Smart Automation

November 30, 2019

Companies the world over are using AI to automate more and more of their business processes. Digital South Africa takes a look at how some companies use the technology in their customer relationship management (CRM) in the article, “How AI Is Helping Brands Manage their Online Reputation.” Reporter Ashleigh Wainstein notes advantages include improved efficiency, error reduction, and detailed performance analyses. She writes:

“Customers are warming to the idea of artificial intelligence because it provides a way to get quick responses. Review responses can be semi-automated through NLP and AI but it is important to always have a human eye to ensure 100% accuracy and personalization. It’s important that there is some customizable wording in the response to the customer, but much of the information can be automated. It’s also important to have strategic keywords and elements in your review responses and software can ensure these elements are dynamically added, making the responses feel personalized and relevant to the rating and review.”

We are cautioned, however, to never automate responses to bad reviews or complaints. Leaving a bot to handle negative comments could easily spiral into a PR nightmare. Wainstein also observes automation must be adapted to business sectors and regions. In South Africa, for example, they have a lot of local slang on top of 11 official languages. She and her team chose the newly open sourced Google Bert, which she says uses a wider range of contextual words and natural language for more accurate results. They have trained it with their own data on South African language quirks.

Third-party APIs can be used to automate reporting, which saves time and reduces human error. We are reminded:

“Reports can be produced on anything from impressions, clicks and calls to reviews, review scores, social media posts and bookings stats. Generally, anything that’s quantifiable and that’s available to analyze, can be aggregated, counted and automated. Any measurable digital marketing stats are generally available through third-party APIs (application programming interfaces). An API is a link between two sites, for example between ours and Facebook, Google or TripAdvisor’s – which allows you to pass information back and forth.”

Wainstein closes by reiterating that, though automation can greatly benefit companies, it is important not to go too far. Maintaining the human touch is important, and not just when fielding criticisms. Each company will have to find its own balance.

Cynthia Murrell, November 30, 2019

Palantir and Sompo: Is a $150 Million Deal Big Enough, Too Small, or Just Right

November 19, 2019

Palantir Technologies has ingested about $2 billion in a couple of dozen investment rounds. Now a $150 million deal is very important to a services firm with a few million in sales. To an outfit like Booz, Allen or Deloitte, $150 million means a partner will keep her job and a handful of MBAs will be making regular flights to wonderful Narita.

Thiel Marks Palantir’s Asia Push with $150 Million Japan Venture” reports that Sompo Holdings is now Palantir’s partner, noting that the $150 million may be more of an investment. We noted this passage:

The billionaire entrepreneur [Peter Thiel] was in Japan Monday to unveil a $150 million, 50-50 joint venture with local financial services firm Sompo Holdings Inc., Palantir Technologies Japan Co. The new company will target government and public sector customers, emphasizing health and cybersecurity initially. Like IBM Corp. and other providers, Palantir’s software pulls together a range of data provided by its customers, mining it for patterns and displaying connections in easy-to-read spider web-like graphics that might otherwise get overlooked.

Bloomberg reported:

Palantir is very close to breaking even and will end 2019 either slightly in the black or slightly in the red, Thiel said at the briefing. The company will be “significantly in the black” next year, he added.

A few comments from the DarkCyber team:

  • The money in the headline is not explained in much detail. There is a difference between setting up a new company and landing a cash deal.
  • Bloomberg seems indifferent to the revenue challenge Palantir faces; namely, there are quite a few investors and stakeholders who want their money plus interest. The announcement may not put these individuals’ minds at ease.
  • The news story does not mention that new, more agile companies are introducing solutions which make both IBM Analysts Notebook and Gotham look a bit like Vinnie Testaverde or Bart Starr throwing passes at a barbeque.

Singapore is the location of choice for some of the more agile intelware and policeware vendors. Is Japan is a bit 2003?

To sum up, Palantir is to some a start up. To others Palantir is an example of a company that may lose out to upstarts which offer a more intuitive user interface and slicker data analytics. It is possible that an outfit like Amazon and its whiz bang data market place could deliver a painful blow to a firm which opened for business in 2003. That’s more than 15 years ago. But next year? Palantir will be profitable.

Stephen E Arnold, November 19, 2019

Quantum Cryptography: Rain on the Parade

November 11, 2019

I know (not too well, which may be a good thing) who is trying to cash in the quantum gold rush. The angle for this entrepreneur is that quantum computing will allow government entities to break encryption.

The hitch in the git along is that there are bad actors who are involved in quantum computing. There are good actors who are creating quantum-safe cryptography with quantum computers.

Confused? Don’t be. People who need to encrypt gravitate to the high horsepower computers. The people who want to break encryption do what’s necessary to get access to quantum computers. The method used by Saudi Arabia to obtain specific social media data worked like a champ.

That brings me to “Komodo to Lead Blockchain Revolution with Quantum-Safe Cryptography.” The write up says:

As a blockchain platform, Stadelmann said that Komodo is trying to solve the problem and has implemented quantum-safe cryptographic solutions for the past couple of years which will not be able to crack cryptographic signatures. Using an IBM-built technology, known as Dilithium, into its blockchain platform, he said the new digital signature algorithm will create a key which cannot be cracked by a quantum computer.

Sounds good. Just another cat and mouse game. The people working to cash in on this scare tactic may find that organizations face the status quo, not doomsday. Confused? Just the status quo perhaps?

Stephen E Arnold, November 11, 2019

How to Create Solutions in Software: The Cloud and More

November 8, 2019

DarkCyber is working on a white paper. This white paper is about Amazon AWS and its products/services for LE and intel professionals. Don’t worry, the white paper will be free to those affiliated with an enforcement organization.

In that white paper, DarkCyber’s team includes a diagram with layers. One of the reviewers of the paper told a team member:

Layers. What’s AWS? A birthday cake?

We talked about our diagram and the notion of layers. One person talked about “Layers in Software: From Data to Value.” The article included this diagram, which is different from the illustration in the DarkCyber white paper, but it conveys the same message. Here’s the Jessitron image:


The main idea is explained this way:

Feature teams need to do everything, from the old perspective. But that’s too hard for one team — so we make it easier.

This is where Developer Experience (DevEx) teams come in. (a.k.a. Developer Productivity, Platform and Tools, or inaccurately DevOps Teams.) These undergird the feature teams, making their work smoother. Self-service infrastructure, smooth setup of visibility and control for production software. Tools and expertise to help developers learn and do everything necessary to fulfill each team’s purpose. Internal services are supported by external services. Managed services like Kubernetes, databases, queueing, observability, logging: we have outsourced the deep expertise of operating these components. Meanwhile, internal service teams like DevEx have enough understanding of the details, plus enough company-specific context, to mediate between what the outside world provides and what feature teams need. This makes development smoother, and therefore faster and safer. We once layered by serving data to software. Now we layer by serving value to people.

This is a useful explanation. It applies to Amazon’s approach to the LE and intel sector. There is a twist in the Amazon digital river of products and services. That’s to be expected.

What is that twist?

The white paper will be out one the reviewers complete their inputs.

Stephen E Arnold, November 8, 2019

Azure Stability, Bonked Win 10 Updates, and C for Credge

November 4, 2019

Yep, do the ABCs. I spotted “Microsoft’s Edge Browser Gets a New Chromium Logo.” The main point of the story is a log for Microsoft’s version of the Google Chrome browser. Some pundits have dubbed this shotgun marriage of two giants with thoughts of an unassailable market position Credge. Here’s the logo in its swirliness.


Perhaps the effort put into this Credgey logo took away from some other tasks at the new Microsoft; for example, the Fast Search engine “improvements”, making Microsoft Word’s image placement more intuitive after many, many years, and providing clear, simple explanations for common problems?

What’s DarkCyber’s assessment of the Credge logo? It appears that someone (possibly a contractor) knows how to manipulate Adobe Illustrator gradients.

But the logo looks a bit like this antecedent from Deposit Photos, a photo and vector image licensing vendor:


Maybe, just maybe, Azure issues, botched updates, and a possibly derivative logo are more difficult than fiddling with stock art?

Stephen E Arnold, November 4, 2019

What Country Is Number One in AI?

November 4, 2019

China says, “It is not our country.” The US says, “It is not our country.”

“China Experts: US Still Out Front in Tech Race Despite Pentagon Claim” presents the Chinese side of the argument. There’s nothing like the “I’m just a back country AI expert. What do I know?” argument.

Abacus News states:

Chinese experts said China’s progress had been exaggerated and many of its achievements were only partial successes so far.

We noted this statement used to support the “we’re behind” argument:

“The US military wants more budget, more new equipment, more new R&D projects. And the theory of a China threat is, of course, a handy excuse,” Ni [Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military commentator] said.

Whom does one believe?

DarkCyber believes that one need only look at the demographics of computer scientist, engineering, and mathematics students in MA and PhD programs to get a sense of where technology innovation is heading.

What are those data? What’s the demographics in the US and China? What percentage of graduates from each country’s top schools remain in country?

Without these data, the assertions are meaningless. With these data, the Chinese assertion may not reveal the scope of the country’s information efforts.

Stephen E Arnold, November 4, 2019

Moderation: Feedback Loops Are Not Particularly Interested… Unless

November 3, 2019

I read the Los Angeles Review of Books’ essay “Why Technologists Fail to Think of Moderation as a Virtue and Other Stories About AI.” The write up explores Possible Minds: 25 Ways of Looking at AI. The essay and Possible Minds are worth reading.

DarkCyber wants to add one very small, probably angstrom-sized point:

Technology thrives on feedback loops.

Like a screech from the sound system in a 1960s’ school auditorium, feedback loops are not into moderation. The one attribute some of the most interesting technology giants share is the thrill of a fast ride on a feedback loop. Amazon is not alone with momentum, flywheels, and magnetism.

Do something. Money arrives. Do that something again. Money arrives. Like the auditorium’s sound system, zap. Whine.

Stephen E Arnold, November 3, 2019

MIT and Mendacity

September 27, 2019

I am back from a fun series of locations. Nifty USSR style apartment blocks, big statues, and weird refrigerator magnets. I missed the thrill and excitement of MIT’s struggles with ethics and money. (Spoiler: Money won it seems.)

I noted this write up a few moments ago:

The Fantasy of Opting Out: Those who know about us have power over us. Obfuscation may be our best digital weapon.

This MIT Press Reader article observes:

It isn’t possible for everyone to live on principle; as a practical matter, many of us must make compromises in asymmetrical relationships, without the control or consent for which we might wish. In those situations — everyday 21st-century life — there are still ways to carve out spaces of resistance, counterargument, and autonomy.

Good to know about the irrelevance of principle. MIT thinking in full bloom.

Embrace obfuscation; for example:

Obfuscation assumes that the signal can be spotted in some way and adds a plethora of related, similar, and pertinent signals — a crowd which an individual can mix, mingle, and, if only for a short time, hide.

You get the idea. Deception.

John Kenneth Galbraith was on the right track. He allegedly said:

Among all the world’s races, some obscure Bedouin tribes possibly apart, Americans are the most prone to misinformation. This is not the consequence of any special preference for mendacity, although at the higher levels of their public administration that tendency is impressive. It is rather that so much of what they themselves believe is wrong.

On my flight back to the US, I read “How an Élite University Research Center Concealed Its Relationship with Jeffrey Epstein.” The New Yorker makes clear that MIT’s attempts to cover up (obfuscate) its relationship with Mr. Epstein, the deceased person of interest with allegedly improper interests in young girls, did not work.

But there’s more. I read “M.I.T. Media Lab, Already Rattled by the Epstein Scandal, Has a New Worry” which stated in the typical New York Times manner:

Four researchers who worked on OpenAg said in interviews with The New York Times that Mr. Harper had made exaggerated or false claims about the project to its corporate sponsors, a group that included the retail giant Target, as well as in interviews with the news media.

Enough already.

How does one spell “mendacity”? Does it start with the letter “M”?

I wonder if top flight academic institutions are what they seem. Maybe some institutions are obfuscating but failing.

I wonder if there is a Bulgarian refrigerator magnet for doing the best one can under difficult circumstances.

Stephen E Arnold, September 27, 2019

Apple, Google, and Avid: The Perils of Complexity and Arrogance

September 27, 2019

Apple wants to make Mac users safe. The technology Apple uses requires passwords. Behind the scenes, Apple’s zeros and ones are beavering away to make Mac use a breeze. The trick? Just stick with Apple.

Google wants to point fingers at Apple iPhone and get Chrome on every Mac computer. Ads, surveillance, and real estate are probably motives. The Googlers are darned confident that their code is just peaches. Imagine the pain and shame of posting an admission of sorts that Google nukes some Macs. See this post. (Bonus time?)

Then there is Avid. To prevent the ethical lads and lasses in Hollywood and other video hot spots from pirating software, dongles are the answer. That’s Avid’s policy. No dongle, no go.

The problem is that none of these confident (maybe arrogant?)outfits think about the unknown dependencies within users’ computers. There are too many users. There are too many combinations of software and dongles.

The solution is to assume that everything will work. But when it doesn’t, the arrogant outfits have to explain that:

  • Their code may not be perfect
  • The security procedures may cause problems
  • The dongle things add complexity.

Will these types of issues become more frequent? Will smart software avoid these problems? Will pigs fly?

Stephen E Arnold, September 27, 2019

Chef Cooks Up a Management Stew

September 24, 2019

What happens when a programmer deletes open source software? The answer is to cancel a contract with the US government.

Information about this interesting not-so-passive resistance moment surfaced on the Chef blog. Barry Crist allegedly wrote:

While I and others privately opposed this and various other related policies, we did not take a position despite the recommendation of many of our employees.  I apologize for this. I had hoped that traditional political checks and balances would provide remedy and that our relationship with our various government customers could avoid getting intermingled with these policies.  However, it is clear that checks and balances have not provided relief to the fundamental issues of the policies in question. Chef, as well as other companies, can take stronger positions against these policies that violate basic human rights.  Over the past year, many of our employees have constructively advocated for a change in our position, and I want to thank them.

The fix?

Do not renew the US government contracts. Donate money to groups “that help vulnerable people impacted by the policy of family separation and detention.”

Vice describes the employee’s deleting code and the Chef decision to dump US government contracts this way:

a ballooning activism community within tech companies and the broader tech community.

DarkCyber finds the employee push back interesting for several reasons:

  1. The failure of management to manage is a characteristic of a number of technology-centric firms
  2. Employee activism can derail a company’s business processes
  3. The push back appears at this point in time a function associated with educated professionals.

Without a resolution, will US government agencies turn to non-US companies to provide needed software and systems?

Will employees demand a say in what a commercial enterprise does to generate revenue to pay those who work for the organization?

Will stakeholders tolerate intentional erosion of revenues because employees can destroy or possibly corrupt data, software, and systems because of a personal perception about rightness?

Will the digital Druckers at Gartner, Gerson Lehrman, and Booz Allen offer advice which solves this management puzzle?

Without organization and span of control, work at some firms may be difficult to complete in a satisfactory manner. Getting paid to do work was a contract. An employee does this task and gets paid. If the employee does not do the work or destroys that work, the contract is broken.

Then what?

Stephen E Arnold, September 24, 2019

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