is the huge expense of staffing a newsroom. But Jeff – you own the Washington Post. You already have a newsroom. Surely you could make a deal with one of the big networks to source five-minute local news streams from all over the US so people can get their weather and traffic a couple of times an hour. If all the national news and commentary came directly from the Post – edited from the day’s print news stories and editorials, read by professional on-camera personalities, and interspersed with interviews with Post reporters, first-hand news sources and guest op-ed authors – I’d be more than happy with that.

I trust the Washington Post to provide objective and professional journalism, and couldn’t care less what Donald Trump thinks of it.

How about it, Jeff?

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Facebook Avatars Are Cute. Here’s Why Facebook Wants You to Make Yours.

Facebook is now inviting its billions of users to create cute cartoony avatars of themselves. They should be paying every sucker who takes them up on this offer. A lot.

We have this impression that Facebook and Google have face recognition AI that can track us everywhere. It’s basically true. But AI is way harder than it sounds. Guess what Facebook needs to make it really reliable…

They need humans to look at the pictures and describe them to the algorithm. In words, telling the system what it’s looking at. Words that can be used to tag the images so the algorithm knows what images are similar, and what they represent.

Facebook’s avatars are made from abstracted representations of various facial and body features. Each of those abstractions is a tag. Your actual image, no matter how sharp, is still a hugely complex pattern — a challenge for a machine learning algorithm to digest and interpret. Patterns are much more intelligible if they’re tagged.

So what are you doing when you give Facebook your avatar?

(1) Making it easier for their AI to recognize you and stereotype you alongside similarly tagged people, linking what it gathers from your image with everything else Facebook knows about you (A LOT).

(2) Populating Facebook’s unfathomably huge database of physical and psychographic data on pretty nearly everybody in the developed world. Create a Facebook avatar and now the company not only has a much better ability to recognize your face, but knows a lot about how you see and feel about yourself. It’s psychographic data they didn’t have to rely on their machine learning models to fabricate — you simply handed it to them. This is the database Facebook rents out in scientifically sliced and hashed segments to advertisers so they can sell you stuff. And ideas. And lies.

Even if that doesn’t set off screaming klaxons in all the paranoia organs in your brain…aren’t you generous to do all this work for Facebook’s data scientists? For free?

I don’t recommend this.

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