Nat Torkington

Nat has chaired the O'Reilly Open Source Convention and other O'Reilly conferences for over a decade. He ran the first web server in New Zealand, co-wrote the best-selling Perl Cookbook, and was one of the founding Radar bloggers. He lives in New Zealand and consults in the Asia-Pacific region.

Four short links: 5 May 2016

Four short links: 5 May 2016

Giphy Pro, Harvesting Robots, Network Ethics, and Music Transcription

  1. Giphy Wants All the GIFs (Backchannel) — they’re licensing legit high-res metadata-rich GIFs from content producers, wanting to become a real search engine. The description of metadata problems on user contributions is interesting. GIF tags were incredibly spammy (“every teenage kid tags everything ‘One Direction’ and ‘Bieber,’” gripes Chung), and many of the GIFs themselves were low-quality due to file-size limits on popular sites such as Reddit and Tumblr. And there was a ton of porn. They were forced to manually clean it up, adding good metadata and using Mechanical Turk to get rid of the NSFW files.
  2. Sweeper Robot — project to build sweet pepper harvesting robot. (via RoboHub)
  3. Workshop on Ethics in Networked Systems Research (SIGCOMM) — it’s about ethics in networked systems research.
  4. Music Transcription Modelling and Composition using Deep Learning (gitxiv) — We build and train LSTM networks using approximately 23,000 music transcriptions expressed with a high-level vocabulary (ABC notation), and use them to generate new transcriptions. With source.

(more…)

Comment
Four short links: 4 May 2016

Four short links: 4 May 2016

AI Murder, Openness in AI, Spectrum Challenge, and SDR Apps

  1. Mika Model (Slate) — a new story from Paolo Bacigalupi, asking whether an AI’d up sex doll could commit murder. The companion article by Ryan Calo takes the story’s situation seriously and tries to answer that question, and is fascinating.
  2. Strategic Implications of Openness in AI Development (Nick Bostrom, PDF) — Some forms of openness are plausibly positive on both counts (openness about safety measures, openness about goals). Others (openness about source code, science, and possibly capability) could e.g. lead to a tightening of the competitive situation around the time of the introduction of advanced AI, increasing the probability that winning the AI race is incompatible with using any safety method that incurs a delay or limits performance. We identify several key factors that must be taken into account by any well-founded opinion on the matter. An argument for a closed-source singularity.
  3. Spectrum Collaboration Challengethe world’s first collaborative machine-intelligence competition to overcome spectrum scarcity, run by DARPA.
  4. LimeSDRa low cost, open source, apps-enabled (more on that later) software defined radio (SDR) platform that can be used to support just about any type of wireless communication standard. With an App Store (via Snappy Ubuntu Core’s app distribution platform).

(more…)

Comment
Four short links: 3 May 2016

Four short links: 3 May 2016

NHS Data Sharing, Underactuated Robotics, April Robotics Numbers, and The Counterfactual Internet

  1. NHS Data Sharing (Ben Goldacre) — as this project lands, we’re all becoming rapidly aware that incompetence, malice and creepiness around confidential data is policed with a worryingly light touch. Ben is scrupulously fair with the benefits and the risks, as clear on the state-of-the-art limitations for data sharing as the opportunities. We have a golden opportunity in the UK, with 60 million people cared for in one glorious NHS.
  2. Underactuated Robotics — MIT coursenotes, forming a working draft of a book is about building robots that move with speed, efficiency, and grace. I believe that this can only be achieve[d] through a tight coupling between mechanical design, passive dynamics, and nonlinear control synthesis. Therefore, these notes contain selected material from dynamical systems theory, as well as linear and nonlinear control.
  3. April Sees Robotics Investment Up (Robohub) — April was a big month for investing in robotics – 19 companies were funded to the tune of $175 million vs. $15.8M in January, $18.6M in February, and $45.4M in March. Four companies were acquired with 3 of the 4 reporting selling prices totaling $422 million.
  4. Inevitability in Technology (Ben Evans) — We think of the portal model as a dead-end, but half a billion Chinese Internet users suggest that it could have been otherwise. The Chinese internet is a great way to challenge your thinking on what’s inevitable in technology – it’s a living counterfactual.

(more…)

Comment
Four short links: 2 May 2016

Four short links: 2 May 2016

AI Values, Grokking Live Video, Teaching the Future, and Service Workers are the Future

  1. Digital GeniesThe worst thing is a machine that has the wrong values, but is absolutely convinced it has the right ones, because then there’s nothing you can do to divert it from the path it thinks it’s supposed to be following. But if it’s uncertain about what it’s supposed to be following, a lot of the issues become easier to deal with because then the machine says, OK, I know that I’m supposed to be optimizing human values, but I don’t know what they are. It’s precisely this uncertainty that makes the machine safer, because it’s not single minded in pursuing its objectives. It allows itself to be corrected.
  2. Twitter’s AI for Live Video (MIT TR) — deep learning to recognise activity and objects in videos, so Periscope live streams can be searched for and found. I imagine there’s a large portion of the deep learning devoted to forbidden pink.
  3. Teach the Future — materials to “teach the future as we teach the past”, for students in secondary or later. (via Stuart Candy)
  4. Well-Crafted Websites (Adrian Holovaty) — It’s clear to me, studying the history, that service workers are the next big “well-crafted” hint. The signs and similarities are all there. Today, they’re used mostly by fringe sites, in an experimental fashion. It’s inevitable that in a short generation they’ll become common and expected.

(more…)

Comment
Four short links: 29 April 2016

Four short links: 29 April 2016

AI Gym, Open Sourced Xamarin, History Mining, and Club Economics

  1. OpenAI GymA toolkit for developing and comparing reinforcement learning algorithms. It supports teaching agents everything from walking to playing games like Pong or Go.
  2. Open Xamarin — the Xamarin tools are now all MIT-licensed, after the Microsoft acquisition. And show no signs of being abandoned.
  3. Text-Mining the History of MedicineIn this article, we present our efforts to overcome the various challenges faced in the semantic analysis of published historical medical text dating back to the mid 19th century.
  4. A Journal Is a Club (Cameron Neylon) — I’ve been frustrated for a long time with traditional economic analyses of scholarly publishing. They don’t seem to explain what actually happens, and fail to capture critical aspects of what is going on. The lens of club economics seems like it might help to capture more of the reality of what is going on.

(more…)

Comment
Four short links: 28 April 2016

Four short links: 28 April 2016

Questioning Physical Affordances, Market Solution to Peer Review, Automating Engineering Away, and Data Metaphors

  1. The Shape of Things (Tom Coates) — In fact it’s this problem of what’s most intuitive that gives me most pause for tangible computing generally. The assumption from many of these thinkers is that making an interface that’s physical makes it inherently more intuitive. But I don’t buy that physical affordances alone will make it immediately obvious what a smart connected object is for. Sure, you pick up a hammer and you immediately want to hit something (or maybe that’s just me) — but is that true of a smart hammer?
  2. Improving the Peer Review Process: A Proposed Market System (PDF) — We thus suggest a more efficient and integrity-preserving system based on an open two-sided market in which buyers and sellers of peer review services would both be subject to a set of recursive quality indicators. We lay out key features we think would be important to reduce the opportunities for gaming and that improve the signals about the societal value of a contribution. Cool story bro, but until academics are rewarded financially/professionally for publishing in a Better System, most will accept/route-around the current system.
  3. Are Engineers Designing Their Robotic Replacements? — yes, and that’s the exciting part of software engineering right now.
  4. Metaphors of Data, a Reading ListThe goal in assembling this list was to catalog resources that are helpful in unpacking and critiquing different metaphors, ranging from the hype around data as the new oil to less common (and perhaps more curious) formulations, such as data as sweat or toxic waste.

(more…)

Comment
Four short links: 27 April 2016

Four short links: 27 April 2016

VR CMS, Scientific Progress, Router Exploits, and The Quiet Despair of Startup Life

  1. Idea Space VR — CMS for VR worlds published on the open web.
  2. Does Science Advance One Funeral At a Time? (PDF) — answer: yes. Research shows that when alpha scientists die, their collaborators wither and the field blooms. (via Roger Dennis)
  3. Routersploit — metasploit-like framework for banging on routers.
  4. Uncanny Valley“This is the next big company,” he had said. “It’s a rocket ship.” He was right. I had been banking on him being right. Still, there are days when all I want is to disembark, eject myself into space, admit defeat.

(more…)

Comment
Four short links: 26 April 2016

Four short links: 26 April 2016

Driverless Trucks, Say No, Pricing Truths, and Task Worker Stats

  1. Driverless Trucking Numbers (TechCrunch) — $4.5k to truck something across country, 75% of which is labour. Trucks most fuel-efficient at 45mph but drivers are paid by the hour and their hours capped at 11/day. More truck drivers killed on the job than any other occupation. Truck drivers are 1% of the workforce, and it’s the most common job in 29 states. And more “gosh this is gonna be interesting” numbers.
  2. Email Isn’t the Problem — Glyph nails it. The thing you are bad at is saying ‘no’ to people. The downside of lauding 20 year olds in tech is that they build software for other 20 year olds: software that creates noise, distraction, opportunity. When you are doing what you want to do, though, that same software inhibits your ability to do it. All we have is poorly-evolved meat to fight the wily silicon ….
  3. Terrible Truths of Pricing — The first rule of pricing is that you don’t talk about pricing. What he says might be true, but the absence of any question of morality around pricing drugs (which he tackles outright) makes me grumble “price of everything and value of nothing”.
  4. The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995-2015 (PDF) — Workers who provide services through online intermediaries, such as Uber or Task Rabbit, accounted for 0.5 percent of all workers in 2015. About twice as many workers selling goods or services directly to customers reported finding customers through offline intermediaries than through online intermediaries.

(more…)

Comment
Four short links: 25 April 2016

Four short links: 25 April 2016

VR Movies, Retiring Products, Public Surveys and False Democracy, Federated Design Teams

  1. Making Movies with Virtual RealityAs Julia Kaganskiy, who runs an art-and-technology incubator at the New Museum, put it, “We’re watching the semiotics come together in front of our eyes.”
  2. A Methodology for Retiring Products — if you’re any good, you’ll have to do this.
  3. Boaty McBoatface and the False Promise of Democracy — my take: you want opinions, but you also want committed opinions. Your poll/survey/vote will erect (or fail to erect) barriers to participation, and those barriers represent a measure of commitment. No barriers = lots of votes, but high risk of Boaty McBoatface. High barriers = few votes, but from those who care.
  4. Team Models for Scaling a Design System — actually a dig into federated design teams, which is the rough shape that a lot of large companies end up in. The fundamental tension: As a design system stabilizes, every team I’ve observed has designers that do build, document and sustain it, and designers that can’t or say they want to but don’t.

(more…)

Comment
Four short links: 22 April 2016

Four short links: 22 April 2016

Unicorn Hazards Ahead, Brainprinting for Identity, Generating News Headlines, and Anthropic Capitalism

  1. Why The Unicorn Financing Market Just Became Dangerous to Everyone — read with Fortune’s take on the Tech IPO Market. “They profess to take a long-term view, but the data shows post-IPO stocks are very volatile in the case of tech IPOs, and that is not a problem the underwriters try to address.” Damning breakdown of the current state. As Bryce said, Single-horned, majestic, Weapons of Mass Extraction.
  2. Brainprints (Kurzweil) — 50 subjects, 500 images, EEG headset, 100% accuracy identifying person from their brain’s response to the images. We’ll need much larger studies, but this is promising.
  3. Generating News Headlines with Recurrent Neural NetworksWe find that the model is quite effective at concisely paraphrasing news articles.
  4. Anthropic Capitalism And The New Gimmick Economy — market capitalism struggles with “public goods” (those which are inexhaustible and non-excludable, like infinitely copyable bits that any number of people can have copies of at once), yet much of the world is being recast as an activity where software manipulates information, thus becoming a public good. Capitalism and Communism, which briefly resembled victor and vanquished, increasingly look more like Thelma and Louise; a tragic couple sent over the edge by forces beyond their control. What comes next is anyone’s guess and the world hangs in the balance.

(more…)

Comment