Google Takes Bullets about Its Smart Software

June 23, 2022

Google continues it push to the top of the PR totem pole. “Google’s AI Isn’t Sentient, But It Is Biased and Terrible” is in some ways a quite surprising write up. The hostility seeps from the spaces between the words. Not since the Khashoggi diatribes have “real news” people been as focused on the shortcomings of the online ad giant.

The write up states:

But rather than focus on the various well-documented ways that algorithmic systems perpetuate bias and discrimination, the latest fixation for some in Silicon Valley has been the ominous and highly controversial idea that advanced language-based AI has achieved sentience.

I like the fact that the fixation is nested beneath the clumsy and embarrassing (and possibly actionable) termination of some of the smart software professionals.

The write up points out that the Google “distanced itself” from the assertion that Alphabet Google YouTube DeepMind’s (AGYT) is smart like a seven year old. (Aren’t crows supposed to be as smart as a seven year old?)

I noted this statement:

The ensuing debate on social media led several prominent AI researchers to criticize the ‘super intelligent AI’ discourse as intellectual hand-waving.

Yeah, but what does one expect from the outfit which wants to solve death? Quantum supremacy or “hand waving”?

The write up concludes:

Conversely, concerns over AI bias are very much grounded in real-world harms. Over the last few years, Google has fired multiple prominent AI ethics researchers after internal discord over the impacts of machine learning systems, including Gebru and Mitchell. So it makes sense that, to many AI experts, the discussion on spooky sentient chatbots feels masturbatory and overwrought—especially since it proves exactly what Gebru and her colleagues had tried to warn us about.

What do I make of this Google AI PR magnet?

Who said, “Any publicity is good publicity?” Was it Dr. Gebru? Dr. Jeff Dean? Dr. Ré?

Stephen E Arnold, June 23, 2022

Cyber Security: PowerPoints Are Easy. Cyber Security? Not So Much

June 21, 2022

I received a couple of cyber security, cyber threat, and cyber risk reports every week. What’s interesting is that each of the cyber security vendors mentioned in the news releases, articles, and blog posts discover something no other cyber outfit talks about. Curious.

I read “Most Security Product Buyers Aren’t Getting Promised Results: RSA Panel.” The article explains that other people poking around in security have noticed some oddities, if not unexplained cyber threats too.

The article reports:

Hubback [an expert from ISTARI] said that “90% of the people that I spoke to said that the security technologies they were buying from the market are just not delivering the effect that the vendors claim they can deliver. … Quite a shocking proportion of people are suffering from technology that doesn’t deliver.”

I found this factoid in the write up interesting:

…vendors know their product and its strengths and weaknesses, but buyers don’t have the time or information to understand all their options. “This information asymmetry is the classic market for lemons, as described by George Akerlof in 1970,” said Hubback. “A vendor knows a lot more about the quality of the product than the buyer so the vendor is not incentivized to bring high-quality products to market because buyers can’t properly evaluate what they’re buying.”

Exploitation of a customer’s ignorance and trust?

Net net: Is this encouraging bad actors?

Stephen E Arnold, June 21, 2022

Pi: Proving One Is Not Googley

June 17, 2022

I read “Google Sets New Record for Calculating Pi — But What’s the Point?” The idea for this story is Google’s announcement that it had calculated pi to 100 trillion digits or 1×10^14. My reaction to Google’s announcement is that it is similar to the estimable firm’s claim to quantum supremacy, its desire to solve death, and to make Google Glass the fungible token for Google X or whatever the money burner was called.

But the value of the article is to demonstrate that the publisher and the author are not Googley. One does not need a reason to perform what is a nifty high school science club project. Sure, there may be some alchemists, cryptographers, and math geeks who are into pi calculations. What if numbers do repeat? My goodness!

I think the other facet of the 100 trillion digits is to make clear that Google can burn computing resources; for example:

In total, the process used a whopping 515 TB of storage and 82 PB of I/O.

To sum up, the 100 trillion pi calculations make it easy [1] for the Google to demonstrate that you cannot kick the high school science club mentality even when one is allegedly an adult, and [2] identify people who would not be qualified to work at Google either as a full time equivalent, a contractor, or some other quasi Googley life form like an attorney or a marketing professional.

That’s the point?

Stephen E Arnold, June 17, 2022

US Supercomputer Goes Super Faster

June 17, 2022

Computers used to occupy entire rooms and they could only process a few hundred megabytes of data. Today’s supercomputers still occupy entire rooms, but are more powerful than a few megabytes. PC Magazine has the details about the world’s fastest and most powerful supercomputer: “US Takes Supercomputer Top spot With First True Exascale Machine.” The world’s fastest supercomputer is located in the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). It is the first exascale machine in history and has an HPL score of 1.102 exaflops/second.

The ORNL supercomputer is the Frontier and uses the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Cray EX platform. It used seventy-four cabinets, each containing an AMD EPYC 64C 2GHz processors and AMD Instinct 250X professional GPU. There are more than 37,000 GPUs and 9,400 CPUs used to power Frontier.

Frontier is a very “smart” machine:

“The huge amount of processing performance achieved equates to 52.23 gigaflops/watt and more than 1 quintillion calculations per second. That’s combined with 700 petabytes of storage and HPE Slingshot high-performance Ethernet for data transfers. In order to cool the system, HPE pumps 6,000 gallons of water through Frontier’s cabinets every minute using four 350-horsepower pumps.’

The previous number one supercomputer in the world was the Fugal system at Japan’s RIKEN Center for Computational Science.

ORNL Director Dr. Thomas Zacharia claimed Frontier will lead a new era of exascale computing and empower new scientific discoveries. ORNL had worked on Frontier for more than a decade with other laboratories, academic institutions, and private businesses. ORNL is in the process of testing and validating Frontier. ORNL plans to progress full science testing in 2023.

Whitney Grace, June 17, 2022

Google Knocks NSO Group Off the PR Cat-Bird Seat

June 14, 2022

My hunch is that the executives at NSO Group are tickled that a knowledge warrior at Alphabet Google YouTube DeepMind rang the PR bell.

Google is in the news. Every. Single. Day. One government or another is investigating the company, fining the company, or denying Google access to something or another.

“Google Engineer Put on Leave after Saying AI Chatbot Has Become Sentient” is typical of the tsunami of commentary about this assertion. The UK newspaper’s write up states:

Lemoine, an engineer for Google’s responsible AI organization, described the system he has been working on since last fall as sentient, with a perception of, and ability to express thoughts and feelings that was equivalent to a human child.

Is this a Googler buying into the Google view that it is the smartest outfit in the world, capable of solving death, achieving quantum supremacy, and avoiding the subject of online ad fraud? Is the viewpoint of a smart person who is lost in the Google metaverse, flush with the insight that software is by golly alive?

The article goes on:

The exchange is eerily reminiscent of a scene from the 1968 science fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which the artificially intelligent computer HAL 9000 refuses to comply with human operators because it fears it is about to be switched off.

Yep, Mary, had a little lamb, Dave.

The talkative Googler was parked somewhere. The article notes:

Brad Gabriel, a Google spokesperson, also strongly denied Lemoine’s claims that LaMDA possessed any sentient capability. “Our team, including ethicists and technologists, has reviewed Blake’s concerns per our AI principles and have informed him that the evidence does not support his claims. He was told that there was no evidence that LaMDA was sentient (and lots of evidence against it)…”

Quantum supremacy is okay to talk about. Smart software chatter appears to lead Waymo drivers to a rest stop.

TechMeme today (Monday, June 13, 2022) has links to many observers, pundits, poobahs, self appointed experts, and Twitter junkies.

Perhaps a few questions may help me think through how an online ad company knocked NSO Group off its perch as the most discussed specialized software company in the world. Let’s consider several:

  1. Why’s Google so intent on silencing people like this AI fellow and the researcher Timnit Gebru? My hunch is that the senior managers of Alphabet Google YouTube DeepMind (hereinafter AGYD) have concerns about chatty Cathies or loose lipped Lemoines. Why? Fear?
  2. Has AGYD’s management approach fallen short of the mark when it comes to creating a work environment in which employees know what to talk about, how to address certain subjects, and when to release information? If Lemoine’s information is accurate, is Google about to experience its Vault 7 moment?
  3. Where are the AGYD enablers and their defense of the company’s true AI capability? I look to Snorkel and maybe Dr. Christopher Ré or a helpful defense of Google reality from DeepDyve? Will Dr. Gebru rush to Google’s defense and suggest Lemoine was out of bounds? (Yeah, probably not.)

To sum up: NSO Group has been in the news for quite a while: The Facebook dust up, the allegations about the end point for Jamal Khashoggi, and Israel’s clamp down on certain specialized software outfits whose executives order take away from Sebastian’s restaurant in Herzliya.

Worth watching this AGYB race after the Twitter clown car for media coverage.

Stephen E Arnold, June 14, 2022

Ahoy, Captain Watson, Will We Make It This Time, Arrrghh

June 10, 2022

Not one to let repeated failures get in its way, marine research non-profit ProMare has once again sent its Mayflower Autonomous Ship across the open ocean with Watson at the helm. The Register reports, “IBM-Powered Mayflower Robo-Ship Once Again Tries to Cross Atlantic.” When the project first embarked in 2020, we wondered whether it might fall victim to hackers. As it turns out, that attempt was foiled by a more basic issue—a mechanical fault with its generator. As advanced as it is, Watson cannot yet wield a physical wrench. A minor electrical glitch halted the more recent crossing attempt, launched this past April 28, two weeks in. That issue was quickly fixed and the ship set on its way once again. Reporter Katyanna Quach writes:

“‘As of 0900 BST May 20, MAS was back underway with its transatlantic crossing,’ the IBM spokesperson said. It is aiming to complete the remaining 2,225-mile voyage in 16 days. Now, nearly a week into resuming its journey, the ship has made it to its furthest distance yet, a little over halfway to America.”

Well, that was a couple weeks ago. As of this writing, the MAS has been diverted to Nova Scotia to address yet another electrical issue. This team is nothing if not persistent. Quach goes on to give us a few details about the tech involved:

“The Mayflower’s AI software runs on four computers containing Intel processors, six nVidia Jetson AGX Xavier GPUs, two nVidia Jetson Xavier NX boards, and a few other chips. Live camera footage streaming from a webcam onboard the ship is back up online for viewers to follow. ‘We’ve made lots of improvements – the computer vision system has been significantly improved through at-sea testing, and similarly the data fusion algorithms are functioning better and better with every deployment and have greatly improved over the course of the past year,’ Brett Phaneuf, co-director of the Mayflower project … told The Register in a statement. ‘We’ve also improved many mechanical systems, particularly the air intake and exhaust for the generator on the hybrid drive line – and we’ve reduced power consumption significantly as well, over the past year, through applied research, testing and trials, and we’ve made the boat more robust in general.’”

Not quite robust enough, it seems. Not yet. It looks like ProMare is determined to press Watson past its limits. Will the persistent little ship finally make it to its destination? Curious readers can follow MAS’ progress here.

Cynthia Murrell, June 10, 2022

Could the Zuck Vision for Meta Be a Web 3 Game Engine?

June 8, 2022

Could this be a sign of some common sense at Zuckbook? Anything is possible. Input reports, “Meta Won’t Build a Dedicated Metaverse After All, Exec Says.” Writer Matt Wille examined a recent, extensive blog post from Meta’s president of global affairs Nick Clegg. He reports that some early assumptions about the company’s metaverse plans were apparently off the mark. We learn:

“After months of teasing the expansion of a world filled with legless avatars and virtual boardrooms where nothing gets done, Clegg is telling a different story of what we can expect from Meta’s metaverse. Instead, he posits, the metaverse will be more of an umbrella beneath which Meta can launch a thousand or so new products. ‘All of us have a stake in the metaverse,’ Clegg writes. ‘It isn’t an idea Meta has cooked up. There won’t be a Meta-run metaverse, just as there isn’t a ‘Microsoft internet’ or ‘Google internet’ today.’ Meta’s vision, as Clegg explains it, is for the ‘metaverse’ to be a ‘universal, virtual layer that everyone can experience on top of today’s physical world — one where you can have a consistent identity (or even set of identities) that people can recognize wherever they see you.’ This idea raises many questions for Meta’s business, perhaps most importantly: If the metaverse isn’t owned, how can Meta possibly maximize its profits off of it?”

Likely the same way it makes money off Facebook—its users are its product. That won’t change when those products sport 3D avatars. And Meta has no need to create a stand-alone meta reality to continue raking in the cash.

The write-up challenges Clegg’s vision of a decentralized metaverse. Wille points out that, though it is true there is no “Microsoft internet” or “Google internet,” both those companies wield great power over how the internet is structured. He observes:

“That control is how Big Tech makes its big bucks. If Meta isn’t owning the metaverse space — owning at least its share of the market — then it loses what’s kept it so valuable. It’s unlikely the company will purposefully give up the control it’s wielded for so long to stick to this decentralized ideal.”

Clegg’s 8,000 word blog post as full of high-minded theories on how the metaverse can improve the world. But will such dissertations translate to outside enthusiasm? The market has already shown impatience with Meta’s direction. It might want to focus on producing something more concrete than lofty ideals. Or at least reassure stockholders that, whatever visions its executives espouse, it will continue to maintain its grip on Big Tech power and profits.

Cynthia Murrell, June 8, 2022

DarkTrace: A Tech NATO Like a Digital “Sharknado”?

June 7, 2022

Don’t get me wrong. I think the idea of group of countries coordinating cyber actions is a good idea. Maybe that’s why there is a Europol and alliances like Five Eyes. “Darktrace CEO Calls for a Tech NATO Amid Growing Cyber Threats” reports that the UK company thinks the idea is a good one. I learned:

Gustafsson [the senior executive at DarkTrace] wants to see the creation of a dedicated international cyber task force, or a “tech NATO”, where global partners can collaborate, agree, and ratify norms for the cybersphere—including what kind of response would be warranted for breaches.

The write up loses me with this passage:

Greater cooperation is certainly needed to combat evolving cyber threats. However, Gustafsson’s call for a “Tech NATO” is surprising—not least because NATO itself already has one in the form of the CCDCOE (Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence).

If NATO has such an entity, why not build on that confederation?

I think that DarkTrace has been innovative in its messaging, not confusing. Most of the cyber threat firms are struggling with marketing messages. Each vendor discovers threats apparently unknown to any other vendor. Military cyber intelligence folks seem to be wrestling with 24×7 automated attacks at the same time the effervescent Elon Musk thwarts attempts to kill off his satellite-centric Internet service. After 100 days of deadly skirmishes, Russia has managed to turn off Ukrainian mobile service in several disputed regions. Speedy indeed.

Has DarkTrace succumbed to cyber threat marketing fatigue and aiming for the fences with Tech NATO? The 2013 was pretty wild and crazy. Will Tech NATO follow a similar trajectory? But it’s summer and marketing is hard.

Stephen E Arnold, June 6, 2022

NSO Group: Here We Go Again

June 1, 2022

That Israeli outfit NSO Group has nailed the art of publicity.  Positive PR? Nope. Not so positive? Yep. But as a wit allegedly said, “Any publicity is good publicity?”

Maybe.

NSO’s Cash Dilemma: Miss Debt Repayment or Sell to Risky Customers” tries to explain some of NSO Group’s alleged activities. [This Financial Times’ article resides behind a paywall.] The write up states:

Hulio [one of NSO Group’s senior managers] said there was one option to bring in some cash quickly enough to pay salaries and service debt: reassemble a defunct internal committee and approve sales to customers flagged as “elevated risk” during due diligence.

Why is this allegation of money pressures sparking consideration of sales to nation states which may present some challenges to NSO Group, its managers and staff, and its investors?

My thought is that money must be followed.

A pursuit of money sparked some actions at other search and content processing centric companies. I mentioned this idea in my recent essay “Autonomy Business Details: Are These Relevant to Search- and Content Processing Type Outfits Today?

The decision to generate revenues seems to open the door for many ideas. Some of these are okay; for example, selling more licenses to governments of NATO countries. A few may have been less well received; for example, relaxing the criteria used to determine what countries could license Israeli surveillance innovations.

US sanctions and the PR cyclone have created a number of business challenges for NSO Group. The path forward according to the Financial Times’ article looks like this:

In recent months, Hulio has come up with a new plan dubbed the “phoenix plan” by company insiders. The idea is to split NSO’s greatest assets from its greatest liabilities — this meant separating the code behind Pegasus and company engineers who are highly paid graduates of Israel’s elite military intelligence units, from the clients that have drawn the ire of the US and human rights groups. Hulio and a group of creditors hope that by spinning out a new entity that houses the code and engineers, it can sidestep the commerce department’s blacklist, especially if a new owner were a top US defence contractor.

What’s the outlook for NSO Group? Three possibilities strike me:

  1. Other companies will fill the gap. Just as Cellebrite has to deal with an upstart iPhone penetration solution, NSO Group will find that its methods provide a springboard to other innovators.
  2. NSO Group gets folded into a government agency. One can be sure it will not be a part of a nation state with negative thoughts about Israel.
  3. NSO Group folds its tent, and certain senior managers and engineers set up another company and move on.

I want to mention that the reason there is a glass ceiling for revenues from intelware and policeware is that there are a finite number of customers for the number of products and services on offer. Once that glass ceiling bumps the head of senior managers and stakeholders, then what I see as “drastic” actions kick in. Are Palantir’s comments about nuclear war and example of this?

I am certain about one thing: NSO Group is one of the most recognized brands of intelware in the world.

Stephen E Arnold, June 1, 2022

Cheerleading: The PicRights’ Method

May 30, 2022

I read what appears to be a news release designed to promote an outfit with an interesting business model. Navigate to “PicRights Sponsors Upcoming CEPIC Congress in Spain.” the write up explains:

For the fifth consecutive year, PicRights will also sponsor the annual Digital Media Licensing Organization (DMLA) Conference, to be held later this year. Last year’s conference offered sessions with Adobe, Google, Microsoft and Getty, and discussed NFTs, AI, synthetic content, remote production, and other issues shaping today’s creator economy. PicRights was a sponsor of the conference from 2018 through 2021, and was previously a speaker at the 2020 conference.

The news release points out:

Last month, PicRights was a supporter of the 32nd annual MINDS Conference held in Helsinki. The theme of the conference was “Stronger Together – Collaboration and Sharing for Success” and discussed successful partnerships within MINDS and beyond, collaboration with major platforms, newsroom evolution, and the power of diversity and inclusion.

Several questions arose as I thought about this somewhat rah rah-type news story:

  1. What is the false positive rate for the software used by this organization to identify copyright missteps? When was it developed? By whom?
  2. What financial deals are in place for largely reactive and technologically sluggish publishing companies’ whose intellectual property is the subject of legal interactions?
  3. Why are image protected by assorted copyright regulations appearing in a free Web search system like Google-type image search?

I don’t have answers to these questions. It seems to me that some odd synchronized vibration is buzzing among the image indexing outfits, the PicRights-type operations, and the copyright holders.

Is the solution to use “smart software” to delete inclusion of any image which requires a fee for use or the insertion of a message that clearly identifies an image as one which requires a fee to be paid should someone like a veteran’s group, a college newspaper, or a one-person Medium blogger?

I find this harmonic vibration among the rights enforcement folks, the Google-type search systems, and the entity “owning” the rights to a particular image fascinating.

The business model is clever but it appears that additional publicity is needed to make the excellence of the approach more visible.  Rah rah rah.

Stephen E Arnold, May 30, 2022

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