FEATURED STORY

Copyrightability of Java APIs revisited

Google has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the CAFC’s ruling that Oracle's Java APIs are copyrightable.

Editor’s note: this is a forthcoming article for the March 2015 issue of Communications of the ACM (CACM); it is published here with permission.

For more than 20 years, the prevailing view has been that application program interfaces (APIs) are unprotectable elements of copyrighted computer programs. Under this view, programmers are free to reimplement other firms’ APIs in independently written code. Competition and innovation in the software industry has thrived amazingly well in part because of rulings upholding this understanding.

Challenging this view is the Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit (CAFC) May 2014 decision in Oracle v. Google. The CAFC held that the “structure, sequence, and organization” (SSO) of Oracle’s Java APIs that Google reimplemented in its Android software are protectable expression under copyright law. It reversed a lower court ruling that the Java APIs were not copyrightable.

Google has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the CAFC’s ruling. Several amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs have been filed in support of this effort. Hewlett-Packard, Red Hat, and Yahoo! (PDF) are among these amici (as am I and 77 computer scientists).

The Supreme Court may take the case because the CAFC’s decision is in conflict with other appellate court rulings that exclude APIs from copyright protection.

This article will explain the Oracle and Google theories about the copyrightability of Java APIs and the precedents on which each relies. The stakes in this case could not be higher. Read more…

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Uber is breaking bad

Uber has built a great service. Why do they feel the need to use dirty tricks to succeed?

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Tim O’Reilly has said that Uber is an example of designing for how the world ought to be. Their app works well, their cars are clean, their drivers are pleasant, and they usually arrive quickly. But more goes into the experience of a company than just an app. Corporate behavior is also part of the company’s design; perhaps not as noticeable as their Android or iPhone app, but a very real part. That’s where Uber falls down. They have increasingly been a bad actor, on many counts:

I could go on (advertising hot female drivers, abuses of their privacy policy, and more), but I won’t. You get the point. This is #GamerGate, but with a $17 billion valuation behind it. Read more…

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Holistic experience design: the O’Reilly Radar Podcast

Mary Treseler talks about O'Reilly's new design investigation, and Trina Chiasson talks about typography and visualization.

Editor’s note: you can subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast through iTunes, SoundCloud, or directly through our podcast’s RSS feed.

In this week’s Radar Podcast episode, I talk with Mary Treseler, director of strategic content at O’Reilly, about our new investigation into experience design and how it’s shaping our future. Treseler notes a couple of key factors driving the investigation:

“What I’m seeing here and what I’ve been watching is the focus move from technology to design. Experience design or interaction design has always been around, but there are a couple of factors that are really pushing it into the spotlight. One being that we’re seeing more widespread support of design as a corporate asset, as something that could be a competitive advantage to businesses. The other is the Internet of Things, looking at the convergence of the digital and physical worlds, and what that means for designers and how they can impact the future.”

Read more…

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We need open models, not just open data

If you really want to understand the effect data is having, you need the models.

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Writing my post about AI and summoning the demon led me to re-read a number of articles on Cathy O’Neil’s excellent mathbabe blog. I highlighted a point Cathy has made consistently: if you’re not careful, modelling has a nasty way of enshrining prejudice with a veneer of “science” and “math.”

Cathy has consistently made another point that’s a corollary of her argument about enshrining prejudice. At O’Reilly, we talk a lot about open data. But it’s not just the data that has to be open: it’s also the models. (There are too many must-read articles on Cathy’s blog to link to; you’ll have to find the rest on your own.)

You can have all the crime data you want, all the real estate data you want, all the student performance data you want, all the medical data you want, but if you don’t know what models are being used to generate results, you don’t have much. Read more…

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The robotic worm

Does the way a brain is wired determine how we think and behave? Recent research points to a resounding yes.

Editor’s note: this is an excerpt from the latest edition of BioCoder; it is republished here with permission. Get your free copy of BioCoder Fall 2014 here.

CElegansNeurons

One of the age-old questions has been whether the way a brain is wired, negating other attributes such as intracellular systems biology, will give rise to how we think and how we behave. We are not at the point yet to answer that question regarding the human brain. However, by using the well-mapped connectome of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans, shown above), we were able to answer this question as a resounding yes, at least for simpler animals. Using a simple robot (a Lego Mindstorms EV3) and connecting sensors on the robot to stimulate specific simulated sensory neurons in an artificial connectome, and condensing worm muscle excitation to move a left and right motor on the robot, we observed worm-like behaviors in the robot based purely on environmental factors. Read more…

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The future of food

We could soon have lab-grown hamburgers, not in the $300,000 range but in the $10 range — would you eat one?

Editor’s note: this is an excerpt from the latest edition of BioCoder; it is republished here with permission. Get your free copy of BioCoder Fall 2014 here.

“So I had an accident.”

That was the call I got from a scientist entrepreneur friend of mine, John Schloendorn, the CEO of Gene and Cell Technologies. He’d been working on potential regenerative medicine therapies and tinkering with bioreactors to grow human cell lines. He left the lab for the weekend, and then something went wrong with one of his bioreactors: something got stuck in it.

“So, I was wondering what happened with my bioreactor and how this big chunk of plastic had gotten in there and ruined my cytokine production run. I was pulling it out, and I thought it was was weird because it was floppy. I threw it in the garbage. A little later, after thinking about it, I realized it wasn’t plastic and pulled it out of the garbage.” Read more…

Comments: 4