Hany Farid, Algorithm King

  1. A distressing mark of The Fall
  2. Transported to an alien world
  3. The least of these
  4. Hany Farid


For a doom-and-gloomer, I’m normally pretty chipper. If I was a pagan, my patron saint probably would be Sisyphus, and my tombstone would say “Darn! Just when I almost had this all figured out!”

But I got pretty bummed on Friday to learn that a Christian public figure I respect had acted shamefully toward another Christian public figure I respect, who had responded with uncharacteristic personal pique. What bummed me out is that they’re so obviously natural allies, but I don’t see them cooperating again any time soon. If it was Rachel Held Evans spatting with Robbie George, it would be a total yawner.

Sorry, no links — a conscious choice not to gossip or exacerbate a distressing mark of The Fall.

Ah, Lent! At least this is an incident of the best not lacking all conviction.


[Anthony] Esolen’s talent is unique amongst essayists in that he is able to create worlds in ways we typically expect to find in fiction and poetry. Esolen is an English professor so perhaps that is not surprising, but even amongst the literature scholars I have read Esolen is unique. Reading him called to mind for me the experience of reading C. S. Lewis or Oliver O’Donovan. As you read, you become more and more aware of the fact that these authors haven’t simply read a lot of books; they have imaginatively lived in a world that you yourself do not know and they are speaking from their place within that world.

(Jake Meador)


Christian nations from the time of Byzantium have taxed the wealthy in order to provide for the least of their people. The heretical teachings being floated about that abundance and prosperity are signs of a strong Christian faith, has infected many in our nation. They want to defend and protect the wealth of a few at the expense of those who have the least, as though the least among us deserve their station in life. The disparity between the very wealthy and the poor has never been this extreme in our nation’s history.

(Abbott Tryphon) That’s not the whole story, but an important part.


Is Hany Farid a mensch or is he Big Brother’s enabler?

The child-porn industry was nearly defunct by the 1990s, because negatives and videotapes can be confiscated and destroyed. “Then the internet came,” Mr. Farid says, “and all hell broke loose.”

Supply can create its own demand. Much like jihadists, deviants formed a global community, finding each other online and sharing what are really crime-scene photos. Like ISIS agitprop, material is continuously copied, cut, spliced, resized, recompressed and otherwise changed, in part to evade detection as it is retransmitted again and again.

Mr. Farid worked with Microsoft to solve both problems—detection and replication. He coded a tool called Photo DNA that uses “robust hashing” to sweep for child porn. “The hashing part is that you reach into a digital image and extract a unique signature. The robust part is if that image undergoes simple changes, the fingerprint shouldn’t change. When you change your clothes, cut your hair, as you age, your DNA stays constant,” he says. “That’s what you want from this distinct fingerprint.”

The algorithm matches against a registry of known illegal signatures, or hashes, to find and delete photographs, audio and video. Photo DNA is engineered to work at “internet scale,” says Mr. Farid, meaning it can process billions of uploads a day in microseconds with a low false-positive rate and little human intervention.

Monitoring by Photo DNA, which is licensed by Microsoft at no cost and now used in most networks, revealed that the nature of the problem was “not what we thought it was,” says Ernie Allen, the retired head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Child pornography was far more widely circulated than law enforcement believed. “Hany Farid changed the world,” Mr. Allen adds. “His innovation rescued or touched the lives of thousand of kids, and uncovered perpetrators, and prevented terrible revictimization as content was constantly redistributed.”

Now he’s turning similar technology to extremism, especially of the Islamic variety, as many of our home-grown terrorists have been radicalized on the internet, not in some camp in Yemen or wherever.

But the “ethos” of Silicon Valley doesn’t include becoming the censors of the internet, and tech firms fear a slippery slope. “The concern they have is, OK, first they came for the child porn, then they came for the extremism, next they’re going to take the kitten videos,” Mr. Farid says …

Mr. Farid concedes that there are dangers: “This type of technology is agnostic in what it’s looking for. It can be used in ways we would not approve of, such as stifling speech. You can’t deny that. This is what we’ve learned about technology over the years—it can be used for good and for bad. Social media platforms can be good and bad.”

There has been some progress. Twitter has deleted hundreds of thousands of handles associated with terrorism since 2015, and late last year Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft and YouTube announced an industry antiterror consortium. But Mr. Farid’s robust hashing remains a hard sell.

(Joseph Rago, How Algorithms Can Help Beat Islamic State)

* * * * *

“The truth is that the thing most present to the mind of man is not the economic machinery necessary to his existence; but rather that existence itself; the world which he sees when he wakes every morning and the nature of his general position in it. There is something that is nearer to him than livelihood, and that is life.” (G.K. Chesterton)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.