A clever algorithm generating millions of random ideas is turning the tables on patent trolls — Quartz

A clever algorithm generating millions of random ideas is turning the tables on patent trolls — Quartz

Artist and engineer Alexander Reben has written an algorithm that exploits the convoluted US patent system in order to mess with patent trolls—people and organizations who file for patents on trivial concepts without any intention of building a product, then extort money from those who actually make things.

His project, All Prior Art, posts ideas for “inventions” to prevent people from filing patents they’re not going to use. According to US patent law, if there’s “prior art“—in this case, a previously published version of the idea—no one can file a patent on it. He’s posted 4.2 million such ideas and counting.

Says Reben, “The real purpose of the patent system is to reward innovation and help protect people who put in a lot of time and money testing and doing R&D.” He hopes to address this with his fake ideas.

The algorithm pulls from the entirety of current US patents and mashes together random phrases and sentences, so the inventions are quite often meaningless.

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Finding Your Soul Mate Online May Be Harder Than the Dating Sites Suggest

Finding Your Soul Mate Online May Be Harder Than the Dating Sites Suggest

The researchers weren’t interested in what the daters discussed, or even whether they seemed to share personality traits, backgrounds, or interests. Instead, they were searching for subtle similarities in how they structured their sentences—specifically, how often they used function words such as it, that, but, about, never, and lots. This synchronicity, known as “language style matching,” or LSM, happens unconsciously. But the researchers found it to be a good predictor of mutual affection: An analysis of conversations involving 80 speed daters showed that couples with high LSM scores were three times as likely as those with low scores to want to see each other again.

It’s not just speech patterns that can encode chemistry. Other studies suggest that when two people unknowingly coordinate nonverbal cues, such as hand gestures, eye gaze, and posture, they’re more apt to like and understand each other. These findings raise a tantalizing question: Could a computer know whom we’re falling for before we do?

Welcome to the vision of Eli Finkel. A professor of psychology and management at Northwestern University and a co-author of the LSM study, Finkel is a prominent critic of popular dating sites such as eHarmony and Chemistry, which claim to possess a formula that can connect you with your soul mate. Finkel’s beef with these sites, he says, isn’t that they “use math to get you dates,” as OKCupid puts it. It’s that they go about it all wrong. As a result, Finkel argues, their matching algorithms likely foretell love no better than chance.

The problem, he explains, is that they rely on information about individuals who have never met—namely, self-reported personality traits and preferences. Decades of relationship research show that romantic success hinges more on how two people interact than on who they are or what they believe they want in a partner. Attraction, scientists tell us, is created and kindled in the glances we exchange, the laughs we share, and the other myriad ways our brains and bodies respond to one another.

Which is why, according to Finkel, we’ll never predict love simply by browsing photographs and curated profiles, or by answering questionnaires. “So the question is: Is there a new way to leverage the Internet to enhance matchmaking, so that when you get face to face with a person, the odds that you’ll be compatible with that person are higher than they would be otherwise?”

On Permission, by Craig Mod · The Manual

On Permission, by Craig Mod · The Manual

I wonder about the waterfall of tweets. I wonder about the @ replies. I wonder how much mail is sitting in my inbox—something I haven’t checked since I went to sleep the night before. I wonder what news has been plastered on Techmeme, how AAPL and AMZN and TSLA have done today. I wonder what’s happened on Facebook, what new photographs are waiting, what new trending tidbits chosen by the algorithm are sitting atop my newsfeed.

And then I think about the algorithm itself. I wonder if it’s sad. If she is sad. It’s been nearly twenty hours since she last saw me. Since my last visit. Suddenly, with my new rules, I wonder if her feelings have been hurt, even though I know this algorithm has no feelings, or certainly none for me.


Investigating the algorithms that govern our lives – Columbia Journalism Review

Investigating the algorithms that govern our lives – Columbia Journalism Review


  1. How big data is unfair”: A layperson’s guide to why big data and algorithms are inherently biased.
  2. Algorithmic accountability reporting: On the investigation of black boxes”: The primer on reporting on algorithms, by Nick Diakopoulos, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland who has written extensively on the intersection of journalism and algorithmic accountability. A must-read.
  3. Certifying and removing disparate impact”: The computer scientist’s guide to locating and and fixing bias in algorithms computationally, by Suresh Venkatasubramanian and colleagues. Some math is involved, but you can skip it.
  4. The Curious Journalist’s Guide to Data: Jonathan Stray’s gentle guide to thinking about data as communication, much of which applies to reporting on algorithms as well.

Happiness to mindfulness, via wellbeing: how publishing trends grow | Books | The Guardian

Happiness to mindfulness, via wellbeing: how publishing trends grow | Books | The Guardian

I’ve written before about my problems with literary decluttering. But who in their right mind would want to keep eight copies of a directory that barely changes from year to year except for the entries that are out of date? Well – sigh! – me. And here’s why. Many volumes ago, I was asked to write an essay on a literary editor’s life for this sturdy compendium of information for people aspiring to a writing career. While extolling the value of making lists, I wrote that it helped to spot the signs of new publishing trends.

My trend-spotting habit dates back to 1999, when it was all commodity books (powered by the success of Mark Kurlansky’s Cod). In 2002, there was a fad for cute micro-histories with titles almost as long as the text – who today remembers Lord Minimus: The Extraordinary Life of Britain’s Smallest Man?

And so it goes. By 2008, it was all about happiness, with a generical range that took in the historical, the scientific and the philosophical: clearly something more interesting was happening than a dozen books with the same word in the title. By 2012, everything was a biography, as the (yet again) updated essay noted: “We’ve had biographies of food, of cities, of an ocean, the Ordnance Survey map and even cancer.”

The point about trend-spotting is that it helps to find a shape in what can seem like one damned book after another. It’s particularly pleasing when, like the happiness boom, it connects different disciplines and appears to be driven by something more significant than simply publishers out to replicate the last big thing. Happiness led to wellbeing, which in turn led to mindfulness. This says something about social neuroses and efforts to analyse, solve and exploit them. With hindsight, it doesn’t seem coincidental that this strand of thinking and publishing coincided with the financial crash of 2007-8.

And hindsight is what those eight volumes of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook give me. They represent a historiography of my reading life, and the points at which it intersected with the wider culture, long after the books involved have been jettisoned.

Watch this space.