NBCUniversal is using machine learning to make ads more relevant

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Advertisers have been targeting their messages to relevant media for as long as advertising has existed. Kids’ TV channels are awash with toy commercials, breaks during wedding shows are full of ads for honeymoon destinations and so on. But now, NBCUniversal has adopted a new machine learning tool that makes the placement of ads on TV more exact, relevant and timely.

The Context Intelligence Platform analyzes scripts, closed captions and visual descriptions to identify the perfect moment for particular ads to appear. So if you’re watching a USA Network show that features a party scene, for example, it won’t be a coincidence if the following ad is for an alcoholic drinks brand. According to NBCU head of marketing and advertising creative Josh Feldman, trials of the platform have resulted in a 19 percent jump in brand memorability, 13 percent in likability and 64 percent in message memorability.

The system is due for official release early next year, with three to five advertisers currently working with NBCU on beta-testing. No details have been given on the brand names involved, but Feldman said they fall under a range of consumer categories including retailers, studios and packaged goods.

“Before there was machine learning, there was common sense,” Feldman said. “When my team created something for an advertiser that was a really heartfelt piece of marketing, we would make sure that the spot ran on heartfelt-type programming as opposed to, say, slapstick comedy. We’ve been doing this on a manual basis for a long time — but now we’re going to be able to do it at scale.”

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Google pulls gender pronouns from Gmail Smart Compose to reduce bias

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Gmail’s Smart Compose can save you valuable time when you’re firing off a quick message, but don’t expect it to refer to people as “him” or “her” — Google is playing it safe on that front. Product leaders have revealed to Reuters that Google removed gender pronouns from Smart Compose’s phrase suggestions after realizing that the AI-guided feature could be biased. When a scientist talked about meeting an investor in January, for example, Gmail offered the follow-up “do you want to meet him” — not considering the possibility that the investor could be a woman.

The problem is a typical one with natural language generation systems like Google’s: it’s based on huge volumes of historical data. As certain fields tend to be dominated by people from one gender, the AI can sometimes assume that a person belongs to that gender.

And while removing all gender pronouns may seem drastic, Google might not have had much choice. Product manager Paul Lambert said the company tried several solutions that kept pronouns, but none of them worked well. The only surefire way was to play it safe, he said. The restriction should affect less than one percent of Smart Compose suggestions, so the potential for headaches is relatively small.

The move isn’t surprising given Google’s attempts to be more inclusive of women and the LGBTQ community. At the same time, it’s also a defensive move for a company whose dependence on algorithms has caused trouble in the past. It had to tweak its autocomplete suggestions in 2016 when the search engine suggested anti-Semitic queries, for instance. If Google didn’t put limits on Smart Compose, there’s chance an everyday user could have encountered the problem and created much more of an uproar.

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Seized documents reveal that Facebook knew about Russian data harvesting as early as 2014

Facebook was apparently aware of Russian-linked data harvesting as early as 2014, according to an email from a Facebook engineer. The email was contained in internal documents that were seized by the UK Parliament and revealed at a hearing today by MP Damian Collins, via Bloomberg.

It’s the latest blow to Facebook’s inability to protect its users’ data, following breaches like the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the login data hack earlier this year. Facebook didn’t comment on the documents during the UK hearing. Richard Allan, the vice president of policy solutions at Facebook, refused to discuss the email, which had been sealed by courts in California along with other documents from Six4Three, the defunct app developer that was suing Facebook for an unrelated issue in the US and was forced to provide these documents to Parliament earlier this week. (Allan represented Facebook at the hearing after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg denied repeated requests to testify, according to The Washington Post.)

This is not the first incident involving Russian influence on Facebook. The company has faced congressional concern regarding Russian ads that appeared during the 2016 US election season, and it has repeatedly banned misinformation accounts from the Russian-based Internet Research Agency over the course of 2018.

The bigger issue is that Facebook is continuing its trend of not being transparent with the public about when it learned about Russian interferences. After the 2016 election, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg publicly dismissed the idea of misinformation on the platform impacting the election as “crazy,” despite the thousands of divisive Russian ads that would later be revealed. It’s that continuing erosion of trust that could be a real problem for the company going forward.

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Neon Genesis Evangelion is heading to Netflix

The beloved and deeply disturbing anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion is heading to Netflix. All 26 episodes, as well as films The End of Evangelion & Evangelion: Death (True)2, will be available to stream come spring 2019.

Set 15 years after a cataclysmic event, Evangelion follows a mysterious organization called Nerv as they fight against alien invaders known as Angels. The only thing stopping another disaster is a group of teenagers who pilot giant mechs known as Evangelion units.

Netflix already offers a fair mix of anime, from beloved shows like Naruto, Death Note, and Fullmetal Alchemist to newer series like Devilman Crybaby, Aggretsuko, and Castlevania. The streaming service will also add Rilakkuma and Kaoru, Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac, and Ultraman next year.

Evangelion first aired in 1995, and it remains one of the most celebrated and influential anime to date. Heavily doused in religious imagery, the show explores themes of depression and existential dread. Its arrival on Netflix marks the first time the show will be available to stream, which means a whole new generation of anime lovers will have the chance to celebrate and be scarred by its unforgettable story.

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Ted Cruz has a unsettling new 'beard' and people can't look away

No Shave November is almost over, but Ted Cruz’s “beard” looks like it’s just seconds old.

On Monday, Business Insider’s Joe Perticone tweeted that Ted Cruz had “grown a beard” over the Thanksgiving break, but some people are having a hard time locating it.

If you zoom in on the photo of Cruz, you’ll notice that dark area around certain parts of his jawline (and not at all his chin) appears to be hair. Not a shadow. Not dirt. Hmm. Fascinating.

If staring at Ted’s bare chin has boggled your mind a bit and you’ve forgotten what a beard looks, shift your gaze to the two men behind the Texas Senator who definitely have beards. See the difference?

There are several theories floating around as to why exactly Cruz decided to go grunge, but those who aren’t overthinking the reasoning behind the facial hair are just plain appalled at how comically bad it looks.

In the paraphrased words of Green Day, “Wake me up when No Shave November ends.”

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