Tech Embraces Ethics: A Borgias Play?

March 27, 2020

It looks like the tech industry is taking the concept of ethical AI seriously—or at least that is the optic a pair of the largest players seems to be going for. ITProPortal reports, “Vatican Teams Up with IBM and Microsoft on AI Ethics.” Will this solve problems like biased algorithms? I would not hold my breath. But I suppose bringing the Pope on board implies the industry is taking the matter Very Seriously. Writer Joel Khalili tells us:

“Executives from the two tech giants met senior officials from the Roman Catholic Church and signed a document entitled the Rome Call for Ethics, which calls for collaboration on ‘human-centered’ AI models.

Microsoft President Brad Smith, IBM Executive Vice President John Kelly and President of the Pontifical Academy for Life Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia were all signatories. According to the BBC, the initiative is designed to ensure humans are placed at the heart of new technologies. The document calls for AI models to be crafted with ‘our common and shared home and its human inhabitants’ in mind.”

Though Pope Francis bowed out of the conference due to illness, he did release an official statement:

“There is a political dimension to the production and use of artificial intelligence…In other words, it is not enough simply to trust in the moral sense of researchers and developers of devices and algorithms. The ethical development of algorithms can be a bridge enabling [a clear ethical framework] to enter concretely into digital technologies through an effective cross-disciplinary dialogue.”

Saying they hope to launch a fresh conversation on ethics in tech, Microsoft and IBM have urged other companies to join them in this initiative. Yep, ethics.

Cynthia Murrell, March 27, 2020

NASA: Bad Math for Data Return

March 23, 2020

DarkCyber continues to monitor the Amazon Web Services drive train for the Bezos bulldozer. “NASA to Launch 247 Petabytes of Data into AWS – But Forgot about Eye-watering Cloudy Egress Costs before Lift-Off” reports that it is easy to get into the AWS orbit but the payload return may incur some interesting costs.

The Register article states:

“Specifically, the agency faces the possibility of substantial cost increases for data egress from the cloud,” the Inspector General’s Office wrote, explaining that today NASA doesn’t incur extra costs when users access data from its DAACs. “However, when end users download data from Earth data Cloud, the agency, not the user, will be charged every time data is egressed. “That means EDSIS wearing cloud egress costs. Ultimately, ESDIS will be responsible for both cloud costs, including egress charges, and the costs to operate the 12 DAACS.”

Simplifying: Easy in, expensive out.

The Register did some math, which apparently is unfamiliar to certain NASA professionals and consultants. The Register reports:

The Register used Amazon’s cloudy cost calculator to tot up the cost of storing 247PB in the cloud giant’s S3 service. The promised pay-as-you-go price for us on the street was a staggering $5,439,526.92 per month, not taking into account the free tier discount of 12 cents. The audit, meanwhile, suggests an increased cloud spend of around $30m a year by 2025, on top of NASA’s $65m-per-year deal with AWS. The existence of data egress costs are not obscure nor arcane knowledge. Which left The Register wondering how an agency capable of sending stuff into orbit or making marvelously long-lived Mars rovers could also make such a dumb mistake.

Net net: The Bezos bulldozer grinds forward with some clever cost wiring; that is, a 21st century variant of the IBM lock in strategy.

Stephen E Arnold, March 23, 2020

Artificial Intelligence: Delivering But Not Yet Arrived

March 22, 2020

Artificial intelligence is the basis for most technology currently in development, because it is capable of handling complex actions and is designed to learn. AI is the most advanced algorithms invented to this day, but what does that mean in reference to business and industry? Forbes published the, “Levels And Limits Of AI” to provide perspective on AI’s capabilities, while Andreessen Horowitz takes a similar yet differing approach in, “The New Business Of AI (And How It’s Different From Traditional Software).”

One thing both articles agree on is that AI is here to stay until something more advanced is designed. Andreessen Horowitz agrees humans will be involved with AI beyond creating the algorithms, but there is more required to get AI working correctly for a company. AI, according to Forbes, is designed to do three things:

“There are several “levels” of artificial intelligence. A few years ago my friends John Frank and Jason Briggs, who run Diffeo, suggested breaking artificial intelligence into 3 levels of service: Acceleration, Augmentation, and Automation. Acceleration is taking an existing human process and helping humans do it faster. For example, the current versions of textual auto-complete that Google offers are acceleration AI. They offer a completed version of what the user might already say. The next level, augmentation, takes what a human is doing and augments it. In addition to speeding up what the human is doing (like acceleration), it makes the human’s product better. An example of this is what Grammarly does with improving the grammar of text. The final level is automation. In the previous two levels there are still “humans in the loop.” Automation achieves a task with no human in the loop. The aspiration here is Level 5 autonomous driving like Aurora and Waymo are pursuing.”

Andreessen Horowitz breaks down the obstacles businesses will encounter with AI deployment. In short, there will be some, most of which are SOP when implementing any new technology. The only difference is that AI is smarter, but there is this consolation for humans:

“The need for human intervention will likely decline as the performance of AI models improves. It’s unlikely, though, that humans will be cut out of the loop entirely. Many problems – like self-driving cars – are too complex to be fully automated with current-generation AI techniques. Issues of safety, fairness, and trust also demand meaningful human oversight – a fact likely to be enshrined in AI regulations currently under development in the US, EU, and elsewhere.”

AI is a tool meant to simplify and advance society, essentially it is not meant to replace humanity. Common sense weighs in on deploying AI-based technology. The ROI is a big factor, but also consider the phrase, “if it is not broken, do not fix it.”

Whitney Grace, March 22, 2020

Facebook: Another Innovation and Maybe Unforeseen Consequences

March 21, 2020

DarkCyber heard that Google was indexing then not indexing WhatsApp group information. Are other indexing outfits (some we know and love like Bing and others of which few know)?

The purpose of Facebook is for people to share information about themselves publicly or privately. One pull for Facebook is the group chat application WhatsApp that similarly allows users to make groups public or private. If you are a skilled Google searcher, however, some of the private WhatsApp groups are discoverable and joinable says Vice in the article, “Google Is Letting People Find Invites To Some Private WhatsApp Groups.”

To be the best and most competitive search engine, Google crawls the Web and indexes information it finds. Among the information Google is indexing are invite links to WhatsApp group chats. The WhatsApp administrators for those chats probably does not want them publicly shared. There are currently 470,000 results for a Google search of “chat.whatsapp.com.” Most of the private groups are innocuous and/or are for people sharing porn. One link did yield a WhatsApp group for accredited United Nations NGOs and their contact information.

The problem is when WhatsApp users publicly share a private group:

“A WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement, ‘Group admins in WhatsApp groups are able to invite any WhatsApp user to join that group by sharing a link that they have generated. Like all content that is shared in searchable, public channels, invite links that are posted publicly on the internet can be found by other WhatsApp users. Links that users wish to share privately with people they know and trust should not be posted on a publicly accessible website.’”

DarkCyber thinks there is a fix because Facebook is an interesting company. Governments, including the US government, is nudging forward legislation for backdoors. China and Russia have adopted quite specific tactics to try to make sure that when information is needed, access to those data is available without hurdles, hassles, and techno-bluster.

Whatsapp Could Soon Get Self-Destructing Messages” may or may not be accurate. The write up articulates an interesting “idea” for Facebook:

Whatsapp has been experimenting with a ‘Delete messages’ feature that allows users to set a self-destructing timer for all of their individual chats and have them removed automatically.

A government cannot request access to data which no longer “exist.”

Some Whatsapp users are likely to greet this “idea” with enthusiasm. Some of that enthusiasm may not influence government officials.

What are some hypothetical unintended consequences of this “idea” set forth in the cited article? Here are three:

  1. Criminals step up their usage of Whatsapp
  2. Intercept methods expand
  3. Controls over what is collected may be relaxed.

Net net: Changes may be upon some sectors.

Stephen E Arnold, March 21, 2020

Open RAN to Run Down Huawei

March 20, 2020

China’s top networking and telecom company Huawei is poised to dominate the world’s 5G wireless network, and we’re told the CIA took matters into its own hands years ago. The Washington Times reports, “CIA Funnels Cash to Private Company Aimed at Defeating Huawei.” Instead of waiting for Congress, the Justice Department, the Pentagon, and the White House to agree on a path, the CIA contracted venture capital fund In-Q-Tel to find a solution. Reporter Ryan Lovelace writes:

“Christopher Darby, the president and CEO of In-Q-Tel, told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last month that the venture capital fund began investing in 5G technology seven years ago. He said in a hearing that his fund has identified Parallel Wireless, a telecommunications service provider based in New Hampshire, as part of a government solution to concerns about Huawei’s threats to national security. Parallel Wireless uses a software-centered approach for building radio access network (RAN) capability that would ‘eliminate the need to spend millions of dollars on new equipment and infrastructure upgrades,’ according to a document on the company’s website. Parallel Wireless says its ‘Open RAN,’ which requires minimum maintenance, is ready for deployment immediately. Steve Papa, co-founder, chairman and CEO, said Parallel Wireless is fortunate that In-Q-Tel is proactively fighting Chinese domination of telecommunications. ‘Parallel Wireless is committed to destroying the threat Huawei poses to the free world,’ Mr. Papa said in an email. ‘We are actively working to ensure America and the world are free from the constraints of Huawei. Parallel works with many companies, many governments and many government agencies including In-Q-Tel.’”

Some in positions of power, like the attorney general, remain unconvinced Open RAN is a viable solution. Others are critical of In-Q-Tel itself. The fund was launched in 1999 as an investment firm for the intelligence community, which naturally means its investments were made with taxpayer dollars. Yet top-earning employees at the company have profited greatly from the fund’s success—several with annual salaries greater than $500,000 and with Darby himself making over $1.6 million in 2017 alone.

Be that as it may, it is beside the point of whether Parallel Wireless is indeed the answer to our Huawei problem. Will the CIA convince the rest of the federal government this is the solution?

Cynthia Murrell, March 20, 2020

Open Source Weaponized: Can Amazon Dent the Future of Target and Walmart?

March 16, 2020

Amazon Courts Walmart, Target to Join Cashierless Tech Group” is interesting but cut loose from the type of footnotes, named sources, and back up data some find helpful. Plus the WSJ states: “Retailers don’t yet plan to participate, but talks highlight Amazon’s ambition to have others adopt its technology.” If accurate, this is a page from the Amazon policeware / blockchain playbook. (For a free summary of DarkCyber’s Amazon policeware report, fill in the request form at this link.)

Retailers don’t yet plan to participate, but talks highlight Amazon’s ambition to have others adopt its technology

Amazon’s online bookstore bulldozer is revving through supply chain and demand mud. Despite the overheating of the big diesel engine, the S-Team is not resting on its laurels.

According to the Murdoch-inspired newspaper, “sources” have revealed “Amazon is making some of the software that underpins its Go stores available through an organization called Dent.” The idea seems to be that some of the technology would be open source.

DarkCyber finds the sourceless news interesting. Let’s assume that the write up is 100 percent accurate. Why give away a technology that could make Amazon’s AWS system some money? How open source is the Bezos bulldozer? What bits and pieces of digital connective tissue will be needed to make the open source technology work?

There are no answers to these questions. DarkCyber has formulated some other questions, and these also cannot be answered in a definitive way. Let’s look at these:

  1. Is Amazon use of open source a weaponization of the core ideas of open source software?
  2. How will the open source community respond to Amazon’s alleged embrace of open source?
  3. What type of pressure will Amazon’s open source play, if it indeed an accurate characterization of the WSJ sources’ factoids is accurate, put on its competitors?
  4. What does Amazon gain by making Target and Walmart look like outfits who don’t want to ride the Bezos bulldozer?

Net net: If the WSJ story is accurate, DarkCyber will have to reassess Amazon’s willingness to use certain types of digital data as a weapon. Like many weapons, caution is usually prudent. Mishandling can make downstream events in a chain quite interesting. Just Walk Out may garner a new connotation.

Stephen E Arnold, March 16, 2020

Google and Amazon: Two Dominant Dogs Snap and Snarl at One Another

March 13, 2020

DarkCyber read “How Google Kneecapped Amazon’s Smart TV Efforts.” The uptake on criminal lingo continues. For those not hip to the argot of some technology savvy professionals, the Urban Dictionary defines the concept this way:

The act of permanently destroying someone’s kneecaps. Often done with a firearm (as popularized in film and television), a baseball bat or lead pipe or other blunt instrument, or a power drill (often used in conjunction with a countersunk drill bit and popular with the IRA).

Yes, the elegance of business competition requires these metaphors it seems. DarkCyber thinks the article is “about” the collision of cleverness and rapaciousness. But enough of our philosophical wanderings. What did Google do to Amazon, assuming online services have joints which keep bone and joint doctors busy?

The write up states:

Any company that licenses Google’s Android TV operating system for some of its smart TVs or even uses Android as a mobile operating system has to agree to terms that prevent it from also building devices using forked versions of Android like Amazon’s Fire TV operating system, according to multiple sources. If a company were to break those terms, it could lose access to the Play Store and Google’s apps for all of its devices.

Ah, ha! The kneecapping is not physical; those making devices sign a contract.

Plus, there’s another Googley twist of the 6 mm drill bit, a metaphor for kneecapping explained above:

At the center of Google’s efforts to block Amazon’s smart TV ambitions is the Android Compatibility Commitment — a confidential set of policies formerly known as the Anti-Fragmentation Agreement — that manufacturers of Android devices have to agree to in order to get access to Google’s Play Store. Google has been developing Android as an open-source operating system, while at the same time keeping much tighter control of what device manufacturers can do if they want access to the Play Store as well as the company’s suite of apps. For Android TV, Google’s apps include a highly customized launcher, or home screen, optimized for big-screen environments, as well as a TV version of its Play Store. Google policies are meant to set a baseline for compatible Android devices and guarantee that apps developed for one Android device also work on another. The company also gives developers some latitude, allowing them to build their own versions of Android based on the operating system’s open source code, as long as they follow Google’s compatibility requirements.

Interesting.

How will the issue be resolved? Legal eagles will flap and squawk. Customers can vote with their purchases. But TVs cost very little because “advertising” and data are often useful sources of revenue. Regulators can regulate, just as they have since Google and Amazon discovered the benefits of their interesting business activities.

Regardless of the outcome between the assailant and the victim, the article reveals some of the more charming facets of two “must have” businesses. How can a person advance his or her understanding of the kneecapping allegation.

DarkCyber will run a Google query for business ethics and purchase a copy of Business Ethics: Best Practices for Designing and Managing Ethical Organizations from Amazon. You have to find your own way through the labyrinths of the underworld, you gangster, no mercy, no malice, as the pundit, scholar, entrepreneur, and media phenomenon Scott Gallaway has said.

Stephen E Arnold, March 12, 2020

Import.io and Connotate: One Year Later

March 3, 2020

There has been an interesting shift in search and content processing. Import.io, founded in 2012, purchased Connotate. Before you ask, “Connotate what?”, let me say that Connotate was a content scraping and analysis firm. I paid some attention to Connotate when it acquired Fetch, an outfit with an honest-to-goodness Xoogler on its team. Fetch processed structure data and Connotate was mostly an unstructured data outfit. I asked a Connotate professional when the company would process Dark Web content, only to be told, “We can’t comment on that.” Secretive, right.

Connotate was founded in 2000 and required about $25 million in funding. The amount Import.io paid was not revealed in a source to which DarkCyber has access. Import.io, which has ingested about $38 million. DarkCyber assumes that the stakeholders are confident that 1 + 1 will equal 3 or more.

Import.io says:

We are funded by some of the greatest minds in technology.

The great minds include AME Cloud Ventures, Open Ocean, IP Group, and several others.

The company explains:

Starting from a simple web data extractor and evolving to an enterprise level solution for concurrently getting data that drives business, industry, and goodness.

What’s the company provide? The answer is Web data integration: Identify, extract, prepare, integrate, and consume content from a user-provided list of urls. To illustrate the depth of the company’s capabilities, Import.io defines “prepare” this way:

Integrate prepared data with a library of APIs to support seamless integration with internal business systems and workflows or deliver it to any data repository to develop robust data sets for advanced analytics capabilities.

The firm’s Web site makes it clear that it serves the online travel, retail, manufacturing, hedge fund, advisory services, data scientists, analysts, journalists, marketing and product, hospitality, and media producers. These are a mix of sectors and industries, and DarkCyber did not create the grammatically inconsistent listing.

Import.io offers videos which provide some information about one of its important innovations “interactive extractors.” The idea is to convert script editing to point-and-click choices.

The company is growing. About a year ago, Import.io said that it experienced record sales growth. The company provided a link to its Help Center, but a number of panels contained neither information nor links to content.

The company offers a free version and a premium version. Price quotes are provided by the company.

Like Amplyfi and maybe ServiceMaster, Import.io is a company providing search and content processing with a 21st century business positioning. A new buzzword is needed to convey what Import.io, Amplyfi, and Service Master are providing. DarkCyber believes that these companies are examples of where search and content processing has begun to coalesce.

The question is, “Is acquiring, indexing, and analyzing OSINT content a truck stop or a destination like Miami Beach?”

Worth monitoring the trajectory of the company.

Stephen E Arnold, March 3, 2020

Financial Companies: Cloud Innovators?

February 28, 2020

An online information service called Channel Life published results of a survey related to financial services (mostly in Australia) and the hybrid cloud. The phrase “hybrid cloud” means combining AWS or Azure like services with an organization’s own private cloud. The buzzword is a typical meta notion; that is, as features fragment, another method comes along to roll up these diverse approaches into a single umbrella service. Word and Excel became Microsoft Office which morphed into a subscription umbrella service. Now the same approach is finding favor in financial services.

The write up “Financial Organizations Leading the Way for Hybrid Cloud, Nutanix Finds” presents the results of a research “study.” Here are a handful of factoids DarkCyber finds interesting:

60% of respondents state security is the single biggest influence on future cloud strategies. If accurate, regulations drive adoption of technology, not a customer centric focus.

39% of financial services companies reporting public cloud services were completely meeting their expectations. If verifiable, commercial cloud services may be failing to meet some customers’ needs, a situation not evident from the marketing collateral from major cloud vendors.

18% of financial companies have deployed hybrid cloud, while 51% plan to shift investment to hybrid cloud in just three to five years. If verifiable, there’s money to be made in meta software.

DarkCyber spotted minimal information about the sample selection process, sample size, and statistical procedures used. Nevertheless, one message is that bright sprouts may be able to make money providing an integration layer for multiple cloud systems. Is the era of the branded cloud ending? No, but the cloud business may be ripe for evolution…. if the data in the report are generally correct.

Stephen E Arnold, February 28, 2020

Google: Feeling the Competitive Heat

February 28, 2020

Google, DarkCyber assumes, thought that Microsoft’s decision to convert the Chrome browser into Credge was a victory. “Google Is Now Warning Millions Of Microsoft Edge Users To Switch To Chrome: Here’s Why” tries to explain Googley thinking.

We learn from the capitalist tool:

Google has been found “abusing user agents,” the identifying code that enables websites to identify the browser type and version, to detect and warn Microsoft Edge users visiting the Chrome web store that when it comes to extensions they should switch to Chrome. The reason for the warning is that Microsoft Edge doesn’t integrate with the Safe Browsing protections Google uses to remove threats—so when an extension presents a risk, Google can’t act in the same way to protect users.

Is this the only reason?

DarkCyber thinks a bit of context will explain some of the Googley thinking.

Consider Google and Amazon.

Google does not like Amazon, especially when Amazon stepped away from solely being a retailer to offering software services to customers. Google wants some of Amazon’s cloud business, so they are telling retailers to chuck Amazon and check out their tools. ZDNet rolls out the gossip in the article, “Google’s Pitch To Retailers: We’ll Help You, From Search To Supply Chain.”

At the National Retail Federation, Google introduced retailers to a new line of tools available via its cloud. The tools range from product discovery, supply chain optimization, and hybrid application management. Thomas Kurian, Google Cloud CEO, explained that the retailers who innovate with their business plans are the most successful. Google wants to grab these forward thinking retailers with new tools like:

“Among the new offerings for retailers is a new tool called Google Cloud Search for Retail, which Google is piloting now and will introduce to the broader market throughout the year. The tool helps retailers improve search results for their own websites and mobile apps using cloud AI and Google Search algorithms.

Kurian’s blog post also served as a reminder to retailers that they can buy Google Ads to surface their products when customers use Google’s many consumer tools like Search, YouTube, Shopping, Google Assistant or Maps.

We noted:

Google also announced Google Cloud 1:1 Engagement for Retail, a set of best practices that can help retailers build data-driven strategies for personalized customer services. This should make it easier for customers to use Google’s BigQuery data analytics platform to build personalization and recommendation models.

That is just the beginning! Google is also developing a Buy Optimization and Demand Forecasting service that assisted retailers plan and manage supply changes. There is also a new retail version of Anthos, Google’s platform for managing services on site or the cloud environment. It will allow retailers to roll our and manage applications across all stores.

What happens if we try to add 1 + 1. DarkCyber thinks that the task reveals several facets of Googley thinking:

  1. Microsoft has lots of Windows 10 users who just use Credge. The browser works, is there, and why hunt for a different way to look at Web pages. But what if Credge gets traction on a mobile phone? What if Microsoft, the long time drone target of the Google, gets eyeballs on Android devices? Yep, those victory cheers are likely to become verbal and physical tics.
  2. Amazon is selling ads. Selling lots of ads is not good for the Google, a company for more than 20 years has had one revenue stream of significance. The Google wants to put some sand in the fuel tank of Bezos bulldozer. Thus, Googley behavior dictates action.
  3. Google itself faces a problem few companies have: Indexing the Web and changes to Web pages is expensive. How does one cut costs when Microsoft may blindly wreck havoc in the browser revenue flow or put a dent in the quite robust mobile ad business? How does Google protect existing ad revenue and possibly cause the Bezos bulldozer to go down for an engine overhaul? Aggressive actions seems to be the order of the day.

If DarkCyber steps back or in the lingo of a University of Chicago philosopher “go up a meta lever”, the actions of today’s Googlers reflect some changes which may give pause. Marketing has never been a Googley strength. Now it has to be competitive marketing. Is Google’s marketing elegant? Yeah, not too elegant.

Can Google control costs without further compromising its search service, its wonky innovations, and its increasingly contentious employee-management interactions?

DarkCyber finds the Credge and Bezos bulldozer “plays” interesting and entertaining.

Stephen E Arnold, February 27, 2020

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