(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Technology

“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future”*…

… but maybe not as hard as it once was. While multi-agent artificial intelligence was first used in the sixties, advances in technology have made it an extremely sophisticated modeling– and prediction– tool. As Derek Beres explains, it can be a powerfully-accurate prediction engine… and it can potentially also be an equally powerful tool for manipulation…

The debate over free will is ancient, yet data don’t lie — and we have been giving tech companies access to our deepest secrets… We like to believe we’re not predictable, but that’s simply not true…

Multi-agent artificial intelligence (MAAI) is predictive modeling at its most advanced. It has been used for years to create digital societies that mimic real ones with stunningly accurate results. In an age of big data, there exists more information about our habits — political, social, fiscal — than ever before. As we feed them information on a daily basis, their ability to predict the future is getting better.

[And] given the current political climate around the planet… MAAI will most certainly be put to insidious means. With in-depth knowledge comes plenty of opportunities for exploitation and manipulation, no deepfake required. The intelligence might be artificial, but the target audience most certainly is not…

Move over deepfakes; multi-agent artificial intelligence is poised to manipulate your mind: “Can AI simulations predict the future?,” from @derekberes at @bigthink.

[Image above: source]

* Niels Bohr

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As we analyze augury, we might note that today is National Computer Security Day. It was inaugurated by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) in 1988, shortly after an attack on ARPANET (the forerunner of the internet as we know it) that damaged several of the connected machines. Meant to call attention to the need for constant need for attention to security, it’s a great day to change all of one’s passwords.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 30, 2022 at 1:00 am

“My fake plants died because I didn’t pretend to water them”*…

Your correspondent treasures Wikipedia, and uses it often. But as Marco Silva points out, it has its vulnerabilities…

“I read through Wikipedia a lot when I’m bored in class,” says Adam, aged 15, who studies photography and ICT at a school in Kent. One day last July, one of his teachers mentioned the online encyclopaedia’s entry about Alan MacMasters, who it said was a Scottish scientist from the late 1800s and had invented “the first electric bread toaster”.

At the top of the page was a picture of a man with a pronounced quiff and long sideburns, gazing contemplatively into the distance – apparently a relic of the 19th Century, the photograph appeared to have been torn at the bottom.

But Adam was suspicious. “It didn’t look like a normal photo,” he tells me. “It looked like it was edited.”

After he went home, he decided to post about his suspicions on a forum devoted to Wikipedia vandalism.

Until recently, if you had searched for “Alan MacMasters” on Wikipedia, you would have found the same article that Adam did. And who would have doubted it?

After all, like most Wikipedia articles, this one was peppered with references: news articles, books and websites that supposedly provided evidence of MacMasters’ life and legacy. As a result, lots of people accepted that MacMasters had been real.

More than a dozen books, published in various languages, named him as the inventor of the toaster. And, until recently, even the Scottish government’s Brand Scotland website listed the electric toaster as an example of the nation’s “innovative and inventive spirit”…

All the while, as the world got to know the supposed Scottish inventor, there was someone in London who could not avoid a smirk as the name “Alan MacMasters” popped up – again and again – on his screen…

For more than a decade, a prankster spun a web of deception about the inventor of the electric toaster: “Alan MacMasters: How the great online toaster hoax was exposed,” from @MarcoLSilva at @BBCNews.

* Mitch Hedberg

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As we consider the source’s source, we might recall that it was on this date in 1972 that Atari introduced its first product, Pong, which became the world’s first commercially successful video game. Indeed, Pong sparked the beginning of the video game industry, and positioned Atari as its leader (in both arcade and home video gaming) through the early 1980s.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 29, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Comparisons are odious”*…

… but sometimes instructive in the very ways that they fail…

The innovations which make their appearance in East Asia round about the year 1000 … form such a coherent and extensive whole that we have to yield to the evidence: at this period, the Chinese world experienced a real transformation. … The analogies [with the European Renaissance] are numerous – the return to the classical tradition, the diffusion of knowledge, the upsurge of science and technology (printing, explosives, advance in seafaring techniques, the clock with escapement …), a new philosophy, and a new view of the world. … There is not a single sector of political, social or economic life in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries which does not show evidence of radical changes in comparison with earlier ages. It is not simply a matter of a change of scale (increase in population, general expansion of production, development of internal and external trade) but of a change of character. Political habits, society, the relations between town and country, and economic patterns are quite different from what they had been. … A new world had been born.

Jacques Gernet. A History of Chinese Civilization, pp. 298-300

Doug Jones, on what the remarkable story of the Song Dynasty can and can’t tell us about other periods…

Scholars contemplating the sweeping economic, social, and political transformation of China under the Song dynasty (960-1279) seem compelled to draw analogies with later dramatic occurrences in Europe – with the Renaissance (as in the quote above) or with the Economic Revolution in England on the eve of the Industrial Revolution.

The changes are dramatic. Population roughly doubles, from about 50 million to about 100 million. Cities grow. Both internal and external trade boom. The division of labor advances, with different households and different parts of the country specializing in “goods such as rice, wheat, lighting oil, candles, dyes, oranges, litchi nuts, vegetables, sugar and sugarcane, lumber, cattle, fish, sheep, paper, lacquer, textiles and iron.” In a number of fields of technology – iron production, shipbuilding – China reaches heights which the West will not attain for many centuries.

With changes in the economy come changes in the relation between society and state. Taxes come to be mostly collected in cash rather than kind, Eventually revenues from taxes on commerce, including excise taxes and state monopolies, will greatly exceed those from land tax. A Council of State will put constitutional checks on the power of the emperor.

Yet Imperial China will ultimately follow a different, less dramatic developmental pathway than Europe. Some reasons why…

On the ways in which history doesn’t repeat itself: “A cycle of Cathay,” from @logarithmic_h.

* Proverb

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As we listen for the rhyme, we might recall that today is Schicksalstag (“Day of Fate”) in Germany. On this date five momentous events took place: Robert Blum, a leader in the Vienna revolts, was executed in 1848; Kaiser Wilhelm II resigned, marking the end of German monarchies in 1918; the Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch failed in 1923; Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) and the Nazi antisemitic pogroms raged in 1938; and the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

East and West Germans at the Brandenburg Gate in 1989 (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 9, 2022 at 1:00 am

“It’s going to be interesting to see how society deals with artificial intelligence”*…

Interesting, yes… and important. Stephanie Losi notes that “in some other fields, insufficient regulation and lax controls can lead to bad outcomes, but it can take years. With AI, insufficient regulation and lax controls could lead to bad outcomes extremely rapidly.” She offers a framework for thinking about the kinds of regulation we might need…

Recent advances in machine learning like DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion show the strengths of artificial narrow intelligence. That means they perform specialized tasks instead of general, wide-ranging ones. Artificial narrow intelligence is often regarded as safer than a hypothetical artificial general intelligence (AGI), which could challenge or surpass human intelligence. 

But even within their narrow domains, DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, and similar models are already raising questions like, “What is real art?” And large language models like GPT-3 and CoPilot dangle the promise of intuitive software development sans the detailed syntax knowledge required for traditional programming. Disruption looms large—and imminent. 

One of the challenges of risk management is that technology innovation tends to outpace it. It’s less fun to structure a control framework than it is to walk on fresh snow, so breakthroughs happen and then risk management catches up. But with AI, preventive controls are especially important, because AI is so fast that detective and corrective controls might not have time to take effect. So, making sure controls do keep up with innovation might not be fun or flashy, but it’s vital. Regulation done right could increase the chance that the first (and possibly last) AGI created is not hostile as we would define that term.

In broad strokes, here are some aspects of a control framework for AI…

Eminently worth reading in full: “Possible Paths for AI Regulation.”

See also: “Can regulators keep up with AI in healthcare?” (source of the image above)

And as we ponder constructive constraints, we might keep in mind Gray Scott‘s (seemingly-contradictory) reminder: “The real question is, when will we draft an artificial intelligence bill of rights? What will that consist of? And who will get to decide that?”

Colin Angle

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As we practice prudence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1971 that UNIX was released to the world. A multi-tasking, multi-user operating system, it was intitally developed at ATT for use within the Bell System. Unix systems are characterized by a modular design that is sometimes called the “Unix philosophy.” Early Unix developers were important in bringing the concepts of modularity and reusability into software engineering practice, spawning a “software tools” movement. Over time, the leading developers of Unix (and programs that ran on it) established a set of cultural norms for developing software, norms which became as important and influential as the technology of Unix itself– a key part of the Unix philosophy.

Unix’s interactivity made it a perfect medium for TCP/IP networking protocols were quickly implemented on the Unix versions widely used on relatively inexpensive computers, which contributed to the Internet explosion of worldwide real-time connectivity. Indeed, Unix was the medium for Arpanet, the forerunner of the internet-as we-know-it.

Ken Thompson (sitting) and Dennis Ritchie, principal developers of Unix, working together at a PDP-11 (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 3, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance”*…

The noble but undervalued craft of maintenance could, Alex Vuocolo explains, help preserve modernity’s finest achievements, from public transit systems to power grids, and serve as a useful framework for addressing climate change and other pressing planetary constraints…

… If you start talking with engineers about maintenance, somebody always brings up Incan rope bridges. Maybe you’ve seen an illustration or a digital rendering in a Hollywood movie. They’re the color of hay and hang with a bit of slack over rivers and canyons in Peru’s rugged terrain. Made from ichu grass threaded into progressively denser and denser bundles, they were ritualistically maintained by ancient Peruvians. They lasted for centuries. Most are long gone now, though at least one has been preserved for posterity as an infrastructural artifact, just like the R32 at the New York Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn.

It’s hard to imagine a modern ritual that would be equal to the task of perpetually renewing steel bridges, concrete highways and cement buildings. It would require an entirely new industrial paradigm. One label for such a system is “circular economy,” which the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which funds research on the topic, defines as “an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design.”

The concept dates to the 1960s and the work of economist Kenneth E. Boulding, but most of us are more familiar with a related slogan that emerged from the environmental movement of the 1970s: reduce, reuse, recycle. Those have been the guiding principles for the green movement for much of the past half-century, informing everything from municipal recycling programs to efficiency standards for toilets to lifestyle movements calling for “zero-impact living.”

Maintain is notably missing from the triplet, perhaps because it’s difficult to reconcile with sustainability’s implicit emphasis on reduction and restraint. By contrast, maintenance is about keeping things — sometimes large, intensively built things like skyscrapers and subway cars that might be difficult to imagine in the biodegradable utopias of the most gung-ho environmentalists. Ultimately, reduction is prioritized. We must not hold onto things. We must let go like good Buddhists, as industrial civilization becomes merely a painful, transient phase in human history, passing out of us like bad karma.

There is tension in the question of whether to build objects more intensively, so that they last longer, or to recognize that some things cannot endure and thus should be designed that way. There’s no hope for a paper plate in the long run, for example. It’s designed to enter the waste stream as cheaply and easily as possible. Conversely, a toaster could last for decades if maintained properly, assuming the manufacturer hasn’t built obsolescence into it (as is often the case).

More complex objects and built environments, like a transit system or a housing development, compound questions over what should last and what cannot. How do we create systems that can address these questions on their own terms?

The work of maintenance is ultimately a way of parsing and knowing a thing and deciding, over and over, what it’s worth. “Maintenance should be seen as a noble craft,” said [Louis] Rossmann, [owner of a computer repair shop in New York City and a popular Youtuber] “It should be seen as something that teaches people not just how to repair, but how to think.”

Eminently worth reading in full: “The Disappearing Art Of Maintenance,” from @AlexVuocolo in @NoemaMag.

* Kurt Vonnegut

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As we take care, we might recall that it was on this date in 1876, during the Centennial celebration in Philadelphia, and at the end of a three-day “Convention of Librarians,” 103 librarians (90 men and 13 women) signed a register as charter members of the American Library Association. The oldest library association in the world, It has grown into the largest.

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