Nissan’s Self-Parking Office Chairs — clever hack, but thought-provoking: will we have an auto-navigating office chair before the self-driving auto revolution arrives? Because, you know, my day isn’t sedentary enough as it is …
The Man Behind the Robot Revolution — profile of the man behind Willow Garage. Why he and it are interesting: Although the now defunct research-lab-startup hybrid might not ring any bells to you now, it was one of the most influential forces in modern robotics. The freewheeling robot collective jump-started the current race to apply robotics components like computer vision, manipulation, and autonomy into applications for everything from drones and autonomous cars to warehouse operations at places like Google, Amazon, and car companies like BMW. Google alone acquired three of the robot companies spawned by Willow.
NSA’s Lousy Evaluation of Drone Strike Algorithm Effectiveness (Ars Technica) — vastly overstating the quality of the predictions. The 0.008% false positive rate would be remarkably low for traditional business applications. This kind of rate is acceptable where the consequences are displaying an ad to the wrong person, or charging someone a premium price by accident. However, even 0.008% of the Pakistani population still corresponds to 15,000 people potentially being misclassified as “terrorists” and targeted by the military—not to mention innocent bystanders or first responders who happen to get in the way. Security guru Bruce Schneier agreed. “Government uses of big data are inherently different from corporate uses,” he told Ars. “The accuracy requirements mean that the same technology doesn’t work. If Google makes a mistake, people see an ad for a car they don’t want to buy. If the government makes a mistake, they kill innocents.” (via Cory Doctorow)
How Machines Write Poetry — Harmon would love to have writers or other experts judge FIGURE8’s work, too. Her online subjects tended to rate the similes better if they were obvious. “The snow continued like a heavy rain” got high scores, for example, even though Harmon thought this was quite a bad effort on FIGURE8’s part. She preferred “the snow falls like a dead cat,” which got only middling ratings from humans. “They might have been cat lovers,” she says.FIGURE8 (PDF) system generates figurative language.
The Decisions the Pentagon Wants to Leave to Robots — “You cannot have a human operator operating at human speed fighting back at determined cyber tech,” Work said. “You are going to need have a learning machine that does that.” I for one welcome our new robot script kiddie overlords.
Love in the Age of Big Data — Over decades, John has observed more than 3,000 couples longitudinally, discovering patterns of argument and subtle behaviors that can predict whether a couple would be happily partnered years later or unhappy or divorced. Turns out, “don’t be a jerk” is good advice for marriages, too. (via Cory Doctorow)
Spinal Cord Injury Breakthrough by Software — This wasn’t the result of a new, long-term study, but a meta-analysis of $60 million worth of basic research written off as useless 20 years ago by a team of neuroscientists and statisticians led by the University of California San Francisco and partnering with the software firm Ayasdi, using mathematical and machine learning techniques that hadn’t been invented yet when the trials took place.
The Assassination Complex (The Intercept) — America’s drone program’s weaknesses highlighted in new document dump: Taken together, the secret documents lead to the conclusion that Washington’s 14-year high-value targeting campaign suffers from an overreliance on signals intelligence, an apparently incalculable civilian toll, and — due to a preference for assassination rather than capture — an inability to extract potentially valuable intelligence from terror suspects.
Global Forecast System — National Weather Service open sources its weather forecasting software. Hope you have a supercomputer and all the data to make use of it …
High-reproducibility and high-accuracy method for automated topic classification — Latent Dirichlet allocation (LDA) is the state of the art in topic modeling. Here, we perform a systematic theoretical and numerical analysis that demonstrates that current optimization techniques for LDA often yield results that are not accurate in inferring the most suitable model parameters. Adapting approaches from community detection in networks, we propose a new algorithm that displays high reproducibility and high accuracy and also has high computational efficiency. We apply it to a large set of documents in the English Wikipedia and reveal its hierarchical structure.
Banning Autonomous Killing Machines (Tech Republic) — While no autonomous weapons have been built yet, it’s not a theoretical concern, either. Late last year, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) released its policy around how autonomous weapons should be used if they were to be deployed in the battlefield. The policy limits how they should operate, but definitely doesn’t ban them. (via Slashdot)
Security of Browser Extension Password Managers (PDF) — This research shows that the examined password managers made design decisions that greatly increase the chance of users unknowingly exposing their passwords through application-level flaws. Many of the flaws relate to the browser-integrated password managers that don’t follow the same-origin policy that is crucial to browser security. In the case of password managers, this means that passwords could be filled into unintended credential forms, making password theft easier.
Apple Transparency Report (PDF) — contains a warrant canary, the statement Apple has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. We would expect to challenge an order if served on us which will of course be removed if one of the secret orders is received. Bravo, Apple, for implementing a clever hack to route around excessive secrecy. (via Boing Boing)
CyPhy Funded (Quartz) — the second act of iRobot co-founder Helen Greiner, maker of the famed Roomba robot vacuum cleaner. She terrified ETech long ago—the audience were expecting Roomba cuteness and got a keynote about military deathbots. It would appear she’s still in the deathbot niche, not so much with the cute. Remember this when you build your OpenCV-powered recoil-resistant load-bearing-hoverbot and think it’ll only ever be used for the intended purpose of launching fertiliser pellets into third world hemp farms.
User-Agent String History — a light-hearted illustration of why the formal semantic value of free-text fields is driven to zero in the face of actual use.
The Amen Break (YouTube) — fascinating 20m history of the amen break, a handful of bars of drum solo from a forgotten 1969 song which became the origin of a huge amount of popular music from rap to jungle and commercials, and the contested materials at the heart of sample-based music. Remix it and weep. (via Beta Knowledge)
Lab41 (Github) — open sourced code from a spook hacklab in Silicon Valley.
Fanulus — open sourced Hadoop-based graph analytics engine for analyzing graphs represented across a multi-machine compute cluster. A breadth-first version of the graph traversal language Gremlin operates on graphs stored in the distributed graph database Titan, in any Rexster-fronted graph database, or in HDFS via various text and binary formats.
KeyMe — keys in the cloud. (Digital designs as backups for physical objects)
Motorola Advanced Technology and Products Group — The philosophy behind Motorola ATAP is to create an organization with the same level of appetite for technology advancement as DARPA, but with a consumer focus. It is a pretty interesting place to be. And they hired the excellent Johnny Chung Lee.
Nyan Cat and Keyboard Cat Are Trademarked Memes (Ars Technica) — the business of this (presumably there will be royalties in the end) is less interesting to me than the murky tension between authorship, ownership, sharing, popularity, and profit. We still lack a common expectation for how memes can be owned and exploited.
Stealing US Military Secrets (Bloomberg) — One former intelligence official described internal Pentagon discussions over whether another Lockheed Martin fighter jet, the F-22 Raptor, could safely be deployed in combat, because several subcontractors had been hacked. The article is full of horror stories about Chinese penetration of US military contractors.
Pin: A Dynamic Binary Instrumentation Tool — a dynamic binary instrumentation framework for the IA-32 and x86-64 instruction-set architectures that enables the creation of dynamic program analysis tools. Some tools built with Pin are Intel Parallel Inspector, Intel Parallel Amplifier and Intel Parallel Advisor. The tools created using Pin, called Pintools, can be used to perform program analysis on user space applications in Linux and Windows. As a dynamic binary instrumentation tool, instrumentation is performed at run time on the compiled binary files. Thus, it requires no recompiling of source code and can support instrumenting programs that dynamically generate code.
Lasers Bringing Down Drones (Wired) — I’ve sat on this for a while, but it is still hypnotic. Autonomous attack, autonomous defence. Pessimist: we’ll be slaves of the better machine learning algorithm. Optimist: we can make love while the AIs make war.
Advice on Rewriting It From Scratch — every word is true. Over my career, I’ve come to place a really strong value on figuring out how to break big changes into small, safe, value-generating pieces. It’s a sort of meta-design — designing the process of gradual, safe change.
Creating Gmail Inbox Statistics Reports — shows how to setup gmail to send you an email at the beginning of each month showing statistics for the previous month, such as the number of emails you received, the top 5 to whom you sent email, the top 5 from whom you received email, charts on your daily usage.