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: 15 April 2016

Four short links: 15 April 2016

Building Economic Models, Living in a Computer Simulation, Distributed Ledgers, and 3D-Imaged DNA

  1. How to Build an Economic Model in Your Spare Time (PDF) — Hal Varian’s article is to economics research what The Manual by the KLF is to pop music.
  2. Are We Living in a Computer Simulation? (Scientific American) — an overview of the kind of scientific argument one normally has in the pub rather than Scientific American.
  3. Intel Ledger — open source experimental distributed ledger from Intel, described here.
  4. Berkeley Lab captures first high-res 3D images of DNA segments (Kurzweil) — “This is the first time for directly visualizing an individual double-strand DNA segment in 3D.”
Comment: 1
Four Short Links: 14 April 2016

Four Short Links: 14 April 2016

New Statesmen, Autonomous Vehicle Reliability, Conversational Software, and TensorFlow Playground

  1. Tech CEOs Cast Themselves as the New Statesmen (Buzzfeed) — the logical consequence of the corporation replacing elected government as the most efficacious unit of organization.
  2. How Many Miles of Driving Would It Take to Demonstrate Autonomous Vehicle Reliability? (RAND) — it may not be possible to establish with certainty the safety of autonomous vehicles. Uncertainty will remain. In parallel to developing new testing methods, it is imperative to develop adaptive regulations that are designed from the outset to evolve with the technology so that society can better harness the benefits and manage the risks of these rapidly evolving and potentially transformative technologies.
  3. We Don’t Know How to Build Conversational Software — current brand-driven conversations are deeply underwhelming (phone trees with more typing is dystopic shopping), but I don’t know that we need to solve general AI for chatbots to provide an illusion of utility.
  4. TensorFlow Playgroundtinker with a neural network right here in your browser. Don’t worry, you can’t break it. We promise.
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Four short links: 13 April 2016

Four short links: 13 April 2016

Gesture Learner, Valuing Maintainers, Google's CS Education, and AI Threats

  1. focusmotion.iothe world’s first machine learning SDK to track, learn, and analyze human motion on any sensor, on any OS, on any platform. You (or your users) train it on what combination of sensor patterns to label as a particular gesture or movement, and then it’ll throw those labels whenever.
  2. How Maintainers, not Innovators, Make the World Turn (City Lab) — cf Deb Chachra’s Why I Am Not a Maker and everything Warren Buffett ever wrote about investing in boring businesses. It’s nice to realize that we’ve gone from “you’d be crazy to throw your career away and join a startup” to “hey, established industry isn’t bad, either, you know.”
  3. Google CS Education — all their tools and resources for CS education in one spot.
  4. Will The Proliferation of Affordable AI Decimate the Middle Class? (Alex Tabarrok) — I hadn’t heard this done before, but he steps away from the A in AI to ask whether greater natural intelligence would threaten the middle class in the same way—e.g., from rising India and China.

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Four short links: 12 April 2016

Four short links: 12 April 2016

Driverless Car Governance, Robots Conference, AR/VR Business Models, and Google SRE Book

  1. Robust and Transparent Governance is Key to Building Trust in Driverless Cars (Robohub) — I was just talking through this with my cousin. Who makes decisions and how accountable are they for them?
  2. We Robot Conference Roundup — videos of talks on How to Engage the Public on the Ethics and Governance of Lethal Autonomous Weapons and other subjects. (You had my attention at “lethal autonomous weapons.”)
  3. The Reality of AR/VR Business Models (TechCrunch) — list of potential revenue streams and superficial analysis of what they might look like in practice: hardware, e-commerce, advertising, mobile data/voice, in-app purchases, subscriptions, enterprise/b2b, and premium apps.
  4. Notes on Google’s SRE Book — said book published by O’Reilly, I’m chuffed to say. SRE = Site Reliability Engineer = the DevOps magicians who make uptime at scale possible.
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Four short links: 11 April 2016

Four short links: 11 April 2016

Speech GUI, AI Personality Design, Bipedal Robot, and Markets for Good

  1. SpeechKITT — open source flexible GUI for interacting with Speech Recognition in your web app.
  2. The Humanities Majors Designing AI Interactions — who else are you going to get to do it? As in fiction, the AI writers for virtual assistants dream up a life story for their bots. Writers for medical and productivity apps make character decisions such as whether bots should be workaholics, eager beavers or self-effacing. “You have to develop an entire backstory — even if you never use it,” Ewing said.
  3. SCHAFT’s Bipedal Robot — not an Austin Powers reference, but a clever working proof-of-concept. In theory, bipedalism allows robots to go wherever we can (versus, say, a Dalek).
  4. Markets for GoodInformation to drive social impact.
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Four short links: 8 April 2016

Four short links: 8 April 2016

Data Security, Bezos Letter, Working Remote, and Deep Learning Book

  1. LangSecThe complexity of our computing systems (both software and hardware) have reached such a degree that data must treated as formally as code.
  2. Bezos’s Letter to Shareholders — as eloquent about success in high-risk tech as Warren Buffett is about success in value investing.
  3. Good Bad and Ugly of Working Remote After 5 Years — good advice, and some realities for homeworkers to deal with.
  4. Deep Learning Book — text finished, prepping print production via MIT Press. Why are you using HTML format for the drafts? This format is a sort of weak DRM required by our contract with MIT Press. It’s intended to discourage unauthorized copying/editing of the book.
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Four short links: 7 April 2016

Four short links: 7 April 2016

Fairness in Machine Learning, Ethical Decision-Making, State of Hardware, and Against Web DRM

  1. Fairness in Machine Learning — read this fabulous presentation. Most ML objective functions create models accurate for the majority class at the expense of the protected class. One way to encode “fairness” might be to require similar/equal error rates for protected classes as for the majority population.
  2. Safety Constraints and Ethical Principles in Collective Decision-Making Systems (PDF) — self-driving cars are an example of collective decision-making between intelligent agents and, possibly, humans. Damn it’s hard to find non-paywalled research in this area. This is horrifying for the list of things you can’t ensure in collective decision-making systems.
  3. State of Hardware Report (Nate Evans) — rundown of the stats related to hardware startups. (via Renee DiResta)
  4. A Recent Discussion about DRM (Joi Ito) — strong arguments against including Digital Rights Management in W3C’s web standards (I can’t believe we’re still debating this; it’s such a self-evidently terrible idea to bake disempowerment into web standards).
Comment: 1
Four short links: 6 April 2016

Four short links: 6 April 2016

Hi-Techtiles, Recreating 3D, Mobile Deep Learning, and Correlation Games

  1. U.S. Textile Industry Turns to Tech as Gateway to RevivalWarwick Mills is joining the Defense Department, universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and nearly 50 other companies in an ambitious $320 million project to push the American textile industry into the digital age. Key to the plan is a technical ingredient: embedding a variety of tiny semiconductors and sensors into fabrics that can see, hear, communicate, store energy, warm or cool a person, or monitor the wearer’s health.
  2. 2D to 3D With Deep CNNs (PDF) — source code on github.
  3. Squeezing AI into Mobile Systems (IEEE Spectrum) — Sze, working with Joel Emer, also an MIT computer science professor and senior distinguished research scientist at Nvidia, developed Eyeriss­, the first custom chip designed to run a state-of-the-art convolutional neural network. They showed they could run AlexNet, a particularly demanding algorithm, using less than one-tenth the energy of a typical mobile GPU: instead of consuming 5 to 10 watts, Eyeriss used 0.3 W.
  4. The 8-Bit Game That Makes Statistics Addictive (The Atlantic) — that game is Guess The Correlation. “As a researcher, you read papers and a lot of the time, you eyeball the figures without even reading the text,” he says. “You see a plot—it could even be your own plot—and make a judgment based on it. Contrary to what people believe, they’re not very good at this. And I have the data to prove that.”
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Four short links: 5 April 2016

Four short links: 5 April 2016

Programming Living Cells, Internet of Bricked Discontinued Things, Bitcoin User ID, and Paper-a-Day Roundup

  1. cello — home page for the Verilogish programming language to design computational circuits in living cells.
  2. Internet of Bricked Discontinued Things (BusinessInsider) — Shutting down Revolv does not mean that Nest is ceasing to support its products, leaving them vulnerable to bugs and other unpatched issues. It means that the $300 devices and accompanying apps will stop working completely.
  3. Bitcoin Users Reveal More Than They Thinknew technologies trace BTC transactions, attempting to identify bitcoin users. A number of startups have raised money to explore these new possibilities
  4. Last Three Months of Paper-a-Day (Adrian Colyer) — a pointer to the highlights from the 68 papers he covered in the first three months of the year.
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Four short links: 4 April 2016

Four short links: 4 April 2016

Verilog to DNA, Crypto Sequencing, How-To Network, and Quantified Baby

  1. Cello CAD — Verilog-like compiler that emits DNA sequences. Github repo has more, and Science paper forthcoming.
  2. Privacy-Preserving Read Mapping Using Locality Sensitive Hashing and Secure Kmer Voting — crypographically preserved privacy when using cloud servers for read alignment as part of genome sequencing.
  3. How to Network in Five Easy Steps (Courtney Johnston) — aimed at arts audience, but just as relevant to early-career tech folks.
  4. Quantified BabyThe idea of self-tracking for children raises thorny questions of control and consent, Nafus said. Among hard-core practitioners, the idea has not really taken off, even as related products have started hitting the market.
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