Daily Archives: November 12, 2020

Do social media algorithms erode our ability to make decisions freely?

Social media algorithms, artificial intelligence, and our own genetics are among the factors influencing us beyond our awareness. This raises an ancient question: do we have control over our own lives? This article is part of The Conversation’s series on the science of free will.
By Lewis Mitchell and James Bagrow – Have you ever watched a video or movie because YouTube or Netflix recommended it to you? Or added a friend on Facebook from the list of “people you may know”?

And how does Twitter decide which tweets to show you at the top of your feed?

These platforms are driven by algorithms, which rank and recommend content for us based on our data.

As Woodrow Hartzog, a professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University, Boston, explains:

If you want to know when social media companies are trying to manipulate you into disclosing information or engaging more, the answer is always.

So if we are making decisions based on what’s shown to us by these algorithms, what does that mean for our ability to make decisions freely?

An algorithm is a digital recipe: a list of rules for achieving an outcome, using a set of ingredients. Usually, for tech companies, that outcome is to make money by convincing us to buy something or keeping us scrolling in order to show us more advertisements.

The ingredients used are the data we provide through our actions online – knowingly or otherwise. Every time you like a post, watch a video, or buy something, you provide data that can be used to make predictions about your next move.

These algorithms can influence us, even if we’re not aware of it. As the New York Times’ Rabbit Hole podcast explores, YouTube’s recommendation algorithms can drive viewers to increasingly extreme content, potentially leading to online radicalization.

Facebook’s News Feed algorithm ranks content to keep us engaged on the platform. It can produce a phenomenon called “emotional contagion”, in which seeing positive posts leads us to write positive posts ourselves, and seeing negative posts means we’re more likely to craft negative posts — though this study was controversial partially because the effect sizes were small.

Also, so-called “dark patterns” are designed to trick us into sharing more, or spending more on websites like Amazon. These are tricks of website design such as hiding the unsubscribe button, or showing how many people are buying the product you’re looking at right now. They subconsciously nudge you towards actions the site would like you to take. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Small capital markets businesses have been insulated against many of the troubles affecting their larger competitors. Now things are getting tougher.
By Fuad Faridi, Jared Moon, Anoop Ravindranath, Roger Rudisuli, Manu Saxena, Matthew Steinert – The capital markets arms of regional and national banks are often seen as smaller versions of the capital markets businesses of the top 10 global firms. However, they are actually quite different. Regional businesses have evolved along their own paths, with distinct client franchises, operating models, and sources of profitability. As a result, they require a strategic agenda that is tailored to their specific needs.

Until recently, the capital markets businesses of regional banks have been insulated against many of the troubles affecting larger global banks, and in some cases have performed better than them. Regional capital markets businesses’ returns on equity (ROE) held up better than those of their larger counterparts and regionals maintained their market share.

Now, however, there are signs that life is getting tougher. Structural shifts such as increasing electronification and falling revenues, and questions about the sustainability and “fit” with their parent organizations, are leading to increased scrutiny of these businesses. This has been especially pronounced in Europe. Temporary revenue upticks from market volatility linked to COVID-19 are seen as providing only temporary relief.

Even seemingly more robust franchises are being forced to answer difficult questions. They have found that after stripping out the impact from internal flows and adjacent client bases, the businesses that remain are often far less profitable. They have also found it challenging to unlock the next phase of growth.

In response, regional players across geographies are focusing on improving productivity end to end. A subset of firms is also trying to identify three to five pockets of opportunity for capturing revenue. more>

3 Keys to Engineering Success

Although success can be defined in different ways by different people, there are three very specific keys to engineering success.

By Jacob Beningo – Every engineer and engineering team wants to be successful. Success can be defined in many different ways whether it is meeting a deadline, making a customer happy, or completing work within the budget. Whatever the definition of success is, there are three keys to successful engineering, and they aren’t necessarily technical.

Success Key #1 – Maintaining Discipline

Related: 50 Top Private Engineering Firms of 2020

The first key to success is that even under the toughest conditions, discipline needs to be maintained. This isn’t a military thing, it’s common sense. I see a lot of teams that when things start to get tough, corners recklessly start getting cut. The loss of discipline creates additional problems that further get in the way of delivering and quickly become a self-feeding doom loop that wastes time and kills budget.

Maintaining discipline for success must be done at more than one level at the company. First, individual developers need to agree that no matter what pressure is put on them, they will follow their processes, perform their due diligence, and not allow themselves to decay into wild west programming. Individual developers form the foundation and if they crack, the whole project is going with them. Second, the collective team needs to agree that they will maintain their discipline no matter what. Everyone working together will help ensure that they are successful. Finally, the company management team needs to be on-board and understand that while there may be a fire today or a critical delivery date, the team has to maintain the discipline to make the delivery successful. All three levels of the business need to be on board.

In my experience, engineering success comes down to much more than technical prowess. It comes down to having and maintain discipline. It requires carefully managing expectations to deliver what is needed when it is needed not by overpromising and under-delivering. Perhaps most importantly, to have long-term success, it requires having fun doing whatever it is that you do and with the people you are doing it with. more>

Staying Focused on the Big Picture

U.S. election-related uncertainty may persist a while longer, but the relatively optimistic longer-term economic outlook hasn’t changed.
By Lisa Shalet – Now that former Vice President Joseph Biden is President-Elect, much of the election uncertainty has dissipated. Markets have factored in Biden’s win as well as the apparent lack of a Congressional Democratic sweep, but headlines concerning the transition of power could contribute to volatility.

We encourage investors to ignore short-term price swings based on the headlines and stay focused on the bigger picture. We still believe that investors should emphasize global stocks over bonds. Morgan Stanley & Co. strategists forecast that the S&P 500 Index, a broad measure of the U.S. market that is now trading around 3500, may reach 3700 by the middle of next year.

Several key points in our economic outlook are unlikely to change due to election results. Here are three reasons why:

The V-shaped economic recovery is on solid ground. October’s nonfarm payroll data was a solid upside surprise, with the unemployment rate falling and the labor participation rate rising. Consumer sentiment is holding up, and manufacturing and services indicators continue to show expansion. Housing and durable goods orders support the capital spending narrative of the new business cycle. In 2021, U.S. GDP could grow at an annualized pace of 5% to 6%—in part because the recession this year enhances the year-over-year comparison, but also given the midyear return to growth. Such economic expansion could power double-digit increases in corporate profits.

The Federal Reserve remains ultra-dovish. The central bank has stayed firm on holding its key short-term fed funds rate near zero through December, 2023. Low interest rates can stimulate growth by facilitating more borrowing, allowing consumers and businesses to spend more. The Fed has yet to define metrics or time frames for “average inflation targeting,” which will likely allow inflation to trend higher without rate intervention to check its rise. Under a policy known as quantitative easing, the Fed also continues to buy government bonds at a significant pace, a direct injection of liquidity across fixed-income markets that can also contribute to economic growth.

The COVID-19 trajectory is unlikely to lead to national lockdowns. The recent surge in new infections is unfortunate and concerning, however, as was the case in the summer, the U.S. economy remains resilient in the face of localized shutdowns. We believe that public health measures and vaccine availability will drive the pandemic’s economic impact. Hopefully by January, we could be past the peak of new cases and closer to available vaccines. Drug development pipelines remain on track to deliver some scaled vaccine distribution by summer, 2021. more>