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Mistreated moderators and the pervasive violence of the internet

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Recently, The Verge published a look inside one of Facebook’s deals with a content moderating contractor. Facebook hires these moderators to screen posts reported by users for violating their community standards. These moderators look at reported posts and decide whether to delete them or allow them. Author Casey Newton was able to convince some former Facebook moderators, who are generally prohibited from discussing their work by NDAs, to tell her about their experiences. Their stories are deeply upsetting; they are routinely forced to witness extreme violence, constantly monitored and held to incredibly high standards for speed and accuracy. Accuracy is determined by how often moderators’ decisions agree with the decisions of slightly more senior moderators; more senior moderators are given a random sample of a regular moderators’ processed posts and asked to make their own judgments. At Cognizant, for example, moderators must be “accurate” at least 95 percent of the time. Within the Cognizant work site Newton examines, some moderators have responded to constant exposure to the worst of Facebook by buying into the conspiracy theories. One person genuinely believes the Earth is flat, another has become convinced that 9/11 was not a legitimate terrorist attack and another denies that the Holocaust took place.

Reading Newton’s piece was odd to me because it was eerily similar to the experiences of censors in China, which I am currently researching for a literature review. China has made all website owners liable for content on their website, so the vast majority of censorship is actually performed by employees of social media sites. Website employees tasked with moderating content at Beyondsoft, a Chinese techservices company contracted by social media platforms, and Cognizant, an American company contracted by Facebook, are required to lock their phones in small lockers while at work and perform content moderation using computers with limited capabilities. Both companies ask that workers screen a dauntingly high number of posts per day, although Beyondsoft’s targets are higher (it’s difficult to compare exact numbers because Facebook posts may be longer than the ones Beyondsoft screens).

There are, however, some interesting differences between Facebook moderators’ work and that of Chinese social media censors. Although both companies have training programs, Beyondsoft’s program must teach employees about censored information. Many employees learn about the 1989 Tiananmen Square Demonstrations for the first time during Beyondsoft’s training. Chinese employees are required to have in-depth, detailed knowledge of all of the most controversial parts of Communist Party of China (CCP) history, and they are expected to use that knowledge to censor social media in order to protect the CCP.

Yet that cognitive dissonance might be less overwhelming than the trauma Facebook’s moderators experience. Newton reports that many of her sources found their work depressing, anxiety-inducing and horrifying. It is apparently not uncommon for employees to use alcohol, marijuana or other drugs to get through a day of screening posts. Dark humor, including jokes about self-harm, is common at Cognizant.

Last year, for my PWR 1 class, I wrote a paper on white supremacy on 4chan. A surprising number of mass shootings are committed by individuals, usually young cisgender white men, who spent a great deal of time on websites like The Daily Stormer or 4chan’s /pol/ board (a word of warning: Both of those sites contain graphic and disturbing content, and I would not recommend visiting them). Dylann Roof credited online white supremacy with inspiring his actions. Perhaps foolishly, I attempted to gain insights about why white supremacy appeals to people and even convinces them to commit terrible crimes. I attempted to do this by reading and analyzing content from 4chan’s /pol/ board.

Because this project was of my own design, and I was able to choose when and how to read the messages I collected, my experience was likely a great deal less severe than that of Cognizant employees. It was still frightening and deeply unpleasant. I learned a new vocabulary of hate, an entirely new language of slurs and insults designed to reinforce bigotry. I learned that white supremacists are at once creative in their expressions of hatred and utterly original in the content of their ideas.

I did, to some extent, accomplish my goal. I learned that these communities seem to offer users a sense of power, uniqueness and support, as long as the user is male and white. They offer a prepackaged sense of purpose (to protect the white race) and identity (a member and protector of the white race). But I also found myself constantly sad, anxious and frustrated; finishing the paper offered an enormous sense of relief and alleviated most of my malaise, but I can’t quite leave it behind.

I haven’t visited 4chan or any of the other sites I researched in nearly a year. Nevertheless, I cannot forget that every one of the posts I read was written by a human being, who can vote and buy a gun. I am living in the same America I was before this project, but now I am playing a never-ending guessing game. I look around and try to find the /pol/ users, The Daily Stormer viewers, the people who spew hateful things online and then go to the grocery store as if nothing’s wrong. I can’t find them, but now I know they must be somewhere, and I can’t quite stop looking.

I don’t know how to fix our internet problem. Bigotry and violence have permeated every platform, from 4chan to Facebook, and asking people to monitor this deluge of posts means subjecting human beings to nonstop hate. It’s clear that Facebook should be paying people more, pressuring them less and providing better mental health services. But that doesn’t really fix the problem. The source of moderators’ trauma will not change, no matter how well  Facebook treats them.

At the risk of sounding un-American, I might suggest learning from China. Many Chinese social media platforms preemptively prevent people from posting content that contains certain words. Others automatically delete posts with those words. Facebook and other companies can simply ban obviously offensive terms (thanks to my excursion into 4chan, I have a long list of terms that no one except white supremacists use). Freedom of speech is important, but it only extends to the government, meaning that the government cannot censor private citizens’ speech but private companies can. Private companies are not under any obligation to provide a platform for bigotry.

Ultimately, though, the internet seems to be an expression of society — particularly, the parts of society that people don’t like to bring up face-to-face. If social media platforms want to prevent the worst parts of society from running rampant on their sites, they must either employ moderators, and subject those moderators to traumatizing posts, or somehow eradicate bigotry and violence in society as a whole. Looking at that choice, it’s not hard to see why Facebook chose the moderators.

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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal

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A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist

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Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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