JEDI: A Down to Earth Battle Between Digital Super Powers

April 20, 2019

This may be good news for China and Russia. Nextgov predicts, “Without JEDI, Pentagon’s Artificial Intelligence Efforts May Be Hindered.” The Pentagon requires an enterprise cloud computing solution for its ambitious AI plans—once it gets past one little snag, that is. They had a plan, called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract, but it is now on hold pending litigation. Reporter Frank Konkel writes:

“Through the JEDI contract, the Pentagon aims to put a commercial company in charge of hosting and distributing mission-critical workloads and classified data to warfighters around the globe in a single cloud computing environment. That environment would also process large swaths of military and defense data and serve as the computing and analytics workhorse for artificial intelligence applications.

Motley Fool reports in “An Unexpected Scandal Threatens To Cripple Amazon”:

the Department of Defense (DoD) cleared itself of wrongdoing following an internal investigation into the forthcoming award of the $10 billion cloud computing Joint Enterprise Defense Initiative (JEDI) program. Yet the Pentagon’s self-exoneration was not comprehensive, as Bloomberg noted that: “The investigation uncovered evidence of unethical conduct that will be referred to the DoD inspector general for a separate review.”

Nations like China will not oblige us by putting their AI plans on hold while we catch up. The DoD could try using a hardware stack instead, but that would severely constrict their plans, according to Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, head of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.

Is DarkCyber surprised? A better question, “What was the business ethos of DH Shaw when Mr. Bezos honed his financial and business skills at that Wall Street firm?”

DarkCyber does not know.

Cynthia Murrell, April 20, 2019

IEEE Spectrum Embraces Business Analysis: IBM Watson and Health

April 8, 2019

I spotted a link to “How IBM Watson Overpromised and Under delivered on AI Healthcare.” I read the article and found it reasonably balanced. What surprised me was the fact that the editors of IEEE Spectrum believed that this particularly collection of information should be published for the magazine’s and online audience. My suspicion is that IBM was promoting its technology in a manner that was egregious. IEEE was reminding its readers about veering from technical facts into the wild and crazy world of toothpaste and dandruff shampoo marketing. Then I realized the IEEE Spectrum was explaining an example digital snake oil:


I circled in Big Blue marker this passage:

Outside of corporate headquarters, however, IBM has discovered that its powerful technology is no match for the messy reality of today’s health care system. And in trying to apply Watson to cancer treatment, one of medicine’s biggest challenges, IBM encountered a fundamental mismatch between the way machines learn and the way doctors work.

Translation: Reality is different from a demo. When demos are built on software which has proven problematic for decades, one wonders how the square peg in the round hole gets funded.

I circled this statement:

… Even today’s best AI struggles to make sense of complex medical information. And encoding a human doctor’s expertise in software turns out to be a very tricky proposition. IBM has learned these painful lessons in the marketplace, as the world watched. While the company isn’t giving up on its moon shot, its launch failures have shown technologists and physicians alike just how difficult it is to build an AI doctor.

IEEE Spectrum does not use the word “desperation” but it applies. The reality, from my point of view, is that finding information and answering questions is difficult. Google pulls off a version of question answering by hooking relevance to behavior and possibly relevant advertisements. Precision and recall are not part of Google or other commercial search vendors’ vocabulary today.

But answering questions doesn’t work all that well today. Sorry Google.

“Regular” search— particularly search based on open source software, some home brew code, and acquired technology — is difficult to make work across different types of content and use cases. The dust up between HP and Autonomy is one example of what happens when “logical” explanations don’t apply to search and retrieval. There are other examples too. Just ask a Fast Search & Transfer executive who skirted serious jail time.

IEEE Spectrum’s article drives home failure this way:

In a final blow to the dream of an AI super doctor, researchers realized that Watson can’t compare a new patient with the universe of cancer patients who have come before to discover hidden patterns.

Translation: Watson doesn’t work. But the article finds some sparkles in the mine tailings. Note: A few sparkles.

The print version of  the article is titled, “Watson, Heal Thyself.”

The title should be: “IBM: Stick with What Works”. The mainframes are okay. The i2 and Cybertap technology is pretty good.

The Watson thing. Wow, pretty crazy expensive and sufficiently off the rails to motivate IEEE Spectrum to embrace the baloney making methods of the Harvard Business Review.

My take on the essay? IEEE Spectrum is saying, “EEs, don’t do this hyperbole charged approach when pushing your technology toys.” News flash: The EEs will ignore this plea when big money is on the table.

Stephen E Arnold, April 8, 2019

Expert System: Interesting Financials

April 6, 2019

Expert System SpA is a firm providing semantic software that extracts knowledge from text by replicating human processes. I noticed information on the company’s Web site which informed me:

  • The company had sales revenues of 28.7 million euros for 2018
  • The company’s growth was 343 percent compared to 2017
  • The net financial position was 12.4 million euros up from 8.8 million euros in March 2017.

Remarkable financial performance.

Out of curiosity I navigated to Google Finance and plugged in Expert System Spa to see what data the GOOG could offer.

Here’s the chart displayed on April 6, 2019:


The firm’s stock does not seem to be responding as we enter the second quarter of 2019.

Read more

Japan Times Interprets Google Behavior and Gomen Nasai Will Not Be Enough

April 3, 2019

I don’t want the Japan Times analyzing my behavior. Google, however, gets to enjoy this East Meets West experience. You can too. Just navigate to “Google Needs a Lesson in Patriotism.” The article is authored by Hal Brands, Johns Hopkins University.

The hook for the criticism of Google is the world’s largest online ad supported search system’s work on Dragonfly. That is/was the code word for a search engine tailored to meet the tastes of the Chinese government’s leaders.

Google tap-danced around Dragonfly, but the fact of creating a search system which would fit the needs of China’s leader like a personalized online ad annoyed some people. One of those who interpreted Google’s actions as unpalatable was General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

General Dunford, according to the Japan Times’ article, turned the spotlight on a

“larger problem with Google’s behavior. A company that prides itself on seeing around the corner of history is living in a world that no longer exists.”

In short, smart Google is stupid.

The article points out:

It is no surprise, then, that Dunford and other U.S. officials have been seething over Google’s behavior. A company that has grown fantastically wealthy, in part because it is based in the United States and benefits from the American-led global order, has decided that its “values” don’t allow it to cooperate with Washington, but that it is happy to help the Chinese Communist Party defend an authoritarian political system and scale the commanding heights of global technological superiority. Google’s conduct, in turn, reveals a deeper intellectual failing: The inability to see, or perhaps the refusal to acknowledge, that the post-Cold War era has ended and the world has entered the Age of Rivalry.

The bro culture may be leading Google into a “showdown with an angry Congress—or an angry president—in the future.

Messrs. Page and Brin, the prime movers of the culture of exceptionalism, have distanced themselves from Google. The current management team may not be able to fancy dance their way into the finals of the marathon which awaits them.

And once the US prom wraps up, other countries will strike up their bands. Google may end up with more than sore feet and some taps from an academic.

Why did the Japan Times run this essay? Google’s behaviors have offended more than General Dunford. I surmise that Google is indifferent to criticism of its business practices.

The article references a lack of patriotism, but it implies a much deeper problem. A serious malfunction which a simple fix cannot repair. Sad.

Stephen E Arnold, April 3, 2019

Google: News Corp. Wants to Grill Some Digital Shrimp

April 2, 2019

An article at The Sydney Morning Herald, “What Rupert Murdoch Really Wants from Google and Facebook,” points out that political opposites Rupert Murdoch and Elizabeth Warren agree on one thing—Google has too much power. While Warren vows to promote tech competition by breaking up Google (along with Amazon and Facebook), should she become US president, Murdoch’s company News Corp has petitioned its country’s regulatory agency to do the same. Writer John McDuling observes that it is unlikely, for several reasons, that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will take such an action. He writes:

“So, what are Murdoch and News Corp really up to then? Playing hardball, as usual. The call to break up Google kept the pressure on the search giant, and made the ACCC’s existing proposals to regulate it (and Facebook) seem tame by comparison. Back in December, the ACCC proposed a new body to scrutinize the opaque algorithms that power Google searches and Facebook’s news feed, and their conduct in the ad market. The tech giants and their supporters have dismissed the proposal as a weird, intrusive overreach. But now, all of a sudden, with the global media talking about a Google split, it seems relatively uncontroversial. …

We also circled with our yellow marker pen:

“[News Corp] also proposed a system where Google (and presumably Facebook) could pay ‘license fees’ to publishers to compensate them for the benefit they derived from their content. … The new proposal sounds more like the systems used around the world to decide royalties paid by streaming services and radio stations to songwriters and record labels. It would involve a new statutory framework, and independent economic analysis of the benefits of news to the platforms to help determine payments to publishers.”

As for Warren, the article notes voters across the US political spectrum are nervous about the power wielded by tech giants, implying she is after political points. (Whether the famously divided US Congress can or will actually do anything about the issue remains to be seen, we’re reminded.) Another wrinkle, McDuling observes, is the growing “tech-driven cold war” between the US and China. Anything that disempowers the companies in question could help China—a talking point they are likely to wield in their defense. Apparently, the conversation around the power of tech giants is just salivating at the thought of throwing some digital shrimp on the barbie.

Cynthia Murrell, April 2, 2019

Silicon Valley: The New Center of Ethical Thought

March 28, 2019

I read “Ethical Question Takes Center Stage at Silicon Valley Summit on Artificial Intelligence.” The write up is a collection of statements made by people attending the conference. A couple of the statements were fascinating; for instance, here’s one allegedly offered by a Google senior vice president:

Google’s Walker [a senior VP of global affairs] said the company has some 300 people working to address issues such as racial bias in algorithms but the company has a long way to go.

I wonder if each attendee received a copy of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism? TLDNR probably.

Stephen E Arnold, March 28, 2019

Who Is Assisting China in Its Technology Push?

March 20, 2019

I read “U.S. Firms Are Helping Build China’s Orwellian State.” The write up is interesting because it identifies companies which allegedly provide technology to the Middle Kingdom. The article also uses an interesting phrase; that is, “tech partnerships.” Please, read the original article for the names of the US companies allegedly cooperating with China.

I want to tell a story.

Several years ago, my team was asked to prepare a report for a major US university. Our task was to try and answer what I thought was a simple question when I accepted the engagement, “Why isn’t this university’s computer science program ranked in the top ten in the US?”

The answer, my team and I learned, had zero to do with faculty, courses, or the intelligence of students. The primary reason was that the university’s graduates were returning to their “home countries.” These included China, Russia, and India, among others. In one advanced course, there was no US born, US educated student.

We documented that for over a seven year period, when the undergraduate, the graduate students, and post doctoral students completed their work, they had little incentive to start up companies in proximity to the university, donate to the school’s fund raising, and provide the rah rah that happy graduates often do. To see the rah rah in action, may I suggest you visit a “get together” of graduates near Stanford or an eatery in Boston or on NCAA elimination week end in Las Vegas.

How could my client fix this problem? We were not able to offer a quick fix or even an easy fix. The university had institutionalized revenue from non US student and was, when we did the research, dependent on non US students. These students were very, very capable and they came to the US to learn, form friendships, and sharpen their business and technical “soft” skills. These, I assume, were skills put to use to reach out to firms where a “soft” contact could be easily initiated and brought to fruition.

threads fixed

Follow the threads and the money.

China has been a country eager to learn in and from the US. The identification of some US firms which work with China should not be a surprise.

However, I would suggest that Foreign Policy or another investigative entity consider a slightly different approach to the topic of China’s technical capabilities. Let me offer one example. Consider this question:

What Israeli companies provide technology to China and other countries which may have some antipathy to the US?

This line of inquiry might lead to some interesting items of information; for example, a major US company which meets on a regular basis with a counterpart with what I would characterize as “close links” to the Chinese government. One colloquial way to describe the situation is like a conduit. Digging in  this field of inquiry, one can learn how the Israeli company “flows” US intelligence-related technology from the US and elsewhere through an intermediary so that certain surveillance systems in China can benefit directly from what looks like technology developed in Israel.

Net net: If one wants to understand how US technology moves from the US, the subject must be examined in terms of academic programs, admissions, policies, and connections as well as from the point of view of US company investments in technologies which received funding from Chinese sources routed through entities based in Israel. Looking at a couple of firms does not do the topic justice and indeed suggests a small scale operation.

Uighur monitoring is one thread to follow. But just one.

Stephen E Arnold, March 20, 2019

Facebook: Ripples of Confusion, Denial, and Revisionism

March 18, 2019

Facebook contributed to an interesting headline about the video upload issue related to the bad actor in New Zealand. Here’s the headline I noted as it appeared on Techmeme’s Web page:


The Reuters’ story ran a different headline:


What caught my attention is the statement “blocked at upload.” If a video were blocked at upload, were those videos removed? If blocked, then the number of videos drops to 300 million.

This type of information is typical of the coverage of Facebook, a company which is become the embodiment of social media.

There were two other interesting Facebook stories in my news feed this morning.

The first concerns a high profile Silicon Valley investor, Marc Andreessen. The write up reports and updates a story whose main point is:

Facebook Board Member May Have Met Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower in 2016.

Read more

Hashing Videos and Images Explained

March 17, 2019

A quite lucid explanation of video and image identification appears in “How Hashing Could Stop Violent Videos from Spreading.” Here’s one passage from the article:

Video hashing works by breaking down a video into key frames and giving each a unique alphanumerical signature, or hash. That hash is collected into a central database, where every video or photo that is uploaded to a platform is then compared against that dataset. The system requires a database of images and doesn’t use artificial intelligence to identify what is in an image — it only identifies a match between images and videos.

CNN emphasizes Microsoft’s PhotoDNA technology. Information about that system may be found at this link. The write up points out that Facebook and Google use “this technology.”

One question is, “If the technology is available and in use, why are offensive videos and images finding their way into public facing, easily accessible systems?”

The answer according to an expert quoted in the CNN story is:

The decision not to do this [implement more effective hashing filter methods] is a question of will and policy—not a question of technology.”

The answer is that platforms are one way to avoid the editorial responsibility associated with old school methods of communication; for example, wire services, newspapers, and magazine. These types of communication were not perfect, but in many cases, an editorial process prevented certain types of information from appearing  in certain publications. So far, the hands off approach of some digital channels and the over hyped use of smart software have not been as effective as the hopelessly old fashioned processes used by some traditional media outlets.

So will? Policy?

Nah, money, expediency, and the high school science club approach to management.

Stephen E Arnold, March 17, 2019

Fake News Takes a Surprising Turn

March 15, 2019

I must admit I don’t pay much attention to Wikipedia pages. I don’t pay much attention to Wikipedia. When anyone can post, edit, and generate “accurate” content—I look elsewhere for information. I do pay attention to Wikipedia when allegations such as those appearing in “Facebook, Axios And NBC Paid This Guy To Whitewash Wikipedia Pages” find their way to my inbox.

The write up asserts:

NBC, too, apparently decided to put Sussman’s service to use in the aftermath of The New Yorker’s bombshell Harvey Weinstein report and, later, the allegations of sexual misconduct against Matt Lauer.

You can read the original article to get details on the person Sussman.

What interests me is that a news organization is apparently taking steps to shape the news about itself.

Fake news or shaped news? PR or weaponization? With access to online publishing and TV broadcasting channels, NBC was at a loss to deal with a Wikipedia page in a more direct manner?

Interesting. If true, of course.

Stephen E Arnold,  March 15, 2019

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