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Calm Company Fund is taking a break

[Calm Company Fund]

"Inhale. Exhale. Find the space between… Calm Company Fund is going on sabbatical and taking a break from investing in new companies and raising new funds. Here’s why."

Calm Company Fund's model seems interesting. It's a revenue-based investor that makes a return based on its portfolio companies' earnings, but still uses a traditional VC model to derive its operating budget. That means it makes a very small percentage of funds committed from Limited Partners, rather than sharing in the success of its portfolio (at least until much later, when the companies begin to earn out).

That would make sense in a world where the funds committed were enormous, but revenue-based investment tends to raise smaller fund sizes. So Calm Company Fund had enough money to pay for basically one person - and although the portfolio was growing, the staff size couldn't scale up to cope.

So what does an alternative look like? I imagine that it might look like taking a larger percentage of incoming revenue as if it were an LP itself. Or maybe this kind of funding simply doesn't work with a hands-on firm, and the models that attract larger institutional investors are inherently more viable (even if that isn't always reflected in their fund returns).

I want something like this to exist, but the truth is that it might live in the realm of boring old business loans, and venture likely is able to exist because of the risks involved in those sorts of companies.

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These Wrongly Arrested Black Men Say a California Bill Would Let Police Misuse Face Recognition

[The Markup]

"Now all three men are speaking out against pending California legislation that would make it illegal for police to use face recognition technology as the sole reason for a search or arrest. Instead it would require corroborating indicators."

Even with mitigations, it will lead to wrongful arrests: so-called "corroborating indicators" don't assist with the fact that the technology is racially biased and unreliable, and in fact may provide justification for using it.

And the stories of this technology being used are intensely bad miscarriages of justice:

“Other than a photo lineup, the detective did no other investigation. So it’s easy to say that it’s the officer’s fault, that he did a poor job or no investigation. But he relied on (face recognition), believing it must be right. That’s the automation bias this has been referenced in these sessions.”

"Believing it must be right" is one of core social problems widespread AI is introducing. Many people think of computers as being coldly logical deterministic thinkers. Instead, there's always the underlying biases of the people who built the systems and, in the case of AI, in the vast amounts of public data used to train them. False positives are bad in any scenario; in law enforcement, it can destroy or even end lives.

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Community survey 2024

I consider myself really lucky that people stop by and read my posts. Thank you!

Every year I like to pause and ask folks a little bit more about themselves, what they’re worried about, and what they’re interested in. It’s a really short, anonymous survey that helps me out on many levels. Feedback is always a gift.

This year, there’s another reason for this survey, too: I’m considering offering services to organizations that want to tackle specific technology challenges — particularly educational institutions, newsrooms, and technology companies for whom engineering is not their primary activity.

I’ve led product design and innovation sprints for many different companies and have been directly involved in multiple innovation accelerators. I have a well-tested process that really works, and this is one way I might be able to add value.

This survey will help me figure out which problems and ideas people are thinking about, which will help me figure out how helpful I can be.

But I’d also just love to know what you’re thinking about.

To fill in the survey, click here. Thank you for your feedback!

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Justice Alito Caught on Tape Discussing How Battle for America ‘Can’t Be Compromised’

"Justice Samuel Alito spoke candidly about the ideological battle between the left and the right — discussing the difficulty of living “peacefully” with ideological opponents in the face of “fundamental” differences that “can’t be compromised.” He endorsed what his interlocutor described as a necessary fight to “return our country to a place of godliness.” And Alito offered a blunt assessment of how America’s polarization will ultimately be resolved: “One side or the other is going to win.”"

If what's at stake in the upcoming election wasn't previously clear, this makes it so. This is a Supreme Court justice, talking openly, on tape, about undermining the rights of people in favor of a Biblical worldview.

It's easy to see this sort of rhetoric as the dying gasps of the 20th century trying to claw back regressive values that we've mostly moved away from. But to do so is to discount it; we have to take this seriously.

It's a little bit heartening to hear that Justice Roberts - also a big-C Conservative - felt differently and held a commitment to the Constitution and the working of the Court. But in the light of a far-right majority comprised of Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, it's not heartening enough.

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ORG publishes digital rights priorities for next government

"Open Rights Group has published its six priorities for digital rights that the next UK government should focus on."

These are things every government should provide. I'm particularly interested in point number 3:

"Predictive policing systems that use artificial intelligence (AI) to ‘predict’ criminal behaviour undermine our right to be presumed innocent and exacerbate discrimination and inequality in our criminal justice system. The next government should ban dangerous uses of AI in policing."

It's such a science fiction idea, so obviously flawed that Philip K Dick wrote a novel and there's a famous movie about how bad it is, and yet, police forces around the world are trying it.

I'd hope for beyond an Open Rights Group recommendation: it should be banned, everywhere, as an obvious human rights violation.

The other things on the list are table stakes. Without those guarantees, real democratic freedom is impossible.

[Link]

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Study finds 1/4 of bosses hoped RTO would make staff quit

"The findings suggest the return to office movement has been a poorly-executed failure, but one particular figure stands out - a quarter of executives and a fifth of HR professionals hoped RTO mandates would result in staff leaving."

Unsurprising but also immoral: these respondents believed that subsequent layoffs were undertaken because too few people quit in the wake of return to office policies.

This quote from the company that conducted the survey seems obviously true to me:

"The mental and emotional burdens workers face today are real, and the companies who seek employee feedback with the intent to listen and improve are the ones who will win."

It's still amazing to me that so many organizational cultures are incapable of following through with this.

[Link]

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Former Politico Owner Launches New Journalism Finishing School To Try And Fix All The ‘Wokeness’

"There’s an ocean of problems with journalism, but the idea that there’s just too damn much woke progressivism is utter delusion. U.S. journalism generally tilts center right on the political spectrum."

This is a story about the founder of Politico creating a "teaching hospital for journalists" that appears to be in opposition to "wokeness". But it's also about much of the state of incumbent journalism, which is still grappling with the wave of much-needed social change that is inspiring movements around the world.

"In the wake of Black Lives Matter and COVID there was some fleeting recommendations to the ivy league establishment media that we could perhaps take a slightly more well-rounded, inclusive approach to journalism. In response, the trust fund lords in charge of these establishment outlets lost their [...] minds, started crying incessantly about young journalists “needing safe spaces,” and decided to double down on all their worst impulses, having learned less than nothing along the way."

Exactly. Asinine efforts like anti-woke journalism schools aren't what we need; we need better intersectional representation inside newsrooms, we need better representation of the real stories that need to be told across the country and across the world, and we need to dismantle institutional systems that have acted as gatekeepers for generations.

All power to the outlets, independent journalists, and foundations that are truly trying to push for something better. The status quo is not - and has not been - worth preserving.

[Link]

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What if we worked together

"Remember! If you only signed up to hear when this feature is available, or you're wondering what ActivityPub even is: This probably is not the newsletter for you. This is a behind-the-scenes, engineering-heavy, somewhat-deranged build log by the team who are working on it."

And I love it.

Ghost's newsletter / blog about building ActivityPub support into its platform is completely lovely, and the kind of transparent development I've always been into. Here it's done with great humor. Also, they really seem to be into pugs, and that's cool, too.

In this week's entry the team is investigating using existing ActivityPub libraries and frameworks rather than building the whole thing from scratch themselves - and doing it with not a small amount of humility.

And they're building a front-end to allow bloggers to consume content from other people who publish long-form content onto the web using ActivityPub. I'm excited to see it take shape.

[Link]

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A Link Blog in the Year 2024

"After 17 of using Twitter daily and 24 years of using Google daily neither really works anymore. And particular with the collapse of the social spaces many of us grew up with, I feel called back to earlier forms of the Internet, like blogs, and in particular, starting a link blog."

Yay for link blogs! I've been finding this particularly rewarding. You're reading a post from mine right now.

Kellan wrote his own software to do this, based on links stored in Pinboard. Mine is based on Notion: I write an entry in markdown, which then seeds integrations that convert the bookmark into an HTML post on my website and various text posts for social media.

Simon Willison has noted that adding markdown support has meant he writes longer entries; that's been true for me, too. It's really convenient.

Most of all: I love learning from people I connect, follow, and subscribe to. Particularly in a world where search engines are falling apart as a way to really discover new writers and sources, link blogs are incredibly useful. It's lovely to find another one.

[Link]

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It's time to get real: I'm not 25 anymore

Time to get healthy

3 min read

Last week, without warning, my back went “crunch”.

I’ve been dealing with what feels like a painful, bruised coccyx ever since. It should heal up within a few weeks, but until then, getting up from a sitting or lying position is really hard, walking has been awkward, and I haven’t been able to pick up anything particularly heavy (like, just for example, a toddler who happens to be in the 99th percentile for his height).

I’m used to my body more or less working properly — and now it just doesn’t. It’s been unsettling. In the scheme of things, it’s much less problematic than the injuries a lot of people have to deal with, but it’s also a wake-up call.

Here’s what I think I need to do:

  • Commit to radically losing some weight. My weight when I arrived in California was 196 pounds. The last time I weighed in, it was something like 260.
  • Gain some strength and flexibility. Once my coccyx is healed I intend to start taking home fitness more seriously, and also (finally) get into yoga.
  • Actually use my fancy standing desk. I need to spend more of my time standing rather than sitting, and aim to stand for at least 60% of my day.
  • When I am sitting, I need to take my posture seriously. I’ve been sitting on a Wit SitOnIt task chair (the same kind we used to have at Matter), but I need something with more lumbar and posture support. Not least because the back support strip went “ping” a little while ago and I’ve been sitting with almost nothing behind me.

So. Changes afoot:

I’m upgrading my chair to a Herman Miller Aeron, which is stereotypical for a reason: it’s far better for posture. I managed to find it at a surplus store for a very deep discount on its eye-watering usual price.

I’ll be standing for most of my day. If you’re in a meeting with me, you can expect me to be bouncing around.

I’ll be taking more care about what I eat, mostly by trying to go for less calorie-dense food. In a significant change to my California lifestyle, I already don’t eat out much. But there’s more I can do: in particular, the more fresh vegetables I can include, the better.

I’m going to try and resume my walking habit: a long walk at night, listening to podcasts or audiobooks.

And yoga. Which I am terrified of. My relationship with my body is fraught. I’ve never been proud of it and I don’t think I can make it do very much. So as challenging as the stretching itself might be, the psychological component is pretty much the hardest thing to get over.

Unfortunately, I’m not 25 anymore. In itself, that’s a painful sentence to have to type. But here I am, firmly entering middle age, and I want to be around for a long time to come.

These changes might be challenging — both in themselves and as habits to stick to — but it’s clearly past time that I do something. My painful back is a small signal; without intervention, I expect others to follow. It’s time to get real.

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AI Lobbying Group Launches Campaign Defending Tech

"Chamber of Progress, a tech industry coalition whose members include Amazon, Apple and Meta, is launching a campaign to defend the legality of using copyrighted works to train artificial intelligence systems."

I understand why they're making this push, but I don't know that it's the right PR move for some of the wealthiest corporations in the world to push back on independent artists. I wish they were actually reaching out and finding stronger ways to support the people who make creative work.

The net impression I'm left with is not support of user freedom, but bullying. Left out of the equation is the scope of fair use, which is painted here as being under attack as a principle by the artists rather than by large companies that seek to use peoples' work for free to make products that they will make billions of dollars from.

The whole thing is disingenuous and disappointing, and is likely to backfire. It's particularly sad to see Apple participate in this mess. So much for bicycles of the mind.

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A Guide to VC “Congrats” Tweets, From 🤑 to 😐

“Tweet: Thrilled to have represented [VC firm] in our work with [company]. Huge outcome!”

"Translation: A partner we fired actually did the deal, and no one serviced it well until it was clear it was going to be a homerun. Then we all fought over it and rewrote history in a ‘congrats’ blogpost that never mentioned the original GP."

Hunter didn't come to play.

[Link]

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Bluesky and Mastodon users can now talk to each other with Bridgy Fed

"An important step toward a more interoperable “fediverse” — the broader network of decentralized social media apps like Mastodon, Bluesky and others — has been achieved."

Bridgy has always been a useful product; Bridgy Fed is an easy way for folks on the fediverse and on Bluesky to be able to interact with each other. I've opted in and I expect many other people to do the same.

Ideally it wouldn't be an opt-in - I think this kind of bridge is incredibly useful in its own right. I know it's been fraught on the Mastodon side because of Bluesky's provenance and former relationship to both Twitter and Jack Dorsey. I personally don't see the issue at all: the more the merrier.

Ryan Barrett is brilliant: I really appreciate his ability to quietly add value by creating user-first technology solutions that speak for themselves.

[Link]

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Building another big fediverse platform

1 min read

Purely hypothetically, I wonder what it would take to raise enough money to build another first-class fediverse platform for the mass market.

Not because there’s anything wrong with Mastodon (or Threads or Flipboard), but I think the fediverse would be healthier with another big platform in the mix.

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A computer can never be held accountable

Therefore a computer must never make a management decision

1 min read

I love this IBM slide circa 1979, which is more relevant today than ever:

A computer can never be held accountable; therefore a computer must never make a management decision

Simon Willison asked about the provenance. Jonty Wareing weighed in:

It was found by someone going through their father's work documents, and subsequently destroyed in a flood.

I spent some time corresponding with the IBM archives but they can't locate it. Apparently it was common for branch offices to produce things that were not archived.

The original source confirmed this a few years ago.

Still, it’s a really pertinent message, which is proving to be more timeless than expected.

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A jab back at Brexit (or a kick in the teeth)

The UK general election on July 4 is a symbol.

4 min read

Nigel bloody Farage

I grew up in Britain, but I was able to be there because of my European citizenship. When I moved to the US it was because my mother was terminally ill; I’d always assumed that I would go back. When the Brexit vote happened, I took it extremely personally: in lots of ways, the British public voted to throw people like me out.

In the interim, some people have assured me that, no, it’s not people like me. After all, I have a British accent, and if you didn’t actually know, you’d be forgiven for assuming that I was British. Of course, that’s a hugely xenophobic reflex: my British accent makes me okay, but someone else’s Polish accent means that they’re not. I stand with the people who more obviously come from somewhere else; I do, too. All of us are (or, I suppose, were) an active part of British society, integral parts of communities, and so on.

Brexit was offensive, stupid, counterproductive, and xenophobic. I’m not glad that Britain has been suffering the consequences of this own-goal, because so many of my friends still live there, and so many communities are suffering. Spitefully wishing ill on people who are hurting isn’t a good look. But I certainly have no love for the people who voted for this travesty.

It’s not fun to be barred from living in the place I called home. It happened at a time in my life when it was becoming apparent that there was a terminal, genetic disease that runs in my family; multiple family members had it, and I hadn’t yet had the genetic test that suggested my sister and I weren’t going to get it. It was the same year that Trump became President on a similarly anti-immigrant platform. Overall, it was A Bad Time.

Oddly, then, I’m not unhappy to see Nigel Farage run for Prime Minister. Obviously, he’s among the worst people alive, as if the worst impulses of British society had been congealed, Doctor Who style, into a comic book villain with an angry toad for a face. Two of his children are even dual European citizens, because the hypocrisy is part of the schtick for these people. But because he’s running, he’s going to split the Conservative vote, with the hard right voting for Farage and the people who claim they’re not hard right voting for whoever the Conservative leader of the week will be on — who picked this day?! — July 4th. (It’ll be Rishi Sunak or a slowly-decomposing head of iceberg lettuce. Let’s see.)

Keir Starmer is not a giant leap of an improvement: a John Major impersonator who would have comfortably been a Tory candidate in 1995. But at least he’s not one of the guys who brought about Brexit and all of the ludicrous policies that followed. It’s something. A jab back for all the people who have been hurt over the last 14 years since hog aficionado David Cameron was first elected with the help of a last-minute coalition assist from Nick Clegg, who, of course, now leads international face-saving for Meta.

A Conservative loss is the foothills of the foothills of the foothills of the work to be done to rebuild. But it would, at least, be a baby step forward. And even then, I’m ready to be disappointed, because, really, nothing in this arena has gone well since forever, and I, for one, have lost the ability to be really optimistic.

 

Photo by Gage Skidmore

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Is Microsoft trying to commit suicide?

Microsoft's Recall software seems like a horrible idea:

"Surprise! It turns out that the unencrypted database and the stored images may contain your user credentials and passwords. And other stuff. Got a porn habit? Congratulations, anyone with access to your user account can see what you've been seeing. Use a password manager like 1Password? Sorry, your 1Password passwords are probably visible via Recall, now."

Worse, it's going to be built into Windows 11 for all compatible hardware, in a way that will make it hard or impossible to disable. This doesn't make sense to me: which privacy-conscious CIO (just for example, one working in a well-regulated industry where privacy is a legal requirement) would allow this to roll out? This is yet another reason for Windows 10 to remain the most popular version.

It also seems like nobody at Microsoft (or nobody at Microsoft with power) has considered the potentially serious social implications of what they're building:

"Victims of domestic abuse are at risk of their abuser trawling their PC for any signs that they're looking for help. Anyone who's fallen for a scam that gave criminals access to their PC is also completely at risk."

I'm increasingly concerned about what Apple will be rolling out on Monday. We're hearing quite believable rumors that it'll be AI-based, but is it going to be Apple's take on the same thing? That, too, has the potential to be a disaster.

Once again, I can't believe that the only way to get away from this stuff will be to run Linux on the desktop.

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Online Privacy and Overfishing

"The pervasive nature of modern technology makes surveillance easier than ever before, while each successive generation of the public is accustomed to the privacy status quo of their youth."

The key, as Bruce Schneier argues here, is not to compare with our own baselines, but to take a step back and consider what a healthy ecosystem would look like in its own right.

The underlying story here is that Microsoft caught state-backed hackers using its generative AI tools to help with their attacks, and people were less worried about the attacks themselves than about how Microsoft found out about them. It's a reasonable worry, and I thought the same thing: if Microsoft found this, then they're likely more aware of the contextual uses of their platform than we might assume.

This is certainly less private than computing was twenty or thirty years ago. But it's not a major iteration on where we were five years ago, and without intervention we're likely to see more erosion of user privacy over the next five years.

So what should our standards for privacy be overall? How should we expect a company like Microsoft to treat our potentially sensitive data? Should we pay more for more security, or should it just be a blanket expectation? These are all valid questions - although I also have ready, opinionated answers.

Perhaps the more important question is: who has the right to come to a conclusion about these questions, and how will they be enforced? As of now, it's still open.

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Columbia Law Review Board Nukes Website Over Palestine Article

"Eghbariah’s paper for the Columbia Law Review, or CLR, was published on its website in the early hours of Monday morning. The journal’s board of directors responded by pulling the entire website offline. [...] According to Eghbariah, he worked with editors at the Columbia Law Review for over five months on the 100-plus-page text."

Regardless of your perspective on the ongoing crisis in Israel and Palestine, this seems like a remarkable action: removing a heavily-reviewed, 100+ page legal analysis because it discusses the Nakba, the mass-displacement of Palestinians during the 1948 Palestine war.

The right thing to do would be to publish it - as the editors tried to do - and allow legal discussion to ensue. Instead, the board of directors chose to simply pull the plug on the website.

As one Columbia professor put it:

“When Columbia Law Professor Herbert Weschler published his important article questioning the underlying justification for Brown v. Board of Education in 1959 it was regarded by many as blasphemous, but is now regarded as canonical. This is what legal scholarship should do at its best, challenge us to think hard about hard things, even when it is uncomfortable doing so.”

If nothing else, this is a reflection of how sensitive these issues are in the current era, whose voices are allowed to be heard, and the conflicts between different ideologies, even on university campuses.

[Link]

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How Tony Stubblebine turned Medium around in the AI era

This is a lovely piece about Tony Stubblebine, who, as it rightly says, is doing an excellent job as the new CEO of Medium.

"Under Stubblebine’s direction, Medium, a site known for its many pivots, is finally being strategic about what it wants and where it’s headed. Last year, it launched a Mastodon server for premium users, and in March it demonetized AI-generated content on its platform. It is solidly on the side of team human and is finally starting to see that pay off."

I worked at Medium in 2016-2017, and I've known Tony since 2007. I genuinely like Ev, too, but I think Tony was a fantastic choice of leader, and that's really bearing out in his choices over the last few years. I was particularly happy when Medium launched its own Mastodon instance to check out the network and help give it some cloud in certain circles.

"It’s hard not to want to root for Medium. The assumption for more than a decade has been that the way the internet has to work will be determined by what makes the most money for a handful of companies. They wanted us to post content, then they wanted us to share content, then they wanted us to watch it endlessly, and now they want us to use their AI, which will create a bubble we’ll live in forever."

I agree.

[Link]

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UK broadcasters trade ad airtime for advertisers’ shares

This is an interesting business model: UK broadcasters are trading unused ad space for equity in digital media startups, turning them into venture-scale investors.

"The move comes as broadcasters continue to face a tough economic downturn where corporate clients have slashed spending on advertising – which is traditionally seen as a bellwether of the economic climate."

The thing about venture investing is that it doesn't have a short time horizon: exits could easily be a decade away. So this is either a deliberately long game or a really short-sighted move on behalf of the broadcasters, who might not be prepared to hold a basket of liabilities for that long. Of course, they could presumably sell the equity, but that pressure on the secondary market would have the potential to drive the startups' share prices down. Really the broadcasters need to hold onto their portfolios.

I'm very curious to see how this plays out. It's definitely an innovative way to use an otherwise illiquid asset (unsold ad space). I want these broadcasters to survive, and I like the ecosystem-building aspect of this, so I hope it all works out for everyone involved.

[Link]

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Zoom CEO Eric Yuan wants AI clones in meetings

Eric Yuan has a really bizarre vision of what the future should look like:

"Today for this session, ideally, I do not need to join. I can send a digital version of myself to join so I can go to the beach. Or I do not need to check my emails; the digital version of myself can read most of the emails. Maybe one or two emails will tell me, “Eric, it’s hard for the digital version to reply. Can you do that?” Again, today we all spend a lot of time either making phone calls, joining meetings, sending emails, deleting some spam emails and replying to some text messages, still very busy. How [do we] leverage AI, how do we leverage Zoom Workplace, to fully automate that kind of work? That’s something that is very important for us."

The solution to having too many meetings that you don't really need to attend, and too many emails that are informational only, is to not have the meetings and emails. It's not to let AI do it for you, which in effect creates a world where our avatars are doing a bunch of makework drudgery for no reason.

Instead of building better business cultures and reinventing our work rhythms to adapt to information overload and an abundance of busywork, the vision here is to let the busywork happen between AI. It's an office full of ghosts, speaking to each other on our behalf, going to standup meetings with each other just because.

I mean, I get it. Meetings are Zoom's business. But count me out.

[Link]

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Protecting artists on the fediverse

OpenAI

Over the weekend, I started to notice a bunch of artists moving to Cara, a social network for artists founded by Jingna Zhang, herself an accomplished photographer.

The fediverse is a decentralized cooperative of social networks that can interact with each other: a user on one network can follow, reply, like, and re-share content from a user on another network. The whole thing depends on an open standard called ActivityPub, shared community norms, and a cooperative culture.

Of course, my first reaction was that Cara should be compatible with the fediverse so that its content could be more easily discoverable by users on social networks like Threads, Flipboard, and Mastodon. Cara is explicitly set up to be a network for human artists, with no AI-generated content, which will be increasingly valuable as the web becomes flooded with machine-made art. The fediverse would allow them to publish on sites like Cara that are set up to support their needs, while finding a broad audience across the entire web.

From its About page:

With the widespread use of generative AI, we decided to build a place that filters out generative AI images so that people who want to find authentic creatives and artwork can do so easily.

[…] We do not agree with generative AI tools in their current unethical form, and we won’t host AI-generated portfolios unless the rampant ethical and data privacy issues around datasets are resolved via regulation.

I’d love to follow artists on Cara from my Mastodon or Threads accounts. But how does Cara’s AI stance square with the fediverse? How might artists on Cara find a broad audience for their work across the web without risking that art being used as training data without permission?

The first thing a site can do to prevent its content from being used as training data is to add exclusion rules to its robots.txt file. These theoretically prevent crawlers owned by model vendors like OpenAI from directly accessing art from the site. There is nothing that legally binds crawlers from obeying robots.txt; it’s less enforceable than a handshake agreement. Still, most claim that they voluntarily do.

But even if robots.txt was an ironclad agreement, content published to the fediverse doesn’t solely live on its originating server. If Cara was connected to the fediverse, images posted there could still be found on its servers, but they would also be syndicated to the home servers of anyone who followed its users. If a user on Threads followed a Cara user, the Cara user’s images would be copied to Threads; if a user on a Mastodon instance followed that user, the images would be copied to that Mastodon instance. The images are copied across the web as soon as they are published; even if Cara protects its servers from being accessed by AI crawlers, these other downstream fediverse servers are not guaranteed to be protected.

By connecting to the fediverse, one might argue that servers implicitly license their content to be reused across different services. This is markedly different from RSS, where this is explicitly not the case: there is legal precedent that says my RSS feed cannot be used to republish my content elsewhere without my permission (although you can, of course, access its content in a private feed reader; that’s the point). But on the fediverse, the ability to reshare across platforms is core functionality.

The following things are all true:

  • Content published to the fediverse may be both re-copied to and served from other peoples’ servers
  • Those servers may have different policies regarding content use
  • In the absence of a robots.txt directive, AI crawlers will scrape a website’s data, even if they don’t have the legal right to
  • Some servers may themselves be owned by AI vendors and may use federated content to train generative models even without the use of a scraper

As a result, there is no way an author can protect it from being used in an AI training set. The owners of a fediverse site wouldn’t have the right to make a deal with an AI vendor to sell the content it hosted because they wouldn’t have the copyright to all of that content in the first place. But because AI crawlers greedily scrape content without asking for permission, unless the site explicitly opts out with robots.txt, it doesn’t matter.

This leads me to a few conclusions:

  • It is a moral obligation for every fediverse site to prevent crawling of federated content by robustly setting robots.txt directives at a minimum
  • Discussions about adding content licensing support to the fediverse are even more important than they appear
  • Someone needs to legally prevent AI vendors from using all available data as training fodder

A fediverse (and a web!) where Cara can safely join while adhering to its principles is a more functional, safer network. To build it we’ll need to support explicit licensing on the fediverse, create a stronger standard for user protections across fediverse sites, and seek more robust legal protections against AI crawler activity. While these are ambitious goals, I believe they’re achievable — and necessary to support the artists and content creators who make the web their home.

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Known fizzled

2 min read

One of my biggest regrets is how the Known hosted service declined. The paid subscriptions came to an end, and eventually the hosting whimpered out. Behind the scenes, the database cluster was in need of more maintenance than I was able to provide.

Known itself has required more maintenance than I’ve been able to provide for quite some time. I wish I could spend more bandwidth on it, but the state of my life right now is that it’s just not possible for me to dedicate the coding time for something that isn’t paying my bills and isn’t having the impact I wanted it to.

I wish we’d sent out a strong email at the end and allowed everyone to export their data automatically. I also wish Known had import/export that was reliable so that people could explore other platforms.

After attempting to claw the time to do it myself, I’d like to hire someone to build the latter, and then apply it to everyone who had a hosted account. The export function could be built into the Known UI or as a CLI tool. If this seems like something you might be able to do, let me know.

Overall, I have a ton of regrets about Known — something for a future post (or series of posts), maybe. This site is still powered by it, though, and I know other people still use it, too. So it’s not dead — just small.

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The 21 best science fiction books of all time – according to New Scientist writers

This list of the New Scientist's favorite science fiction books is brilliant. The books I've read that are included here are some of my favorites of all time; the others are on my to-read list. What's your favorite?

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