Dec 7, 2016

The Rise of the Machines - Issue 2

Last week, we examined recent global shifts: populist politics, looming protectionism, and the anti-globalist perspective as the 2% leave the rest behind.

In "Enter the Bots," we look at post-truth first as a bread-and-butter business for BPOs that both promote false information and seek to moderate it away — often as social media empires maintain policies that seek to diminish fakery while they tacitly encourage its proliferation. We also touch on a bit of post-truth through history.

Lastly, we take a look at how machine learning is beginning to redefine our thinking in the BPO space and where it all might be going.

The Truth is Out of Style

DJ 900 Ft. Jesus’ industrial hip hop tune captures the recent debate surrounding Facebook and how it handles information and news. Ben Thompson covers both sides on stratechery.

Within offshore outsourcing, secret war rages; pitting smaller BPOs that peddle social media currency of "likes" and "follows" against the service bureaus handling social networks and review sites. The insurgents flood corporate behemoths with false profiles, which spew “Likes,” "Interests," and "Follows," manufacture reviews for and against establishments, or engage in elaborate click-through schemes. Meanwhile, big players alternately feed on the additional ad dollars implied by more users even as they feebly attempt to block trolling, hate speech, and all manner of scammery.

Twitter followers and Facebook spam are worth upwards of $800 million alone. In 2014, advertisers spent $16 billion worldwide on social media advertising.

Wired ran a piece about the unsung heroes of Facebook here in the Philippines who keep dick pics and beheadings out of sight. The New Republic provides a detailed examination of click farms in Lapu-Lapu City and how they create bogus Facebook accounts — it even has a step-by-step on how to make your very own fake phone verified account (PVA).

In a sense, business process outsourcing has fakery in its DNA. Remember when call center agents adopted anglo-sounding names to address the ugly question, “Where are you calling form?” Fortunately, that went out with fining agents for using the vernacular.

Post-truth — Bigger, Better, and Electronically Enhanced

False information is zeitgeisty these days, but it’s been around forever. Potemkin Villages describe the fake villages constructed for Empress Catherine’s trip to the Crimea and the Philippines recent attempts to whitewash Manila during high profile state visits and events.

Check out Salon’s short survey of fake news from 8th-century papal deception to Benjamin Franklin’s Boston Independent Chronicle deception designed to advance his negotiations to secure reparations from the British.

Social media outlets should definitely think about the fake news issue. Jeff Jarvis has a few ideas, but the reality is, "it's complicated." Social media profits from the fantastic and the absurd just as print media sold papers on the strength of yellow journalism. You'll remember William Randolph Hearst’s jihad against the doddering Spanish empire that ceded the Philippines to the United States.

For a great read on incipient American expansion into the Philippines check out Honor in the Dust by Gregg Jones and A War of Frontier and Empire by David Silbey.

Here in the present day — maybe Apple News is the answer — in case you didn’t know, there’s (a new) app for that. For those looking for the local fare, check out Rappler’s app.

Enter the Bots

False news might not be a new phenomenon, but technology helps it move faster and further. As social media and journalism collide, Bakken & Baeck’s Building a Robot Journalist maps building a machine journalist to report football matches in the Norwegian top division.

Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft's advances in machine learning will certainly trigger a revolution of massive scope. Massive like the Internet and mobile communications shifts were massive.

Business process outsourcing should pay attention. Automation is a perennial concern for workers who face obsolescence and a preoccupation for the BPO industry that strives to maintain efficiency while maintaining billing margins.

Cloud-based machine learning is becoming widely available with Google’s Cloud Machine Learning Platform or Amazon’s version of the same. Recruiting outsourcers (RPOs) should check out Google’s Cloud Jobs API. Certainly, BPOs (KPOs, BPMs, etc.) should be looking at Machine Learning as a tool for maximizing work volume and quality.

Chatbots promise to help outsourcers deliver support using natural language queries in guises like web chat, SMS, websites, or in-app support. An early example, the free service DoNotPay, settled over 160,00 parking tickets in New York and London. Chatbots aren’t there yet. To see the other side of the equation, read Intercom’s Bots vs. humans.

As things get more surreal, it might be time to dust off a copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey for a taste of machines gone awry, in case you haven’t been following WestWorld. If you’re convinced that these are on the distant horizon, check out 1,000 Robots Dancing.


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