Update on Hate Speech in Myanmar

fFacebook has posted an update on efforts to control hate speech in Myanmar.

The company has been criticized for years for its slow response in Myanmar to hate speech targeting the Rohingya minority. According to the United Nations, Facebook played “a determining factor” in the genocide and forced migration last fall of 700,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh.

Facebook now elaborates on many steps it has taken to address hate speech in Myanmar, including:

  • hiring more Burmese language content editors
  • making reporting tools easier to use
  • improving AI systems to flag questionable content
  • better coordination with civil society groups
  • building digital literacy programs for users
  • updating content policies
  • banning a number of users
  • increasing the use of unicode-compliant fonts
  • hiring third party auditors

By Facebook’s own accounting, the company is catching much more hate content for prompt removal.

Given that Facebook’s efforts in Myanmar have been variously described by civil society groups there as insufficient and secretive, the company’s new blog post taking responsibility for its actions and citing specific steps it is taking is encouraging and commendable.

Simultaneously, however, Reuters has released a new, mostly scathing¬†investigative report on Facebook’s efforts in Myanmar. The detailed analysis finds over 1000 posts, comments, and graphic images online targeting the Rohingya, some as old as six years.

Reuters researchers tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to report hateful content to Facebook. The Reuters analysis also pointed to many technical shortcomings of Facebook systems. In one glaring example of how the Burmese to English translation engine falls short, Reuters reports that a Burmese comment reading “Kill all the kalars you see in Myanmar; none of them should be left alive” is translated to English as “I shouldn’t have a rainbow in Myanmar.”

So in competing reports, Facebook says it is doing a lot with respect to Myanmar and making solid progress. Reuters reports that Facebook is not doing nearly enough, and the situation is still very dangerous. Both views are undoubtedly true.

Airbus Solar Drone Sets Record

zephyrZephyr S, the solar-powered drone built by Airbus, has set a new flight-endurance record of nearly 26 days. Flying at an altitude of 21 km by day, the drone recharges batteries using solar panels, and uses two electric motors to stay aloft. At night the drone relies on battery power and also makes a slow descent to about 17 km.

Solar-powered drones may someday do at least some of the work of satellites, providing platforms for earth imaging, telecommunications, and scientific research. Drones cost only a fraction of the cost of satellites.

Airbus has built a launch facility in Western Australia which it plans to use for worldwide deployment of its aircraft, but the company says it can also establish regional launch facilities if necessary. Zephyr drones can traverse between one and two thousand kilometers per day.

Airbus is one of several companies pursuing solar drones — although that list does not now include Facebook, which dropped out of the race. Airbus soon will launch a larger version Zephyr T, used for bigger payloads.

Will Elon Musk Eliminate Global Poverty?

muskElon Musk aims high with the companies he founds. He intends to combat global warming through electrification of society (Tesla, Solar City), reinvent transportation through use of tunnels (The Boring Company, Hyperloop), save society from abuses of Artificial Intelligence (OpenAI), recast how humans communicate with computers (Neuralink), and safeguard humanity’s future through colonization of Mars (SpaceX).

His greatest legacy, however, may be none of these. His greatest legacy may be the elimination of global poverty. He himself possibly doesn’t even know this may be an outcome of his efforts.

Bear with me here.

The planet has made great progress in the reduction of global poverty. Since 2000, the percentage of people living under $1.90 per day (the World Bank’s current definition of “extreme poverty”) has dropped from 35% to less than half that today (thanks mostly to great progress in India, and especially China). The UN has established as one of its “Sustainable Development Goals” the elimination of extreme poverty by 2030.

The challenge is that the remaining populations living in extreme poverty are the hardest to reach and assist. They are almost all rural (or remote), most in Africa, and most with little connection to government or international programs of assistance. Most have no electricity and no internet connection.

Which is where Elon Musk comes in.

With respect to electricity, poorest communities have given up on trying to link to a national electric grid (which is much too expensive) and are jumping straight to household “microgrids”. For example, India has launched a program to give by the end of 2018 all households with no electricity a microgrid comprising a solar panel, battery, five lights, fan, and cell charger. Microgrids have gotten much cheaper and better, in great part thanks to improvements in battery technology. Battery technology is being driven mostly by the popularity of electric vehicles. Electric vehicles are becoming more popular due in great part to Tesla and Elon Musk.

And with respect to internet connections, Elon Musk’s role is even more direct. SpaceX has an ambitious, relatively secretive effort to launch nearly 12,000 satellites into low earth orbit to bathe the planet in broadband. The system will be initially operational in 2020 and fully operational by 2025. This means that those places that are too difficult or expensive to reach with traditional internet connections will suddenly be online. Since less than half the planet currently has usable, affordable access to the internet, this is a really big deal.

If a household has electricity and it has internet, it can link to information services, education resources, health guidance, government programs and other services. It may be simplistic to say that extreme poverty is incompatible with global broadband — but for many reasons that is probably true.

So Elon — please keep at the global warming / transport / safe computing / saving humanity tasks — we appreciate it. And while you’re at it, you may also eliminate global poverty. Thank you in advance!