Possible Economics Models (Jamais Cascio) — economic futures filtered through Doctorovian prose. Griefer Economics: Information is power, especially when it comes to finance, and the increasing use of ultra-fast computers to manipulate markets (and drive out “weaker” competitors) is moving us into a world where market position isn’t determined by having the best offering, but by having the best tool. Rules are gamed, opponents are beaten before they even know they’re playing, and it all feels very much like living on a PvP online game server where the referees have all gone home. Relevant to Next:Economy.
War in Space May Be Closer Than Ever (SciAm) — Today, the situation is much more complicated. Low- and high-Earth orbits have become hotbeds of scientific and commercial activity, filled with hundreds upon hundreds of satellites from about 60 different nations. Despite their largely peaceful purposes, each and every satellite is at risk, in part because not all members of the growing club of military space powers are willing to play by the same rules — and they don’t have to, because the rules remain as yet unwritten. There’s going to be a bitchin’ S-1 risks section when Planet Labs files for IPO.
Not Even Close: The State of Computer Security (Vimeo) — In this bleak, relentlessly morbid talk, James Mickens will describe why making computers secure is an intrinsically impossible task. He will explain why no programming language makes it easy to write secure code. He will then discuss why cloud computing is a black hole for privacy, and only useful for people who want to fill your machine with ads, viruses, or viruses that masquerade as ads. At this point in the talk, an audience member may suggest that bitcoins can make things better. Mickens will laugh at this audience member and then explain why trusting the bitcoin infrastructure is like asking Dracula to become a vegan. Mickens will conclude by describing why true love is a joke and why we are all destined to die alone and tormented. The first ten attendees will get balloon animals, and/or an unconvincing explanation about why Mickens intended to (but did not) bring balloon animals. Mickens will then flee on horseback while shouting “The Prince of Lies escapes again!”
Algorithms and Bias (NYTimes) — interview w/Cynthia Dwork from Microsoft Research. Fairness means that similar people are treated similarly. A true understanding of who should be considered similar for a particular classification task requires knowledge of sensitive attributes, and removing those attributes from consideration can introduce unfairness and harm utility.
Google Patenting Machine Learning Developments (Reddit) — I am afraid that Google has just started an arms race, which could do significant damage to academic research in machine learning. Now it’s likely that other companies using machine learning will rush to patent every research idea that was developed in part by their employees. We have all been in a prisoner’s dilemma situation, and Google just defected. Now researchers will guard their ideas much more combatively, given that it’s now fair game to patent these ideas, and big money is at stake.
Machine Ethics (Nature) — machine learning ethics versus rule-driven ethics. Logic is the ideal choice for encoding machine ethics, argues Luís Moniz Pereira, a computer scientist at the Nova Laboratory for Computer Science and Informatics in Lisbon. “Logic is how we reason and come up with our ethical choices,” he says. I disagree with his premises.
Internet Trends 2015 (PDF) — Mary Meeker’s preso. Messaging + Notifications = Key Layers of Every Meaningful Mobile App, Messaging Leaders Aiming to Create Cross-Platform Operating Systems That Are Context-Persistent Communications Hubs for More & More Services. This year’s deck feels more superficial, less surprising than in years past.
When the Land Goes Under the Sea — As it turns out: People really despise being told to not replay the game. Almost universally, the reaction to that was a kernel of unhappiness amidst mostly positive reviews. In retrospect, including that note was a mistake for a number of reasons. My favorite part of game postmortems is what the designers learned about how people approach experiences.
Damage Recovery Algorithm for Robots (IEEE) — This illustrates how it’s possible to endow just about any robot with resiliency via this algorithm, as long as it’s got enough degrees of freedom to enable adaptive movement. Because otherwise the Terminators will just stop when we shoot them.
The Counselor — short fiction with ethics, AI, and how good things become questionable.
How to Turn a Liberal Hipster into a Global Capitalist (The Guardian) — In Zoe Svendsen’s play “World Factory at the Young Vic,” the audience becomes the cast. Sixteen teams sit around factory desks playing out a carefully constructed game that requires you to run a clothing factory in China. How to deal with a troublemaker? How to dupe the buyers from ethical retail brands? What to do about the ever-present problem of clients that do not pay? […] And because the theatre captures data on every choice by every team, for every performance, I know we were not alone. The aggregated flowchart reveals that every audience, on every night, veers toward money and away from ethics. I’m a firm believer that games can give you visceral experience, not merely intellectual knowledge, of an activity. Interesting to see it applied so effectively to business.
Oblique Strategies: Prompts for Programmers — Do it both ways. Very often doing it both ways is faster than analyzing which is best. Now you also have experimental data instead of just theoretical. Add a toggle if possible. This will let you choose later. Some mistakes are cheaper to make than to avoid.
The Responsibility We Have as Software Engineers — Where’s our Hippocratic Oath, our “First, Do No Harm?” Remember that moment when Google went from “amazing wonderful thing we didn’t have before, which makes our lives so much better” to “another big scary company and holy shit it knows a lot about us!”? That’s coming for our industry and the software engineering profession in particular.
#NoEstimates — Allspaw also points out that the yearning to break the bonds of estimation is nothing new — he’s fond of quoting a passage from The Unwritten Laws of Engineering, a 1944 manual which says that engineers “habitually try to dodge the irksome responsibility for making commitments.” All of Allspaw’s segment is genius.
Old Fashioned Snapchat — get a few drinks in any brand advertiser and they’ll admit that the number one reason they know that brand advertising works is that, if they stop, sales inevitably drop.
GPG and Me (Moxie Marlinspike) — Even though GPG has been around for almost 20 years, there are only ~50,000 keys in the “strong set,” and less than 4 million keys have ever been published to the SKS keyserver pool ever. By today’s standards, that’s a shockingly small user base for a month of activity, much less 20 years. This was a great talk at Webstock this year.
Update on indie.vc — We’ve worked with the team at Cooley to create an investment instrument that has elements of both debt and equity. Debt in that we will not be purchasing equity initially, but, unlike debt, there is no maturity date, no collateralization of assets and no recourse if it’s never paid back. The equity element will only become a factor if the participating company chooses to raise a round of financing or sell out to an acquiring company. We don’t have a clever acronym or name for this instrument yet, but I’m sure we’ll come up with something great.
How Nathan Barley Came True (Guardian) — if you haven’t already seen Nathan Barley, you should. It’s by the guy who did Black Mirror, and it’s both awful and authentic and predictive and retro and … painfully accurate about the horrors of our Internet/New Media industry. (via BoingBoing)
Trust Engineers (Radio Lab) — Facebook has a created a laboratory of human behavior the likes of which we’ve never seen. We peek into the work of Arturo Bejar and a team of researchers who are tweaking our online experience, bit by bit, to try to make the world a better place. Radio show of goodness. (via Flowing Data)
DARPA’S Haptix Project — The goal of the HAPTIX program is to provide amputees with prosthetic limb systems that feel and function like natural limbs, and to develop next-generation sensorimotor interfaces to drive and receive rich sensory content from these limbs. Today it’s prosthetic limbs for amputees, but within five years it’ll be augmented ad-driven realities for virtual currency ambient social recommendations.
Reset (Rowan Simpson) — It was a bit chilling to go back over a whole years worth of tweets and discover how many of them were just junk. Visiting the water cooler is fine, but somebody who spends all day there has no right to talk of being full.
Google’s AI Brain — on the subject of Google’s AI ethics committee … Q: Will you eventually release the names? A: Potentially. That’s something also to be discussed. Q: Transparency is important in this too. A: Sure, sure. Such reassuring.
AVA is now Open Source (Laura Bell) — Assessment, Visualization and Analysis of human organisational information security risk. AVA maps the realities of your organisation, its structures and behaviors. This map of people and interconnected entities can then be tested using a unique suite of customisable, on-demand, and scheduled information security awareness tests.
Deep Learning for Torch (Facebook) — Facebook AI Research open sources faster deep learning modules for Torch, a scientific computing framework with wide support for machine learning algorithms.
Manufacturers and Consumers (Matt Webb) — manufacturers never spoke to consumers before. They spoke with distributors and retailers. But now products are connected to the Internet, manufacturers suddenly have a relationship with the consumer. And they literally don’t know what to do.
Calendar Hacks (Etsy) — inspiration for your New Year’s resolution to waste less time.
MDBM — Yahoo’s fast key-value store, in use for over a decade. Super-fast, using mmap and passing around (gasp) raw pointers.
The Revolution in Biology is Here, Now (Mike Loukides) — I’ve been asked plenty of times (and I’ve asked plenty of times), “what’s the killer product for synthetic biology?” BioFabricate convinced me that that’s the wrong question. We may never have some kind of biological iPod. That isn’t the right way to think. What I saw, instead, was real products that you might never notice. Bricks made from sand that are held together by microbes designed to excrete the binder. Bricks and packing material made from fungus (mycelium). Plastic excreted by bacteria that consume waste methane from sewage plants. You wouldn’t know, or care, whether your plastic Lego blocks are made from petroleum or from bacteria, but there’s a huge ecological difference.
Bluesmart — Indiegogo campaign for a “connected carry-on,” aka a smart suitcase. From the mobile app you can track it, learn when it’s close (or too far away), (un)lock, weigh…and you can plug your devices in and recharge from the built-in battery. Sweet!