Four Short Links

Nat Torkington's eclectic collection of curated links.

Four short links: 18 August 2017

Neural Style Transfer, Hype Cycles, Automation and Jobs, and Become a Bayesian

  1. Neural Style Transfer -- overview of the state of the art in recasting an image to have the style of another.
  2. Eight Lessons from 20 Years of Hype Cycles -- Out of the more than 200 unique technologies that have ever appeared on a Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technology, just a handful of technologies—Cloud Computing, 3D Printing, Natural Language Search, Electronic Ink—have been identified early and traveled even somewhat predictably through a Hype Cycle from start to finish. [...] [J]ust over 50 individual technologies appear for just a single year on the Hype Cycle—never to reappear again. [...] 20% of all technologies that were tracked for multiple years on the Hype Cycle became obsolete before reaching any kind of mainstream success. [...] I was often struck by how many times the Hype Cycle had an insight that was essentially correct, but the technology or the market just wasn’t ready yet. [...] There are a number of core technologies that appear again and again in different guises over the years in Hype Cycles, sometimes under multiple aliases. Each reincarnation makes progress and leaves lessons for its successors without really breaking through. [...] It's remarkable the number of major technologies from the last 20 years that were either identified late or simply never appeared on a Hype Cycle.
  3. Robopocalypse Not (James Surowiecki) -- A rigorous study of the impact of robots in manufacturing, agriculture, and utilities across 17 countries, for instance, found that robots did reduce the hours of lower-skilled workers—but they didn’t decrease the total hours worked by humans, and they actually boosted wages. In other words, automation may affect the kind of work humans do, but at the moment, it’s hard to see that it’s leading to a world without work. McAfee, in fact, says of his earlier public statements, “If I had to do it over again, I would put more emphasis on the way technology leads to structural changes in the economy, and less on jobs, jobs, jobs. The central phenomenon is not net job loss. It’s the shift in the kinds of jobs that are available.”
  4. Become a Bayesian in Eight Easy Steps: An Annotated Reading List -- The resources are presented in an incremental order, starting with theoretical foundations and moving on to applied issues. [...] Our goal is to offer researchers a starting point for understanding the core tenets of Bayesian analysis, while requiring a low level of time commitment. After consulting our guide and the outlined articles, the reader should understand how and why Bayesian methods work, and feel able to evaluate their use in the behavioral and social sciences.

Four short links: 17 August 2017

Implementing Compression, Eliminating Humans, Mapping NES, and Classifying Defects

  1. On the Implementation of Minimum Redundancy Prefix Codes -- a paper that shows all the curls and challenges of the real world, instead of the idealized handwaving that's pretty much everywhere else. (via Fabian Giesen)
  2. Eliminating the Human (MIT TR) -- David Byrne digs into the idea that modern tech is mostly about reducing need for human interaction. When interaction becomes a strange and unfamiliar thing, then we will have changed who and what we are as a species. Often our rational thinking convinces us that much of our interaction can be reduced to a series of logical decisions—but we are not even aware of many of the layers and subtleties of those interactions. As behavioral economists will tell us, we don’t behave rationally, even though we think we do. And Bayesians will tell us that interaction is how we revise our picture of what is going on and what will happen next. (via BoingBoing)
  3. Automatic Mapping of NES Games with Mappy -- We describe a software system, Mappy, that produces a good approximation of a linked map of rooms given a Nintendo Entertainment System game program and a sequence of button inputs exploring its world. In addition to visual maps, Mappy outputs grids of tiles (and how they change over time), positions of non-tile objects, clusters of similar rooms that might in fact be the same room, and a set of links between these rooms. We believe this is a necessary step toward developing larger corpora of high-quality semantically annotated maps for PCG via machine learning and other applications.
  4. IBM's Defect Classification System -- for when you get devopsessive. (via Ryan Betts)

Four short links: 16 August 2017

IoT Hacking, Virtual School Fails, Neural Network NLP, and Using Logical Fallacies

  1. Reverse-Engineering IoT Devices -- nice step-by-step of how the author figures out the protocol used by a Bluetooth lightbulb (oh to live in such times) and thus how to control it without the Approved Software.
  2. Of Course Virtual Schools Don't Work -- that graph. The horror. Once seen, cannot unsee (or ever claim virtual schools are a good idea).
  3. A Primer on Neural Network Models for Natural Language Processing -- This tutorial surveys neural network models from the perspective of natural language processing research, in an attempt to bring natural-language researchers up to speed with the neural techniques. The tutorial covers input encoding for natural language tasks, feed-forward networks, convolutional networks, recurrent networks and recursive networks, as well as the computation graph abstraction for automatic gradient computation.
  4. Effective Presentations Using Applied Logical Fallacies -- what I also got out of this Informal Logic course was that here were a huge list of classically tested brain shortcuts that are surprisingly effective. Sure, they only work if you’ve turned off some of your critical thinking skills [...] but we’re predisposed to do this all the time! Why? Because critical thinking takes effort and time, and you’re presented with probably hundreds of arguments or bits of reasoning every day, and it would be expensive to evaluate them all deeply. So, we brain shortcut when it’s mostly safe to do so. This is really good!

Four short links: 15 August 2017

P != NP, Open Source Lab Notebook, Science Data, and Anonymous Feedback

  1. A Solution of the P versus NP Problem -- from a respected computability theory researcher, so not the usual crank writing—but will need to withstand interrogation and verification from the rest of the academic community. Explainer: computing is interested in efficiently processing digital information. Some problems can be proven to have efficient solutions ("P"), some can be proven to have no efficient solution ("NP"). There are a lot of problems, so researchers turn new problems into an archetypical problem with a solution that we've already proven is efficient or inefficient. The big question has been: can we find an efficient solution to a known-inefficient problem? To do so would mean we could quickly solve hard problems in maps, planning, allocation, even Donkey Kong and Bejeweled. This proof shows that both variations of one archetypical hard problem can't be reduced to an efficient solution: they're proven to be inefficient, which means (because we've shown all inefficient problems are equivalent) that all inefficient problems ("NP") can't be solved efficiently ("aren't P").
  2. eLabFTW -- a free and open source electronic lab notebook.
  3. A Happy Moment for Neuroscience is a Sad Moment for Science -- Allen Institute for Brain Science release data. These data are the first complete set of neural activity recordings released before publication. No papers preceded it, not even a report. Nothing. Just: here you go guys, the fruits of the joint labour of around 100 people over four years. Traditional research organizations (universities) couldn't do this: they rely on publications for funding, kudos, and measuring success.
  4. Sarahah -- get anonymous feedback. Nice design: only you can see the feedback, so it doesn't promote pile-ons. A lot of teens I know are using it positively, which may be a first for software. The Verge wrote it up if you need more social proof.

Four short links: 14 August 2017

Robotics Interviews, Customer Development, Engineering Method, and Complex System Failures

  1. Robotics Interviews -- Mike Salem (Robotics Nanodegree Service Lead), interviews professional roboticists.
  2. 10 Things I've Learned About Customer Development -- my favorite: If someone says, “I wouldn’t personally use it, but I bet other people would,” no one will use it. They're all true.
  3. Multiple Perspectives on Technical Problems and Solutions (John Allspaw) -- [The Engineering Method is] “the strategy for causing the best change in a poorly understood or uncertain situation within the available resources.”
  4. How Complex Systems Fail -- Complex systems contain changing mixtures of failures latent within them. The complexity of these systems makes it impossible for them to run without multiple flaws being present. Because these are individually insufficient to cause failure, they are regarded as minor factors during operations. Eradication of all latent failures is limited primarily by economic cost but also because it is difficult before the fact to see how such failures might contribute to an accident. The failures change constantly because of changing technology, work organization, and efforts to eradicate failures.

Four short links: 11 August 2017

Cracking Wi-Fi, Hacking with DNA, Animation Playthings, and Physics Simulation

  1. Wi-Fi Cracking -- This is a brief walk-through tutorial that illustrates how to crack Wi-Fi networks that are secured using weak passwords. It is not exhaustive, but it should be enough information for you to test your own network's security or break into one nearby. The attack outlined below is entirely passive (listening only, nothing is broadcast from your computer) and it is impossible to detect, provided you don't actually use the password that you crack.
  2. Computer Security and Privacy in DNA Sequencing -- Here we highlight two key examples of our research below: (1) the failure of DNA sequencers to follow best practices in computer security and (2) the possibility to encode malware in DNA sequences. Buffer overflow in binary -> DNA -> crappy sequencer code -> binary -> "I'm in!".
  3. Wick -- a free browser-based toolkit for creating small interactive things for the Internet. ... Wick is a hybrid of an animation tool and a coding IDE, heavily inspired by similar tools such as Flash, HyperCard, and Scratch. Open Source.
  4. Predictive Simulation in Game Physics -- Predictive simulation is traditionally used as part of planning and game AI algorithms; we argue that it presents untapped potential for game mechanics and interfaces. We explore this notion through 1) deriving a four-quadrant design space model based on game design and human motor control literature, and 2) developing and evaluating six novel prototypes that demonstrate the potential and challenges of each quadrant. Our work highlights opportunities in enabling direct control of complex simulated characters, and in transforming real-time action into turn-based puzzles. Based on our results, adding predictive simulation to existing game mechanics is less promising, as it may feel alienating or make a game too easy. Preprint paper and open source code.

Four short links: 10 August 2017

Sarcasm Detector, GMO Salmon, New Deep Learning Courses, and Serverless Malware Detection

  1. An Algorithm Trained on Emoji Knows When You're Being Sarcastic on Twitter (MIT TR) -- They also tested it against humans, using volunteers recruited through the crowdsourcing site Mechanical Turk. They found it was better than the humans at spotting sarcasm and other emotions on Twitter. It was 82% accurate at identifying sarcasm correctly, compared with an average score of 76% for the human volunteers.
  2. GMO Salmon On Sale (Guardian) -- Originally developed by a group of Canadian scientists at Newfoundland’s Memorial University, the salmon can grow twice as fast as conventionally farmed Atlantic salmon, reaching adult size in some 18 months as compared to 30 months. The product also requires 75% less feed to grow to the size of wild salmon, reducing its carbon footprint by up to 25 times, the company has claimed.
  3. New Coursera Deep Learning Courses -- topics: neural networks, tuning and optimization, structuring ML projects, convolutional neural networks, sequence models.
  4. BinaryAlert -- Serverless, real-time, and retroactive malware detection from Airbnb. (via Airbnb Engineering blog)

Four short links: 9 August 2017

Event Trend Detection, Separation of Duties, Online Communities, and Autonomous Tractors

  1. Complete Event Trend Detection in High-Rate Event Streams -- Complex Event Processing (CEP) has emerged as a prominent technology for supporting streaming applications from financial fraud detection to health care analytics. CEP systems consume high-rate streams of primitive events and evaluate expressive event queries to detect event sequences such as circular check kites and irregular heart rate trends in near real time. These event sequences may have arbitrary, statically unknown, and potentially unbounded length. (via Paper a Day)
  2. Separation of Duties -- boring stuff that's worth getting right.
  3. 30+ Case Studies of Building Online Communities -- from Burning Man to Twitch.
  4. John Deere's Autonomy Lessons -- in order to build a fully autonomous tractor, there are no shortcuts. While a blend of GPS and other location tracking sensors, image sensors, and telematics assist John Deere vehicles to navigate fields today, the company still can’t truly replicate everything a human would see and feel sitting in the tractor cab. The company’s latest commercially available machine with autonomous features, the S700 combine (a vehicle that harvests grain), can automatically adjust its harvesting equipment based on the condition of the crop it sees—but still gives the farmer sitting in the tractor a camera on the process to make sure it’s happening correctly. Right now all of John Deere’s tractors still require a human to sit inside—a sign that autonomy is a long road even in controlled environments.

Four short links: 8 August 2017

Better Bloom Filter, AI Future, Adversarial Benchmarking, and Civilized Discourse​

  1. A General-Purpose Counting Filter: Making Every Bit Count -- like Bloom filters, but faster, resizable, you can delete items, and more. (via Paper a Day)
  2. Jeff Dean's AI Lecture for YC -- not just a good intro to modern AI, but a glimpse at how Google sees the future playing out.
  3. CleverHans -- A library for benchmarking vulnerability to adversarial examples.
  4. Civilized Discourse: But How? (Jeff Atwood) -- You have to have those rules because if no one can say what it is you stand for, then you don't stand for anything. Anything is now fair game, technically.

Four short links: 7 August 2017

Social Agents, Computational Zoom, Living Memory, and AI Policy

  1. Prom Week Meets Skyrim: Developing a Social Agent Architecture in a Commercial Game -- This project’s goal was to develop and implement a social architecture model, inspired in academic research, in a modern and commercially successful video game and investigate its impact on player experience. We choose to implement the social architecture in a popular Role Playing video game: “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” due to its popularity and high “mod-ability.”
  2. Computational Zoom: A Framework for Post-Capture Image Composition -- we introduce computational zoom, a framework that allows a photographer to manipulate several aspects of composition in post-processing from a stack of pictures captured at diff erent distances from the scene. We further define a multi-perspective camera model that can generate compositions that are not physically attainable, thus extending the photographer’s control over factors such as the relative size of objects at different depths and the sense of depth of the picture. We show several applications and results of the proposed computational zoom framework.
  3. SDF Projects -- zomg there's an authentic TOPS-20 system you can get logins on. For a taste of the Old Days.
  4. ISOC's AI and ML Policy Paper -- The paper explains the basics of the technology behind AI, identifies the key considerations and challenges surrounding the technology, and provides several high-level principles and recommendations to follow when dealing with the technology.

Four short links: 4 August 2017

Chinese Spamsorship, History of Intelligence, Patreon Numbers, and Javascript WTFs

  1. Quackspeak Ascendant (Cory Doctorow) -- China's approach to networked control is one of three dominant strategies used in the world: in Russia, they fill the channel with an untanglable mess of lies and truth, leading people to give up on understanding the situation; for the west's alt-right trolls, the strategy is to be so outrageous that you get picked up and retransmitted by every channel, which lets you reach the tiny minority of otherwise too-thin-spread, broken people and recruit them to your cause; and in China, it's quackspeak, this anodyne, happy-talk-style chatter about nothing much.
  2. Intelligence: A History -- If we’ve absorbed the idea that the more intelligent can colonize the less intelligent as a right, then it’s natural that we’d fear enslavement by our super-smart creations. If we justify our own positions of power and prosperity by virtue of our intellect, it’s understandable that we see superior AI as an existential threat. (via Sam Kinsley)
  3. Inside Patreon -- Half its patrons and creators joined in the past year, and it’s set to process $150 million in 2017, compared to $100 million total over the past three years.
  4. WTFJS -- A list of funny and tricky examples of JavaScript.

Four short links: 3 August 2017

Pricing Unicorns, Software Failures, Finding Prices, and Simulating Poverty

  1. How Unicorns Are Made -- One provision frequently afforded to investors is called a liquidation preference. It guarantees a minimum payout in the event of an acquisition or other exit. The study found that it can exaggerate a company’s valuation by as much as 94%. [...] Ratchets can inflate a startup’s value by 56% or more, the study said. The study is also interesting reading.
  2. IRIX 5.1 is a Disappointment -- leaked memo from the early '90s that rings true today.
  3. Finding the Right Price for Early Customers -- Setting an artificially high price, then waiting for the customer to wince (i.e., reject the price), forces an interested customer to negotiate it down. Each negotiation down will get you closer to the maximum price you can expect to charge, whereas always getting a "yes" will not tell you if you could charge more.
  4. Poverty Pick-A-Path -- turn-based game that challenges you to choose between options as a person experiencing poverty. I'm a fan of simulations that help you "experience" the difficulty of situations like balancing the budget, or (in this case) navigating a family downturn. Spoiler: UBI would be nice.

Four short links: 2 August 2017

App Size, Decision-Making, Headless Chrome, and Scientific Significance

  1. App Sizes Are Out of Control -- amen! I'm downloading a CD of data a day just for app updates.
  2. Make Great Decisions -- useful technique.
  3. Chromeless -- Chrome automation made simple. Runs locally or headless on AWS Lambda. Chromeless can be used to: run 1000s of browser integration tests in parallel; crawl the web and automate screenshots; write bots that require a real browser; do pretty much everything you've used PhantomJS, NightmareJS, or Selenium for before.
  4. Moving the Goalposts? (Thomas Lumley) -- responding to a paper proposing to make the threshold for scientific statistical significance be 10x harder to clear: The problem isn’t the threshold so much as the really weak data in a lot of research, especially small-sample experimental research [large-sample observational research has different problems]. Larger sample sizes or better experimental designs would actually reduce the error rate; moving the threshold only swaps which kind of error you make. This isn't all of Thomas' thesis, but it's a good point.

Four short links: 1 August 2017

RNA Coding, x86 Fuzzing, 1960s Coding, and AI Traps

  1. A Living Programmable Biocomputing Device Based on RNA (Kurzweil AI) -- Similar to a digital circuit, these synthetic biological circuits can process information and make logic-guided decisions, using basic logic operations — AND, OR, and NOT. But instead of detecting voltages, the decisions are based on specific chemicals or proteins, such as toxins in the environment, metabolite levels, or inflammatory signals. The specific ribocomputing parts can be readily designed on a computer.
  2. Sandsifter -- audits x86 processors for hidden instructions and hardware bugs by systematically generating machine code to search through a processor's instruction set and monitoring execution for anomalies. Sandsifter has uncovered secret processor instructions from every major vendor; ubiquitous software bugs in disassemblers, assemblers, and emulators; flaws in enterprise hypervisors; and both benign and security-critical hardware bugs in x86 chips.
  3. Programming in the 1960s -- uphill both ways in rain the colour of a television tuned to a dead station.
  4. How to Make a Racist AI Without Even Trying -- My purpose with this tutorial is to show that you can follow an extremely typical NLP pipeline, using popular data and popular techniques, and end up with a racist classifier that should never be deployed. Exploitability is the failure mode of doing what's easy.

Four short links: 31 July 2017

Statistics & Fiction, Staying Anonymous, Attacking Machine Learning, and Digital Native is Fiction

  1. The Heretical Things Statistics Tell Us About Fiction (New Yorker) -- Almost without fail, the words evoke their authors’ affinities and manias. John Cheever favors “venereal”—a perfect encapsulation of his urbane midcentury erotics, tinged with morality. Isaac Asimov prefers “terminus,” a word ensconced in a swooping, stately futurism; Woolf has her “mantelpiece,” Wharton her “compunction.” (Melville’s “sperm” is somewhat misleading, perhaps, when separated from his whales.)
  2. Things Not to Do When Anonymous -- so many ways to surrender anonymity, so difficult to remain anonymous.
  3. Robust Physical-World Attacks on Machine Learning Models -- Our algorithm can create spatially constrained perturbations that mimic vandalism or art to reduce the likelihood of detection by a casual observer. We show that adversarial examples generated by RP2 achieve high success rates under various conditions for real road sign recognition by using an evaluation methodology that captures physical world conditions. We physically realized and evaluated two attacks, one that causes a stop sign to be misclassified as a speed limit sign in 100% of the testing conditions, and one that causes a right turn sign to be misclassified as either a stop or added lane sign in 100% of the testing conditions.
  4. The Digital Native is a Myth (Nature) -- The younger generation uses technology in the same ways as older people—and is no better at multitasking.

Four short links: 28 July 2017

Usable Security, Philosophy Time, AR A-Ha, and Machine Knitting

  1. A Rant on Usable Security (Jessie Frazelle) -- By making a default for all containers, we can secure a very large amount of users without them even realizing it’s happening. This leads perfectly into my ideas for the future and continuing this motion of making security on by default and invisible to users. Kernel/Docker-heavy thoughts.
  2. Philosophy Time -- James Franco and philosophers tackle beauty, metaphor, imagination, and more. (via BoingBoing)
  3. Augmented Reality's A-ha Moment -- ​prototype app from TRIXI Studios that turns your living room into an A-ha video. Finally, someone using technology for the forces of good. (via BoingBoing)
  4. Machine Knitting Lingo -- not just vocab but pointers to hardware and software like Img2Track which connects certain models of Brother electronic machines directly to your computer. [...] Img2Track has a full UI, no need for Python or the command line. You import an image, it does some needed manipulation for you, you download it to your machine, and then knit as usual. To use Img2Track you only need to buy or make a special cable. You make no changes to your knitting machine itself. Demo up to 60 stitches wide for free, pay for the full-width software.

Four short links: 27 July 2017

Next Death, Evolution of Trust, Indoor Robots, and Embryo Editing

  1. Predicting Who Dies Next in Game of Thrones -- waiting for the org chart version of this.
  2. The Evolution of Trust -- fun illustration of what game theory has to say about trust.
  3. Indoor Robots -- overview of companies in the various spaces.
  4. First Human Embryos Edited in USA (MIT TR) -- Mitalipov is believed to have broken new ground both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases. Although none of the embryos were allowed to develop for more than a few days—and there was never any intention of implanting them into a womb—the experiments are a milestone on what may prove to be an inevitable journey toward the birth of the first genetically modified humans.

Four short links: 26 July 2017

Blockchain and Securities Law, Low-Energy Sensing, Robotics Deep Learning, and Chipped Employees

  1. Report of Investigation ... DAO (SEC) -- This Report reiterates these fundamental principles of the U.S. federal securities laws and describes their applicability to a new paradigm—virtual organizations or capital raising entities that use distributed ledger or blockchain technology to facilitate capital raising and/or investment and the related offer and sale of securities.
  2. How to Make a Wireless Sensor Live for a Year on One Tiny Coin Cell Battery -- We see that making the right choices in software can make a stunning 400x difference in power consumption – two orders of magnitude – even with an already extremely power-efficient hardware.
  3. Deep Learning in Robotics: A Review of Recent Research -- what it says on the cover.
  4. A Wisconsin Company Will Let Employees Use Microchip Implants to Buy Snacks and Open Doors -- Participating employees will have the chips, which use near field communication (NFC) technology, implanted between their thumb and forefinger. It’s an extension of the long-running implantable RFID chip business, based on a partnership with Swedish company Biohax International. The vending kiosk company, also known as 32M, will “chip” employees at a party on August 1st. This is fine. What could possibly go wrong?

Four short links: 25 July 2017

AI Sentencing, AI Vocabulary, Soft U2F, and Encrypted Email

  1. Opening the Lid on Criminal Sentencing -- Duke researchers building a (socially) better algorithm. CORELS makes it possible for judges and defendants to scrutinize why the algorithm classifies a particular person as high or low risk. [...] None of the research team’s models rely on race or socioeconomic status.
  2. Agents that Imagine and Plan -- the relentless appropriation of terms from cognition and psychology bugs me. But I can't figure out whether I'm long-term wrong, i.e. whether the future will look on the distinction between software and wetware (Ai and human intelligence) as irrelevant.
  3. Soft U2F -- Authenticators are normally USB devices that communicate over the HID protocol. By emulating a HID device, Soft U2F is able to communicate with your U2F-enabled browser, and by extension, any websites implementing U2F. Improves site security by preventing phishing. (The magic numbers intercepted for one site can't be reused on another)
  4. Magma -- The magma server daemon is an encrypted email system with support for SMTP, POP, IMAP, HTTP and MOLTEN. Additional support for DMTP and DMAP is currently in active development.

Four short links: 24 July 2017

Productivity Growth, Tree-Based Learning, Google's TCP Improvement, and Computational Psychology

  1. Is Productivity Growth Becoming Irrelevant? -- The growth of difficult-to-automate service activities may explain some of the productivity slowdown. Britain’s flat productivity reflects a combination of rapid automation in some sectors and rapid growth of low-productivity, low-wage jobs – such as Deliveroo drivers riding around on plain old-fashioned bicycles. In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that eight of the ten fastest-growing job categories are low-wage services such as personal care and home health aides.
  2. A Practical Guide to Tree-Based Learning Algorithms -- These algorithms empower predictive models with high accuracy, stability and ease of interpretation. Unlike linear models, they map non-linear relationships quite well. Common examples of tree based models are: decision trees, random forest, and boosted trees.
  3. BBR Explainer -- Short version: Google changed the TCP implementation (their network stack) and now your YouTube videos, Google websites, Google Cloud applications, etc. download a lot faster and smoother. Oh, and it doesn't get in the way of other websites that haven't made the switch. (Subtext: another feature of Google Cloud that doesn't exist at AWS or Azure. Nothing to turn on, no extra charge.)
  4. Computational Psychiatry in Borderline Personality Disorder (arXiv) -- growth in use of computational methods to diagnose disorders. (via the explainer in MIT TR)