March 9, 2018

Who the hell does Quora think I am... and why?!

In the email this morning, I see Quora has ideas about what I might want to read. You can enlarge these 2 images by clicking on them:



If I didn't know this was selected for me and you showed me those selections and asked me what sort of person do you think this list was made for, I'd say a white supremacist!

This is obviously based Google searches I've done in the process of writing this blog. Here's the March 6th post musing about the mysteries of IQ, notably the IQ of Jesus. And I brought up Hitler yesterday to say: "If those who think Trump is dangerously destructive are really right and they spend their time consuming Trump-mocking entertainment, they're more like the audience in 'Caberet,' making light of the rise of Hitler."

That is, the wrongness of Quora's picture of me is obvious. But it's not as though Quora is defaming me. It's just computeristically processing data that I created. This is just one glimpse into what computers are "learning" about me, based on my input, the context of which they cannot understand.

What method does Quora use? Wikipedia says: "Quora requires users to register with their real names rather than an Internet pseudonym (screen name)...." So I must have registered at some point because I wanted to ask or answer a question and it didn't seem like such a big deal. And: "Users may also log in with their Google or Facebook accounts by using the OpenID protocol..." I don't know if I logged in with Facebook, and I didn't think Facebook leaked data when you used it to log in at other places, but I can tell by Quora's suggestions that it is getting its data from Google.

I don't know if I care that this data flows around and companies attempt to use it with sophisticated analysis that I can't see and couldn't understand anyway (not without my mental e-bike). But I am a little afraid that the internet is forming significant important political ideas about us, and that this could be used in some terrible way. But in this case the idea is obviously wrong.

Obvious to me. Maybe not to you. Maybe you think I'm a white supremacist. And it's at this point that I worry that what people are doing all the time is more harmful and unfair than what these computers seem to be doing. People take minimal data, out of context, and think all sorts of things about you and carry those thoughts forward, spreading them among other people, beyond your view — distorted, emotional, self-serving.

71 comments:

rhhardin said...

Don't use white supremacist at all. Go with the specific name.

http://www.johnderbyshire.com/Opinions/RadioDerb/2016-12-02.html

Item 05, a disagreement with McWhorter's lumping.

Sally327 said...

Maybe this is why Alexa is laughing.

rhhardin said...

Computer mistakes in natural langauge are usually amusing, making a connection you didn't see that amounts to a variety of pun.

When it starts suggesting things, that's hidden unless you can figure out what connection it must have made.

traditionalguy said...

Computeristicly is today's secret word. You have won a Stormy Daniels fan photo taken by a secret lover.It is one out of several million.

Temujin said...

This sort of crap is entering every facet of our lives and at this point, there's so much information on everyone, but very little knowledge on how to accurately read the information. These data gatherers turn around and throw dozens of marketing darts at us based on who they think we are. They are often hilariously wrong, but they will also hit on some bullseyes. And really, all they need to do is hit one hot button for each of us to have done their job.
I recently visited a new dentist (new for me) in my town. This guy is all tech. Before he even looked at my teeth, he spent 20 minutes taking a video of me speaking as he asked me very specific questions while taking notes. I noted a number of keywords and topics that he would come back to in different ways in his questions. Still, I willingly went along, wondering where it would come out. I found out when he later did a full exam (that included the latest technological gizmos to see my head from all angles). After the exam I had to go back on a separate appointment so he could lay out my 'plan' for me. That is, the plan for my mouth. (this was getting good- I had to keep it going to see where it would go). In his presentation of his plan for my mouth, he must have used the word 'conservative' 7, 8 times. Such as 'my conservative plan for you'. Or 'this, I think is our best conservative approach). I started listening for the word, like a drinking game. At the end, his quote for the work was very liberal. Exceeding liberal. So liberal I had to choke, then laugh, then cancel any further appointments. He took his notes in our 'interview', then picked up what he thought would be the selling words to me. It was interesting. Not appealing at all, but interesting.

sparrow said...

If AI methods are ever used to control people outside of China, where it has already happened they'll surely make lots of mistakes like this , and I doubt they'll take the time to tune them to reduce false positives or apply due process.

rhhardin said...

Back when work had an AP feed, I wrote a service where you could email it AP stories you liked and the service would email you any AP stories that struct it as similar that came in.

The apparent connections were something like "women in trouble" stories.

It was based on a Karhunen-Loeve expansion of word frequencies vs the general population.

Char Char Binks said...

Quora knows all.

jaydub said...

If Quora's computer input gets stuff this wrong, imagine what the NSA computers think you are up to. I guess you'll know when Mueller sends you the subpeona

Bay Area Guy said...

"That is, the wrongness of Quora's picture of me is obvious. But it's not as though Quora is defaming me. It's just computeristically processing data that I created."

Sounds quorable!

Ralph L said...

There's a decent "quorum" joke in here somewhere, but it may take an algorithm to find it.

rhhardin said...

And it's at this point that I worry that what people are doing all the time is more harmful and unfair than what these computers seem to be doing.

Fair gets no ratings. It's a business and the bad people are the emotionally entertained.

MadisonMan said...

Maybe you should do all your searching in an incognito window.

jwl said...

Microsoft’s newly launched A.I.-powered bot called Tay, which was responding to tweets and chats on GroupMe and Kik, has already been shut down due to concerns with its inability to recognize when it was making offensive or racist statements. Of course, the bot wasn’t coded to be racist, but it “learns” from those it interacts with. And naturally, given that this is the Internet, one of the first things online users taught Tay was how to be racist, and how to spout back ill-informed or inflammatory political opinions.

https://techcrunch.com/2016/03/24/microsoft-silences-its-new-a-i-bot-tay-after-twitter-users-teach-it-racism/

rhhardin said...

Is thinking that people who talk about IQ are racist, racist?

rhhardin said...

Let's hear it for distorted, emotional and self-serving.

The women's market in a nutshell.

retail lawyer said...

In the Chinese system being rolled out, you would get a poor "Citizenship" rating for political views and be harassed, denied tenure, mortgages, jobs, etc. Its hard to believe that this same system is not being rolled out in sectors of America - Silicon Valley hiring, FBI promotions come to mind.

Yet people like Edward Snowden and Reality Winner still get high-level security clearances!

For years, the Internet thought I was gay. Now its trying to sell me dresses for plus size women (I presume my nonexistent wife) and tempting me with sexy women from Ashley Madison.

But as Ann once said, its preferable to getting toenail fungus pictures.

Tim in Vermont said...

and how to spout back ill-informed OR inflammatory political opinions.

Love that. It’s true.

retail lawyer said...

We need software that will search and click its way to producing the Citizenship scores or profile we aspire to.

Tim in Vermont said...

It’s like the programmer’s joke about how the guy got sent to the store by his wife and came back with a dozen loaves of bread. His wife had told him “Get me a loaf of bread, and if they have eggs, get me a dozen.”

Bob Boyd said...

"But I am a little afraid that the internet is forming significant important political ideas about us, and that this could be used in some terrible way."

They already have plans for your kidneys.

Tim in Vermont said...

Yes, I know my joke is chock full of sexist assumptions and is in no way woke. Thanks goodness I am done with working life.

MadisonMan said...

They already have plans for your kidneys.

Yes, do too many searches on the internet and inevitably you wake up in a hotel bath tub full of ice with a Thanks for the Kidney!! message written across the mirror -- in lipstick!

Paul Mac said...

I suggest you consider using DuckDuckGo in place of Google, a search engine designed around respecting privacy. It has some other nice features too like bangs (for example you can use !w to search Wikipedia, !a for Amazon, and many more)

Bob Boyd said...

"Yes, do too many searches on the internet and inevitably you wake up in a hotel bath tub full of ice with a Thanks for the Kidney!! message written across the mirror -- in lipstick!"

Her folder's in the maybe pile.

Tim in Vermont said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Triangle Man said...

Google's YouTube suggestions for me are conservative propaganda channels. I assume it's because I post here because this is the only vaguely politically-oriented website I interact with.

Ann Althouse said...

"Computeristicly is today's secret word."

I spelled it "computeristically."

Do you think it should be "computeristicly"?

This is actually a spelling issue I've researched, and you're prompting me to try to remember the spelling rule. I think it's about what the adjective is. You're adding "-ly" to make it an adverb.

So, here, the question is, what's the adjective. I'm coining the underlying adjective too, so what is it "computeristic" or "computeristical"? I think it probably should be "computeristic," because the "-ic" is already making the adjective, so why add the "-al" on top of it.

But even "computerist" is a coinage, and it uses the "-ist" ending to make something out of the finally familiar word, "computer."

Thoughts?

Ann Althouse said...

One reason to use the longer word is that it's such a pile-up of endings that it's funny and the more, the funnier.

Not saying you need to be amused, just explaining how I might be trying to amuse myself.

Triangle Man said...

@Tim

Two out of the four female programmers I work with are brilliant and a third shows promise. Only one out of the six male programmers I work with is brilliant and all but one is competent. A second has potential for brilliance, but he's too new to know for sure.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

MadisonMan said...

Maybe you should do all your searching in an incognito window.

Probably not enough. Every time you send a query ( or any other data over the internet ) it gets sent in a ( or multiple ) packet(s), each of which contains your IP address*. So they can track you across services based on IP address. An incognito window does not hide your IP address. For that you would need an anonymiser service, such as Tor.

*or more likely, by the IP address assigned to your cable modem. That means that they group you with anyone else connecting to your same cable modem. I'm pretty sure that's why I start seeing ads for things that my wife has searched for. Maybe you are being labeled a white supremacist based on Meade's queries...

Triangle Man said...

I was taught that "-ally" is what you add to words that end in "-ic" to make them adverbs.

sykes.1 said...

White supremacist might be a little extreme. That would make you a White version of Black Panther, the ultimate White Nationalist dream.

Triangle Man said...

@Ignorance is Bliss

Even with IP anonymizing services, "browser fingerprinting" may be used to track your activity across sites. However, I am not convinced that any of the fingerprinting techniques are stable across long periods of time. Many of the unique information elements leaked by browsers are ephemeral.

Bob Boyd said...

"Maybe you are being labeled a white supremacist based on Meade's queries..."

Snow Citizen was white. Coincidence?

Tim in Vermont said...

Two out of the four female programmers I work with are brilliant and a third shows promise. Only one out of the six male programmers I work with is brilliant and all but one is competent. A second has potential for brilliance, but he’s too new to know for sure.

LOL, OK.

Tim in Vermont said...

What the hell do you do with all of those brilliant programmers throwing off new areas to exploit? How do you keep up? It’s amazing!

tcrosse said...

It's computerrifically computeresque.

Rusty said...


"Obvious to me. Maybe not to you. Maybe you think I'm a white supremacist.":
Althouse. It would take an act of leftist legerdemain to ever compare you to a white supremacist.
That or a not to well thought out algorithm.
Why do you care what the internet thinks of you?

Tim in Vermont said...

Snow Citizen was white. Coincidence?

Clearly its whiteness was its only yet sufficient qualification for citizenship.

Kevin said...

Now that Althouse has written 17 posts without mentioning Trump, her next feat could be 17 without including white supremacy?

Danno said...

With all of the various topics addressed on Althouse, where you might research and report on both sides of a topic, I would think it would be pretty hard to "shoehorn" you into a single box.

Especially over a long time frame.

Henry said...

What is the speed limit on the Autobahn?

Gabriel said...

@TriangleMan:Two out of the four female programmers I work with are brilliant and a third shows promise. Only one out of the six male programmers I work with is brilliant and all but one is competent. A second has potential for brilliance, but he's too new to know for sure.

Ask one of the brilliant ones, male or female, to explain the Poisson distribution to you.

Or ask the US government how the average height for women can possibly 5'3" when the WNBA has so many taller than that.

Henry said...

Ignorance as bliss wrote...

So they can track you across services based on IP address.

With an incognito window, the "they" changes from Google to Comcast (or whomever). So there is a fairly profound level of indirection.

Henry said...

All the programmers I work with are too old to be called brilliant anymore.

traditionalguy said...

How do you spell your own created new Word? Hmmm. I surrender, Dear Professor. Computeristicly just looked right to me, and it saved a whole syllable. My cockney ancestry kicked in after watching the London Tube scene in Darkest Hour. Which reminds me that Winston was such a master of written and spoken English prose that he was accused by his enemies of Weaponizing the English Language against the Germans.

Tim in Vermont said...

Ask one of the brilliant ones, male or female, to explain the Poisson distribution to you.

He can ask the famous statistician Garrison Keillor of Lake Woebegone for help.


All the programmers I work with are too old to be called brilliant anymore.

The great physicists are usually mostly done by 30. After a while it becomes a job and you stop thinking about it in the off hours.

buwaya said...

We are all computerists now.

Sadly, we are all also fascists.

Good point above - its just a short hop to Chinese style personal ideological/psychological profiles available for use as an employment screening service, and its being said that this is already operative for some employers, Google being most often mentioned.

Triangle Man said...

@Gabriel

Understanding statistics is strongly correlated with brilliance in our programmers.

Triangle Man said...

The great physicists are usually mostly done by 30. After a while it becomes a job and you stop thinking about it in the off hours.

At a certain point you get to be the shoulders on which the next generation stands.

Tim in Vermont said...

With an incognito window, the "they" changes from Google to Comcast (or whomever). So there is a fairly profound level of indirection.

I am thinking of paying for a VPN, then the web sites will have to compare notes to figure it out. I know that DirecTV brags that they monitor your usage and inject ads into your TV viewing, that would likely flummox them.

Tim in Vermont said...

You have to pay for the VPN, or they will just be doing the exact same thing the ISP does.

The Cracker Emcee Classic said...

It’s pinging off The Germans Have a Word For It. That’s the only frequent reference to a specific nationality/ethnicity appearing on your blog recently. Sometimes AI is like a cat chasing a laser pointer.

Henry said...

The great physicists are usually mostly done by 30. After a while it becomes a job and you stop thinking about it in the off hours.

That's not exactly my point. My group just builds stuff. We have a widely distributed team where people have different specialities and experience. You don't need a guy to brilliantly reinvent authentication. You just need a guy who understands the authentication system we're employing and make it work.

My hat goes off to the build and release engineers. They never get enough credit.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Henry said...

With an incognito window, the "they" changes from Google to Comcast (or whomever). So there is a fairly profound level of indirection.

No. If you send a query to google, google gets your IP address, and can associate your query with it. If you later visit a site that serves up google ads, that site's server gets your IP address. Assuming that they choose to, they can pass your IP address along to the google ad server, and get ads tailored to your search history.

When your visit Quora, it gets your IP address. I don't know if they have access to information gathered by Google or Facebook or anyone else. But they at least have access to every other Quora query done from your IP address.

Bruce Hayden said...

I am sure that I have never signed onto quora, yet it does have a decent idea of what might inter3st me. Got an email yesterday from them that was interesting enough to cause me to click on it. My guess, from my shopping habits, is that they are getting some of their interest information from either Google and/or Amazon. Bought a USB 3.0 hub a week ago, and similar ended up in the Quora email. I had first Googled it, then ended up, as usual, on Amazon, thanks to Prime shipping. Still, I question their business plan a bit, since Amazon is already hitting me up for buying more of what I have bought or looked at over the last year or so, AND it is probably statistically unlikely that I am going to buy another USB 3.0 hub anytime soon (though I did buy a 2.0 hub Wednesday through Amazon - somehow my extra monitors run better connected to a USB 2.0 interfaces, than 3.0). Which maybe argues for Quora getting the info from Google over Amazon.

rhhardin said...

I bought a laptop CPU fan from Amazon and got recommendations for all sorts of computer CPU fans.

Ray said...

Tracking is usually cookie based. Cookies are a text file on your PC.

And any advertiser on a site can cookie you, and then read their cookie that can include usernames and password.

Some browsers are better than others for privacy, such as brave.

Bruce Hayden said...

“No. If you send a query to google, google gets your IP address, and can associate your query with it. If you later visit a site that serves up google ads, that site's server gets your IP address. Assuming that they choose to, they can pass your IP address along to the google ad server, and get ads tailored to your search history.”

Problem there is that IP addresses are mostly dynamic these days (it has probably been a decade since I have knowingly used a public static IP address). When you sign onto an ISP or network, an IP address is assigned dynamically. Indeed, my experience has been that I had to pay extra for a static IP address with an ISP. Oh, and one of the functions of a router is to multiplex multiple devices and users onto a single IP session. Thus, I just came from McDonalds, with its own public network. I sign on there and get an IP address (that will later be assigned to someone else). You do the same. The McDonald’s router likewise signs onto its ISP and gets an IP address assigned to it. My traffic to the Internet is multiplexed over the same McDonalds IP session that yours is, and ditto for anyone else using the McDonalds router. And, this is recursive and can be repeated to lower and lower levels.

SeanF said...

So, Quora thought you'd be interested in (and possibly knowledgeable about) things that you've searched for on the Internet.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree that there is an "obvious" "wrongness" to "Quora's picture of [you]".

Bruce Hayden said...

“And any advertiser on a site can cookie you, and then read their cookie that can include usernames and password.”

Never seen “cookie” used as a verb before. But that is correct. I have both Google and Amazon accounts, and I inevitably sign onto them with any browser/platform. That is how I expect that those two keep up with me, through my username, stored in the browser as a cookie.

Tim in Vermont said...

You don't need a guy to brilliantly reinvent authentication. You just need a guy who understands the authentication system we're employing and make it work.

My hat goes off to the build and release engineers. They never get enough credit


That’s very true. There are so many kinds of programming.

Bruce Hayden said...

“I bought a laptop CPU fan from Amazon and got recommendations for all sorts of computer CPU fans.”

My home desktop system here in AZ has a grating whine, at times. I thought that it was the HD drive, so put in a SDD as my primary drive. The noise didn’t go away, despite mostly not using the HDD that much any more (it boots faster, so it was worthwhile, regardless). Which, I think, means a fan. It has 3 of them, and will try to figure out which one, when I have the skins off the box this weekend (to replace the SATA cable - accidentally bought a 1 meter cable, instead of the foot or less that I needed). I did blow out the dust on the motherboard and in the fans when I was installing the SDD (and meter long SATA cable) a week or two ago, so dust isn’t the problem. We shall see.

I actually am facing a major project here, since I am going to rationalize and tag all the cables and cords in my office. And put everything into first a spreadsheet, and then, hopefully, a CAD drawing. Yesterday, I called Vonage because my Vonage line wasn’t working. Turned out that the Ethernet cable to their box wasn’t hooked into the router/hub. Embarrassing tracing the cable through the spaghetti mess behind and under the desk and tables, while talking to the tech over the phone. It’s a mess. And going to get worse with the addition of another USB hub and Ethernet hub (Amazon says that they should show up today and tomorrow, respectively).

Anthony said...

I don't know who Quora thinks I am, but I really dig Quora. . . . .

Earnest Prole said...

Didn't I warn you about what happens when you hang out with the bad kids?

Bob said...

Althouse to Quora, "Get off my lawn!"

Regarding "computeristically":

Curious whether it is really a word, I Googled it. The third result was...this post!

Gabriel said...

@Traingle Man:Understanding statistics is strongly correlated with brilliance in our programmers.

Good. Then they can help you understand how the gender balance of your brilliant programmers can be totally different from the gender balance in the set of all brilliant programmers and how their prevalence in the general population might affect that.

Mary said...

I hate to say this because it sounds too paranoid, but Russia has been strategically infiltrating many sites, not just social media. I’ve noticed in the past year how the subjects of my Quora digest email have changed. Keep in mind whenever it was that I signed up my interests were technology, photography and design. What did I get today from Quora? This:
When is lying the right thing to do?
How do you destroy a narcissist ?
What is it like to be a Republican in Portland, Oregon?

The questions have been sounding like they are coming from Trump supporters. I’m not kidding, it’s bizarre and freaking me out. Ann, it’s not just you. I think they might be up voting certain questions or something.

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DavidD said...

“But I am a little afraid that the internet is forming significant important political ideas about us, and that this could be used in some terrible way. But in this case the idea is obviously wrong.”

I’m sure the Communist Party authorities will believe you at your show trial.... :)