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Twitter and Facebook’s diverging philosophies were on display in the latest tech hearing

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The latest tech hearing was a study in contrasts. Contrasts between lawmakers who made an effort to stay on topic in a hearing ostensibly about social media and the 2020 election and those who… just talked about whatever was on their minds.

Also contrasts between then and now. Social media companies previously treated any attempt at Section 230 reform as radioactive; now, they’ve come around to cooperating so they’re not cut out of the conversation altogether.

But most of all it was a study in contrasts for the two men on the virtual witness stand: Facebook’s equivocating chief executive, who always manages to speak too much in the service of saying very little and Twitter’s laconic business mystic who came off as measurably more poised to meet the moment, wizard beard and all.

In a signal that the hearing’s stated purpose would not reflect the grab bag of gripes on display Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s own chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham, threw the plan out early and asked the two CEOs if they had seen any evidence that their platforms were addictive.

Zuckerberg responded with characteristic defensiveness, arguing that the research in this area was not “conclusive.”

“We certainly do not want our products to be addictive,” Zuckerberg said, contradicting behavioral scientists, Facebook defectors and common sense observations of its products. “We want people to use them because they are meaningful,” he added, casting aspersions on “the memes and misinformation out there” about what makes Facebook’s business tick. The response fit neatly into a narrative a few lawmakers pushed that big tech operates out of big tobacco’s playbook.

Given the same question, Dorsey was less disingenuous. “I do think like anything else, these tools can be addictive and we should be aware of that and acknowledge it,” Dorsey said. His statement perhaps stops short of acknowledging the degree to which social media has reshaped the course of modern human behavior, but ultimately it bodes better for Twitter’s health as a platform and for its users’ addled brains.

The two CEOs also sharply contrasted on questions about their algorithms.

When Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked if social platforms should provide more transparency around the algorithms they use to decide what users see, Dorsey proposed more transparency through user control. “I think a better option is providing more choice to be able to turn off the algorithms or choose a different algorithm so that people can see how it effects ones’ experience,” Dorsey said.

Dorsey also suggested that Twitter could expand those options through something like a third-party “marketplace” where users could select ranking algorithms that suited their needs.

Zuckerberg, for his part, didn’t go near this idea with a 10-foot pole, instead lauding the existence of Facebook’s third-party fact-checking program (never mind the too-restrained way Facebook presents those fact checks) and the company’s community standards reports, which present aggregated numbers on the rule-breaking content it removes. Facebook’s algorithm is a black box that users are locked inside and that’s that. (Naturally, the box prints ad dollars.)

In contrast, Twitter has committed to a kind of openness that’s not perfect, but it’s at least refreshing. The company treats its platform policy decisions as a kind of living document, tweeting updates about the most high-profile decisions in near real-time, admitting mistakes and emphasizing that it’s learning and changing things as it goes.

One example of Twitter’s experimental approach: The company universally disabled one-click retweets before the U.S. election, hoping to make user behavior less reactive while slowing down viral election misinformation. The changes were part of Twitter’s recent experiments with introducing more friction to the platform. Twitter also hid tweets and restricted sharing for some particularly egregious bits of misinformation — some of it coming from President Trump. Facebook stuck to “labels,” the current bare minimum content moderation gesture.

Dorsey’s company is still plagued by rampant harassment, brain-melting conspiracies and, for now, a lame duck president actively seeking to destabilize American democracy, but it at least seems open to changes that could shift the dynamics of the platform in the interest of making it better.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Neuroglee gets $2.3 million to develop digital therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases

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There are now about 50 million people with dementia globally, a number the World Health Organization expects to triple by 2050. Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia and caregivers are often overwhelmed, without enough support.

Neuroglee, a Singapore-based health tech startup, wants to help with a digital therapeutic platform created to treat patients in the early stages of the disease. Founded this year to focus on neurodegenerative diseases, Neuroglee announced today it has raised $2.3 million in pre-seed funding.

The round was led by Eisai Co., one of Japan’s largest pharmaceutical companies, and Kuldeep Singh Rajput, the founder and chief executive officer of predictive healthcare startup Biofourmis.

Neuroglee’s prescription digital therapy software for Alzheimer’s, called NG-001, is its main product. The company plans to start clinical trials next year. NG-001 is meant to complement medication and other treatments, and once it is prescribed by a clinician, patients can access its cognitive exercises and tasks through a tablet.

Neuroglee founder and CEO Aniket Singh Rajput (brother of Kuldeep) told TechCrunch that its first target markets for NG-001 are the United States and Singapore, followed by Japan. NG-001 needs to gain regulatory approval in each country, and it will start by seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance.

Once it launches, clinicians will have two ways to prescribe NG-001, through their healthcare provider platform or an electronic prescription tool. A platform called Neuroglee Connect will give clinicians, caregivers and patients access to support and features for reimbursement and coverage.

The software tracks patients’ progress, such as the speed of their fingers and the time it takes to complete an exercise, and delivers personalized treatment programs. It also has features to address the mental health of patients, including one that shows images that can bring up positive memories, which in turn can help alleviate depression and anxiety when used in tandem with other cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.

For caregivers and clinicians, NG-001 helps them track patient progress and their compliance with other treatments, like medications. This means that healthcare providers can work closely with patients even remotely, which is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

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Govtech intelligence platform, The Atlas for Cities, bought by Government Executive Media Group

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The Atlas for Cities, the 500 Startups-backed market intelligence platform connecting tech companies with state and local governments, has been acquired by the Growth Catalyst Partners-backed publishing and market intelligence company Government Executive Media Group.

The San Diego-based company will become the latest addition to a stable of publications and services that include the Route Fifty, publication for local government and the defense-oriented intelligence service, DefenseOne.

The Atlas provides peer-to-peer networks for state and local government officials to share best practices and is a marketing channel for the startups that want to sell services to those government employees. Through The Atlas, government officials can talk to each other, find case studies for best practices around tech implementations, and post questions to crowdsource ideas.

Government contractors can use the site to network with leadership and receive buyer intent data to inform their strategy in the sector, all while getting intelligence about the problems and solutions that matter to state and local jurisdictions across the nation. 

The Atlas delivers on GEMG’s promise to look for companies that complement and supplement the full suite of offerings that we provide to our partners to reach decision makers across all facets of the public sector,” said Tim Hartman, CEO of Government Executive Media Group, said in a statement.

Led by Ellory Monks and Elle Hempen, The Atlas for Cities launched in 2019 and is backed by financing from individual investors and the 500 Startups accelerator program. It now counts 21,000 government officials across 3,400 cities on its platform.

“State and local governments in the United States spend $3.7 trillion per year. That’s almost 20% of GDP,” said Elle Hempen, co-founder of The Atlas. “Our mission to increase transparency and access for local leaders has the opportunity to transform this enormous, inefficient market and enable tangible progress on the most important issues of our times.”

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Google shutting down Poly 3D content platform

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Google is almost running out of AR/VR projects to kill off.

The company announced today in an email to Poly users that they will be shutting 3D-object creation and library platform “forever” next year. The service will shut down on June 30, 2021 and users won’t be able to upload 3D models to the site on April 30, 2021.

Poly was introduced as a 3D creation tool optimized for virtual reality. Users could easily create low-poly objects with in-VR tools. The software was designed to serve as a lightweight way to create and view 3D assets that could in turn end up in games and experiences, compared to more art and sculpting-focused VR tools like Google’s Tilt Brush and Facebook’s (now Adobe’s) Medium software.

Google has already discontinued most of the company’s AR/VR plays, including most notably their Daydream mobile VR platform.

The AR/VR industry’s initial rise prompted plenty of 3D-centric startups to bet big on creating or hosting a library of digital objects. As investor enthusiasm has largely faded and tech platforms hosting AR/VR content have shuttered those products, it’s less clear where the market is for this 3D content for the time being.

Users that have uploaded objects to Poly will be able to download their data and models ahead of the shutdown.

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