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: 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.
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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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Four short links: 29 March 2016

Four short links: 29 March 2016

SNES Code Injection, World Without Work, Spectrum Collaboration, and Mass Surveillance

  1. SNES Code Injection (YouTube) — this human exploited various glitches in Super Mario World to inject the code for Flappy Bird. Wow.
  2. Will Life be Worth Living in a World without Work? — new paper published in the Science and Engineering Ethics journal. Two distinct ethical/social issues would seem to arise. The first is one of distributive justice: how will the (presumed) efficiency gains from automated labour be distributed through society? The second is one of personal fulfilment and meaning: if people no longer have to work, what will they do with their lives? In this article, I set aside the first issue and focus on the second. In doing so, I make three arguments. First, I argue that there are good reasons to embrace non-work and that these reasons become more compelling in an era of technological unemployment. Second, I argue that the technological advances that make widespread technological unemployment possible could still threaten or undermine human flourishing and meaning, especially if (as is to be expected) they do not remain confined to the economic sphere. And third, I argue that this threat could be contained if we adopt an integrative approach to our relationship with technology.
  3. Spectrum Collaboration Challenge — DARPA’s next big challenge is based on the idea that wireless devices would work better if they cooperated with one another rather than fought for bandwidth. Since not all devices are active at all times, the agency says, it should be possible through the use of artificial intelligence machine-learning algorithms to allow them to figure out how to share the spectrum with a minimum of conflict.
  4. Mass Surveillance Silences Minority Opinions (PDF) — This study explores how perceptions and justification of surveillance practices may create a chilling effect on democratic discourse by stifling the expression of minority political views. Using a spiral of silence theoretical framework, knowing one is subject to surveillance and accepting such surveillance as necessary act as moderating agents in the relationship between one’s perceived climate of opinion and willingness to voice opinions online. Theoretical and normative implications are discussed. (via Washington Post)
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Four short links: 28 March 2016

Four short links: 28 March 2016

Holoportation, Filter Your Bot, Curriculum for the Future, and Randomized Control Trials for Policy

  1. Holoportation (YouTube) — video of teleconferencing with the Hololens. I hope my avatar wears more pants than I do.
  2. Wordfilter — package to filter out slurs and the kinds of things you don’t want your bot saying on Twitter. (via How Not to Make a Racist Bot)
  3. Curriculum For the Future (iTunes) — in game form, you get to figure out how to sell your preferred curriculum (“maker!”) to the parents and politicians who care about different things. Similar game mechanic to Win the White House from Sandra Day O’Connor’s iCivics.
  4. Test, Learn, Adapt: Developing Public Policy with Randomized Controlled Trials (PDF) — 2012 paper from the UK Cabinet Office talking about running real randomized control trials of policy. (I’d like to be part of one that looks at better health care!)
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Four short links: 25 March 2016

Four short links: 25 March 2016

Intro to Statistics, Automatic Lip Reading, Outdoor Range Finding for $10, and Wrongful Takedowns

  1. Intro Statistics with Randomization and Simulation — free PDF download as well as book for purchase. (via Flowing Data)
  2. Automated Lip Reading Invented — press release, but interesting topic. The research will be presented at the International Conference on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing (ICASSP) in Shanghai.
  3. A Smartphone-based Laser Distance Sensor for Outdoor Environments (PDF) — We present a low-cost, smartphone-based planar laser distance sensor design for outdoor use with 6 cm accuracy at 5 meters, 30 Hz scan rate, and 0.1 degree resolution over the field of view. The cost of the hardware additions to the off-the-shelf smartphone used in our prototype is under $50.
  4. Internet Archive Seeks to Defend Against Wrongful TakedownsIn its submission, the Archive goes to some lengths to highlight differences between those engaging in commercial piracy and those who seek to preserve and share cultural heritage. As a result, the context in which a user posts content online should be considered before attempting to determine whether an infringement has taken place. This, the organization says, poses problems for the “staydown” demands gaining momentum with copyright holders.
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Four short links: 24 March 2016

Four short links: 24 March 2016

Work and Home Github, Museum Data, Bandwidth Incentives, and Motion Design

  1. Maintain Separate Github Accounts — simple advice.
  2. Cooper-Hewitt Pen Data — anonymized data from the Cooper-Hewitt design museum’s fantastic pen.
  3. Zero Rating’s Problem — Wikipedia was zero-rated for Angola, so Angolans began swapping movies via Wikipedia. Zero rating (“no data charge for this service”) is an incentive to use the site, not necessarily for the purpose intended.
  4. Motion Design is the Future of UIMotion tells stories. Everything in an app is a sequence, and motion is your guide. Someone caught the animations and transitions bug.
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Four short links: 23 March 2016

Four short links: 23 March 2016

Graph Query, API Economy, Mutual Interest, and The Multithreading Organization

  1. Dragon: A Distributed Graph Query Engine — Facebook describes its internal graph query engine. [T]he layout of these indices on storage is optimized based on a deeper understanding of query patterns (e.g., many queries are about friends), as opposed to accepting random sharding, which is common in these systems. Wisely, the system is tailored to the use cases they have and the patterns they see in access.
  2. Almost Everyone Is Doing the API Economy Wrong (Techcrunch) — Redux: your API should help you make money when the API customer makes money, and you should set clear expectations for what’s acceptable and what’s not. But every developer should be forced to write 100 times: “if you build on a platform you don’t own, you’re building on a potential and probable future competitor.”
  3. Traditional Economics Failed, Here’s a Blueprint — runs through the shifts happening in our thinking about the world and ourselves (simple to complex, independent to interdependent, rational calculator to irrational approximators, etc) and concludes: True self-interest is mutual interest. The best way to improve your likelihood of surviving and thriving is to make sure those around you survive and thrive. See above API note.
  4. Blitzscaling (HBR) — as you move from village to city, functions are beginning to be differentiated; you’re really multithreading. I could write a thesis on the CAP theorem for business. And I have definitely worked for companies that have a “share nothing” approach to solving their threading issues.
Comment: 1
Four short links: 22 March 2016

Four short links: 22 March 2016

HCI Pioneers, Security Architecture, Trial by Cyborg, and Distributed Ledgers

  1. HCI Pioneers — Ben Schneiderman’s photo collection, acknowledging pioneers in the field. (via CCC Blog)
  2. A Burglar’s Guide to the City (BLDGBLOG) — For the past several years, I’ve been writing a book about the relationship between burglary and architecture. Burglary, as it happens, requires architecture: it is a spatial crime. Without buildings, burglary, in its current legal form, could not exist. Committing it requires an inside and an outside; it’s impossible without boundaries, thresholds, windows, and walls. In fact, one needn’t steal anything at all to be a burglar. In a sense, as a crime, it is part of the built environment; the design of any structure always implies a way to break into it. Connection to computer security left as exercise to the reader.
  3. Trial by Machine (Roth) — The current landscape of mechanized proof, liability, and punishment suffers from predictable but underscrutinized automation pathologies: hidden subjectivities and errors in “black box” processes; distorted decision-making through oversimplified — and often dramatically inaccurate — proxies for blameworthiness; the compromise of values protected by human safety valves, such as dignity, equity, and mercy; and even too little mechanization where machines might be a powerful debiasing tool but where little political incentive exists for its development or deployment. […] The article ultimately proposes a systems approach – “trial by cyborg” – that safeguards against automation pathologies while interrogating conspicuous absences in mechanization through “equitable surveillance” and other means. (via Marginal Revolution)
  4. Distributed Ledger Technology: Blackett Review (gov.uk) — Distributed ledgers can provide new ways of assuring ownership and provenance for goods and intellectual property. For example, Everledger provides a distributed ledger that assures the identity of diamonds, from being mined and cut to being sold and insured. In a market with a relatively high level of paper forgery, it makes attribution more efficient, and has the potential to reduce fraud and prevent “blood diamonds” from entering the market. Report includes recommendations for policy makers. (via Dan Hill)
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Four short links: 21 March 2016

Four short links: 21 March 2016

Legacy Tech, Gender Prediction, Text Generation, and Human Performance

  1. Ten More Years!my brand spanking new chip card from a UK issuer not only arrived with a 2000s app of a 1990s implementation of a 1980s product (debit) on 1970s chip, it also came with a 1960s magnetic stripe on it and a 1950s PAN with a 1940s signature panel on the back. It’s no wonder it seems a little out of place in the modern world.
  2. Age and Gender Classification Using Convolutional Neural Nets — oh, this will end well.
  3. The Uncanny Valley of Words (Ross Goodwin) — lessons learned from an NYU ITP neural networker making poetry and surprises from text.
  4. The Paradox of Human Performance (YouTube) — Human dexterity and agility vastly exceed that of contemporary robots. Yet, humans have vastly slower “hardware” (e.g. muscles) and “wetware” (e.g. neurons). How can this paradox be resolved? Slow actuators and long communication delays require predictive control based on some form of internal model—but what form? (via Robohub)
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