On news reading and mind reading

One day, we're going to wake up and find out that the computers have taken over the world.

By DAVID SHAMAH
January 31, 2007 12:21
4 minute read.

 
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One day, we're going to wake up and find out that the computers have taken over. That like in a bad Twilight Zone episode, we're going to be made to change their memory chips, clean up their hard drives, check their registries and give them the attention they so crave by clicking day and night on flashing pop-up banners. Or else. No, I am not crazy. Take it from one who knows: The PCs are already getting too smart for us to handle. Where some see a mass spam attack as evidence of large groups of marketers trying to sell stuff, I see a wily plot organized by the computers themselves to start "softening" us up to the idea of waiting upon them 24/7. You spend a lot of time deleting and/or otherwise filtering out spam, right? And the spam is either always for stuff that nobody in their right mind would ever buy, or to get you to click on a link that looks too suspicious to even think about clicking on. See? Computer conspiracy! But never mind the paranoid conspiracy theories. I've got real proof that computers are preparing themselves to subdue and control the human race. Their first project is perfecting control of our minds, and to do that, they're trying to learn and understand how we think. And the way they're doing it is through a program called NewsSifter. The world has never been as interconnected and in-touch as it is today, thanks, of course, to instant electronic communications, and especially because of the Internet. What happens in even a far-off corner of the world is instant news - and immediately gets reported on hundreds of Web news sites, mailed to millions of e-mail boxes and downloaded to tens of millions of computers in the form of an RSS feed. RSS, as you may know, is a protocol that allows Web sites to "push" information to those who have subscribed to "feeds" from a particular news site. RSS is cool, because it saves you time in an effort in having to track down news stories that interest you. You can subscribe to feeds using special URLs at almost all news sites on the Web (The Jerusalem Post offers a number of RSS feeds; you can link to them at http://tinyurl.com/2t22ve). But is the news always "news"? If it's a story about an event that you don't care about, in a place you never heard of, is that - or should it be - considered "news"? Well, theoretically, any event anywhere can affect anyone, especially in our super-interconnected world; it's called the "butterfly effect." And if you had unlimited gobs of time, it would be great to be well-informed about every current event under the sun. But you don't have unlimited gobs of anything, especially time. Which means you need to be more discriminating in your news reading. But at most news sites, being discriminating takes up too much time; you have to fiddle with filters, which always seem to need adjustment. In the end, you waste so much time weeding out the stories you don't want to see, you could have spent less time on the site just glancing at everything. Enter computer mind reading - in the form of a program called NewsSifter (http://www.newssifter.net/). NewsSifter will present lists of stories to you from various news feeds (you can add your own, too). Along with the story, there's a "yes" or "no" option for reading the story. When you choose to not read a story, NewsSifter makes note of the story's characteristics - whether it's a local or global event, a tech, political analysis, international, entertainment or other type of story. Eventually, NewsSifter learns what you want to see - and will begin at some point to display only the stories it "thinks" you'll be interested in. When is "at some point"? Well, the more you use the program to read the news, the faster the process will take to complete (with programs that employ artificial intelligence to learn preferences, I have found, you usually begin to see partial results in about two weeks of normal use). But even before the "mind reading" kicks in fully, you can enjoy an easy to use RSS feed program that will bring the news to your computer. Yes, Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox both have news readers now, but for various reasons, including excess memory use, reading the news in a separate program might be preferable. NewsSifter doesn't have all the bells and whistles that other programs might, but the idea of a news reader that will save time and effort by "reading" our minds is worth the free download. And actually, NewsSifter could work for our side, instead of the way the computers intended it. If we only have to deal with the information we truly are interested in, our minds are clear enough to concentrate on the battle at hand - and when we humans put our minds to something, we usually get it done. NewsSifter is free; Requires Windows XP and Dot Net 2.0 or better (you can install Dot Net 2.0 from within NewsSifter if you don't have it installed). http://www.newzgeek.com>

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