“What the hell is that, Dad? Is it even edible?” “Shut up and keep smiling, kids. Don’t make her angry. Remember there used to be three of you.”

Figidaire Appliances for better kitchens 1950

The Singularity is a white person’s problem

terminator

Rich white folks worry about the Singularity, but AI is already making problems for the rest of us.

Kate Crawford, The New York Times:

According to some prominent voices in the tech world, artificial intelligence presents a looming existential threat to humanity: Warnings by luminaries like Elon Musk and Nick Bostrom about “the singularity” — when machines become smarter than humans — have attracted millions of dollars and spawned a multitude of conferences.

But this hand-wringing is a distraction from the very real problems with artificial intelligence today, which may already be exacerbating inequality in the workplace, at home and in our legal and judicial systems. Sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination are being built into the machine-learning algorithms that underlie the technology behind many “intelligent” systems that shape how we are categorized and advertised to.

Software used to assess the risk of recidivism in criminals is biased against blacks, as is software used by police departments across the US to identify hotspots for crime. Amazon’s same-day delivery service was initially unavailable for ZIP codes in predominantly black neighborhoods, “remarkably similar to those affected by mortgage redlining in the mid-20th century.” And women are less likely than men to be shown ads on Google for highly paid jobs.

Thanks, Cory!

Hungry men

How Years of Macho Food Marketing Is Killing Men

David Sax/New York Magazine:

There’s an incredible disconnect between the way real men eat, and the way “real men” are supposed to eat. … If it doesn’t contain the chance of diabetes, apparently “real men” won’t eat it.

According to Katherine Parkin, an associate professor of history at Monmouth University, and author of the book the sexual segregation of food marketing took shape in the 1950s, under the pioneering psychologist Ernest Dichter, who applied the theories he’d learned under Sigmund Freud to shape the new field of motivational research.

“Dichter believed that by convincing Americans of a food’s sex and its resultant gendered identity, as well as its sensuality, advertisers could suggest their foods to meet consumers’ need to fulfill their gender roles,” Parkin wrote in a research paper. “Dichter believed that many people categorized the sex of foods. However, his own subscription to a gendered taxonomy of food is evident in his assessment of the findings. For example, Dichter posited, “Perhaps the most typically feminine food is cake … The wedding cake [is] … the symbol of the feminine organ. The act of cutting the first slice by the bride and bridegroom together clearly stands as a symbol of defloration.”

This kind of overly sexualized couch philosophy may sound like demented bullshit (“Happy Birthday! Eat a vagina!”), but the ad world ate it up. Though they overwhelmingly aimed food ads toward women, who were (and remain) the primary food purchasers for households, increasingly foods became targeted by sex. If it was meaty, macho, or phallic (Dichter basically felt the Oscar Meyer wiener song was a penile love poem), it was manly enough to be sold to men.

“The manly foods — for example, a 4,000-calorie manly frozen dinner — all play on a notion that these foods will make you a man and ensure your virility,” saysParkin.

It’s actually worse than that. Manly food ads present a cleverly crafted challenge to our manhood: Are you man enough to eat this shit?

And shit it is. Manly food, as opposed to equally patronizing “lady food” (diet sodas, low-calorie cereals, herbal teas), are pretty much universally unhealthy. Huge quantities of processed, salty meats, wrapped in refined carbohydrates, saturated in chemical cheese goos, and fortified with colored sugar water.

Cox concludes with the important point that you should eat what you want, not what you think is manly. Eating junk food is fine every now and then. “If, once in a while, you find yourself hankering for Manwich and a bottle of Bud — or a chard fritatta and a glass of rosé — well, bon appétit.”

The origin of the phrase, “Sell the sizzle – not the steak”

From the April 16, 1938 issue of The New Yorker:

If a Texaco salesman at a filling station has asked you, “Is your oil at the proper level today, sir?” or if you’ve ordered a malted milk at a soda fountain and the clerk has stood there, an egg in each hand, and asked, “One or two eggs today?,” then you’ve been under the subtle influence of Mr. Elmer Wheeler, head of the Tested Selling Institute, 521 Fifth Avenue. Mr. Wheeler has adopted the profession of seducing people in the mass with words. He advises merchants how to win sales and influence customers.

Mr. Wheeler composed that suave speech about the proper level of oil to replace the crude old question “Check your oil today?” There are nine words in it, to save you the trouble of counting back, and Texaco paid Mr. Wheeler $5,000 for it. This is $555.55 a word. He worked out the malted-milk-and-egg technique, for Abraham & Straus, so that they might sell more eggs at their fountain. He not only devised the phrase “One or two eggs today?” but also planned the gesture of the clerk holding an egg in each hand.

The scene of the soda clerk, the eggs, and the timid customer (who usually takes at least one egg in his malted milk when all he wanted was a malted milk) is now reënacted thousands of times daily all over the city. It is the perfect example of one of the principles of Tested Selling, which are masterfully explained in an essay written by Mr. Wheeler some years ago and recently expanded into a book with a red-and-yellow jacket. The book has a number of Wheelerpoints in it, and the egg episode dramatizes Wheelerpoint No. 4, which is “Don’t Ask If—Ask Which! “The essence of Wheelerpoint No. 4 is that the customer should always be given a choice between something and something, not a choice between something and nothing. This point is vital, but the great motif in Tested Selling is Wheelerpoint No. 1, “Don’t Sell the Steak—Sell the Sizzle!” On this majestic theme, Mr. Wheeler writes:

“The sizzle has sold more steaks than the cow ever has, although the cow is, of course, mighty important.”

Wheeler did the equivalent of today’s A/B testing in real life; he tried different phrases and sentences on people to see which sold more product, and iterated the changes until they were just right.

People put egg in their malted milk? Is that still a thing?

[The Sizzle / John McNulty / The New Yorker]