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: 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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Four short links: 1 April 2016

Four short links: 1 April 2016

AI Centaurs, In-Game Warfare, Global Data Protection Laws, and Chinese Chatbots

  1. Centaurs Not Butlers (Matt Jones) — In competitive chess, teams of human and non-human intelligences are referred to as ‘Centaurs’ How might we create teams of human and non-human intelligences in the service of better designed systems, products, environments?
  2. Casino-Funded In-Game Warthis was just the opening round of what could be the largest military mobilization in that game’s history. Digging deeper into the subject, we’ve been able to chart the rise of a new in-game faction, called the Moneybadger Coalition, a group of thousands of players being bankrolled by an online casino. (via BoingBoing)
  3. Data Protection Laws Around the World — useful guide to the laws in different jurisdictions. If this is your migraine, I pity you.
  4. More Chinese Mobile UI TrendsThis year, Microsoft China released an AI chatbot called 小冰 (xiǎobīng) that has been popular. She’s accessible via the web, via a standalone app, via WeChat, via Cortana, and through a dedicated button in Xiaomi’s own seldom-used messaging app. It’s fun to toss annoying questions at her and see how she responds. Some people even confide in her. She’s kind of the love child of Siri, ELIZA, and Cleverbot.
Comment: 1
Four short links: 31 March 2016

Four short links: 31 March 2016

Accountable Machines, Forbidden Gaming, Make Things, and Crypto Monoculture

  1. Accountable MachinesSome of the proposals discussed at our workshop included having machine learning processes verify the outcomes of algorithmic decisions and provide transparency, and that systems should be designed to permit auditing as well as to audit other related systems. To me this appeared as an especially accountable version of bureaucracy, where results from each system’s accounting dynamically report up through an iterative (but still accountable) chain of command. This is not bureaucratic in the sense of inventing process for its own sake, but it is bureaucratic in the sense that it establishes many processes of accountability that are the responsibility of entities who report to one another through a structure where trust is related to the capacity to validate decisions.
  2. Russia Bans Queue — banned the Polish board game that recreates the experience of life under Communism. Games that are simulations are effective educational experiences, too effective for Russia.
  3. Tech Economies Must Still Make Things (Vaclav Smil) — Bill Gates’s favorite scientist/policy analyst weighs in on the next economy. Take away manufacturing and you’re left with…selfies.
  4. On the Impending Crypto Monoculture (Peter Gutmann) — A number of IETF standards groups are currently in the process of applying the second-system effect to redesigning their crypto protocols. A major feature of these changes includes the dropping of traditional encryption algorithms and mechanisms like RSA, DH, ECDH/ECDSA, SHA-2, and AES, for a completely different set of mechanisms, including Curve25519 (designed by Dan Bernstein et al), EdDSA (Bernstein and colleagues), Poly1305 (Bernstein again) and ChaCha20 (by, you guessed it, Bernstein). What’s more, the reference implementations of these algorithms also come from Dan Bernstein (again with help from others), leading to a never-before-seen crypto monoculture in which it’s possible that the entire algorithm suite used by a security protocol, and the entire implementation of that suite, all originate from one person. How on earth did it come to this?
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Four short links: 30 March 2016

Four short links: 30 March 2016

Deep Babbage, Supervisors in Go, Brittle Code, and Quantum NLP

  1. Deep Learning for Analytical EngineThis repository contains an implementation of a convolutional neural network as a program for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, capable of recognizing handwritten digits to a high degree of accuracy (98.5% if provided with a sufficient amount of training data and left running sufficiently long).
  2. Supervisor Trees in GoA well-structured Erlang program is broken into multiple independent pieces that communicate via messages, and when a piece crashes, the supervisor of that piece automatically restarts it. […] Even as I have been writing suture, I have on occasion been astonished to flip my screen over to the console of Go program I’ve written with suture, and been surprised to discover that it’s actually been merrily crashing away during my manual testing, but soldiering on so well I didn’t even know.
  3. How to Avoid Brittle CodeIf it hurts, do it more often.
  4. Developing Quantum Annealer Driven Data Discovery (Joseph Dulny III, Michael Kim) — In this paper, we gain novel insights into the application of quantum annealing (QA) to machine learning (ML) through experiments in natural language processing (NLP), seizure prediction, and linear separability testing.
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