Quantum Search: Consultants, Rev Your Engines

April 18, 2019

Search is a utility function. A number of companies have tried to make it into a platform upon which a business or a government agency’s mission rests. Nope.

In fact, for a decade I published “Beyond Search” and just got tired of repeating myself. Search works if one has a bounded domain, controlled vocabularies, consistent indexing, and technology which embraces precision and recall.

Today, not so much. People talk about search and lose their grip on the accuracy, relevance, and verifiability of the information retrieved. It’s not just wonky psycho-economic studies which cannot be replicated. Just try running the same query on two different mobile phones owned by two different people.

Against this background, please, read “How the Quantum Search Algorithm Works.” The paper contains some interesting ideas; for example:

It’s incredible that you need only examine an NN-item search space on the order of \sqrt{N}N?times in order to find what you’re looking for. And, from a practical point of view, we so often use brute search algorithms that it’s exciting we can get this quadratic speedup. It seems almost like a free lunch. Of course, quantum computers still being theoretical, it’s not quite a free lunch – more like a multi-billion dollar, multi-decade lunch!

Yes, incredible.

However, the real impact of this quantum search write up will be upon the search engine optimization crowd. How quickly will methods for undermining relevance be found.

Net net: Quantum or not, search seems destined to repeat its 50 year history in a more technically sophisticated computational environment. Consultants, abandon your tired explanations of federated search. Forget mere geo-tagging. Drill right into the heart of quantum possibilities. I am eagerly awaiting a Forrester wave report on quantum search and a Gartner magic quadrant, filled with subjective possibilities.

Stephen E Arnold, April 18, 2019

Human Trafficking: Popular and Pervasive

April 18, 2019

Sex trafficking is one of the greatest crimes in the world. Sex trafficking is one of the crimes facilitated by digital environments, but the same technology the bad actors use for their crimes is always being used to catch them. USA Today shares how the technology is used to put an end to sex trafficking in the article, “Technological Tricks Can Help End Sex Trafficking: Former IBM Vice President.”

In January 2019, the US Institute Against Human Trafficking launched the Reach Out Campaign in Tampa, Florida. The program used web scraping technology to gather phone numbers of Web sites selling sex in Tampa. It was discovered that most of the numbers linked to cell phones of people sold for sex so they could communicate and book appointments with their “clients.” Reach Out gathered over 10,000 numbers and a mass text was sent out to the numbers with information to leave the sex industry.

The Reach Out Campaign received a 13 percent response. The program needs to be launched across the country in order to assist more sex trafficking victims, who deal with complicated psychological issues. AI bots called Intercept Bots are deployed to create fake sex ads on the Internet, then when someone responds it collects the user’s information. The bot will then share that it is a lure and that the user’s information will potentially be given to law enforcement. While it is important to assist the victims, it is also helpful to address the perpetrators, generally men, and prevent them from committing the crimes in the first place:

It is important, however, that we not just focus on punishing those engaged in buying sex. Many of these men suffer from sex addictions that can be treated. This is why the Intercept Bots program also sends potential sex buyers information on where to get this help. A study in the medical journal Neuro  psycho pharmacology estimates that between 3-6 percent of Americans suffer from compulsive sexual behavior. And studies estimate that the percentage of American men who have engaged in commercial sex at least once is 15 to 20 percent; compared to their peers, these men think about sex more often.

Thee are also ad campaigns targeted at people buying sex share the consequences of getting caught buying sex.

Combating trafficking is difficult, but spreading information and using technology to catch bad actors saves victims from further abuse.

Whitney Grace, April 18, 2019

Facebook: Technical Challenges Arise

April 17, 2019

I read “Facebook Suffers Blackout Again but the Hackers Have Nothing to Do with It.” What struck me and one member of the DarkCyber team as interesting was the tiny hint of Facebook’s technical ineptitude. The word “again” and then the reminder that the service flop was not caused by “hackers” sticks the point of the reportorial spear into Facebook.

We noted this statement:

Earlier in March when Facebook was down for hours some experts had pointed towards DDoS attacks (Distributed Denial of Service) which can sometimes cripple businesses. However, Facebook denied it and said in tweet that the outage was “not related to a DDoS attack”. It had blamed the server configuration change for the outage.

A technical glitch or a distracted technical management team?

Stephen E Arnold, April 17, 2019

Silos Persist: GAO Analysis of DHS Asserts

March 23, 2019

Government reports are often filled with useful information. Some reports can be difficult to locate. A good example is GAP-19-210 “Homeland Security: Research & Development Coordination Has Improved, but Additional Actions Need to Track and Evaluate Project.” This report is online as of March 23, 2019, at this link: https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-19-210. In order to obtain a copy, right click on the link and download the PDF. Rendering of the document in a browser is not reliable.

I think this findability issue provides a good example of the information sharing issues discussed in the 59 page report.

If you are interested in the structure of DHS, the report contains several current organization charts.

The information about the technologies in use for border control is one of the first lists of this type which I have seen recently. You can find these data in Appendix I: Overview of the Science Technology Directorate’s Research and Development Projects on pages 48 and following.

This is a useful document because future procurements are hinted at.

A quick heads up. If you look for the document at www.gao.gov, the document does not appear on the public facing Web site yet. Experimenting with the different options for locating public information, one selector returned a list of DHS related reports with the most recent document dated 2014.

Stephen E Arnold, March 23, 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

China: Ensuring Control and a Separate Digital Kingdom?

March 15, 2019

I read “Huawei Confirms It Has Built Its Own Operating System Just in Case US Tensions Disrupt Use of Google’s Android.” On the surface, a big Chinese company is making contingency plans. The write up reports that “Huawei says it would only use its own OS in extenuating circumstances.” Logical. The write up includes an amplification in this paragraph:

Huawei Technologies, the largest smartphone vendor in China, said it has developed its own operating systems (OS) for both smartphones and computers, which can be used on its devices in the event that current systems provided by US technology giants are no longer available.

a slaying small

Is Huawei slaying a metaphorical technological dictator?

I noticed the addition of operating system for computers. Makes sense. Why not use open source and original super innovative Chinese technology to build a back up. Just in case. For a rainy day.

The article includes a statement which seems very clear, quite unambiguous:

“Huawei does have backup systems but only for use in extenuating circumstances. We don’t expect to use them, and to be honest, we don’t want to use them,” said a Huawei spokesperson on Thursday. “We fully support our partners’ operating systems – we love using them and our customers love using them. Android and Windows will always remain our first choices.”

Could these software be used for other applications and use cases; for example:

  1. Exclude non compliant customers from features and functionalities
  2. Extend China social capital data collection
  3. Filter content more effectively
  4. Deploy weaponized data?

Only in extenuating circumstances. So what’s “extenuating” mean? Is a seer available today (March 15) to elucidate?

Stephen E Arnold,  March 15, 2019

Microsoft and Kroger: Have These Outfits Actually Shopped at a Kroger Store in Kentucky?

January 8, 2019

The answer is, “Of course not.”

Kroger’s technological capability is modest, even by the low standards which define the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Home of the corrupt sports programs, bourbon, horse racing, river boat gambling, and other intellectual high water marks.

I read “Microsoft and Kroger to Create Data-Driven Connected Grocery Stores.” What this means is that Kroger wants to get rid of humans, keep the lights at mortuary levels, and not have to fool around with pesky customers who spend actual bank notes.

The write up takes a slightly different approach, stating:

The first fruit of the partnership is a digital shelving system, which was actually announced last year and is in the process of rolling out to dozens of Kroger stores across the U.S. Called EDGE (Enhanced Display for Grocery Environment), it bypasses paper price tags for digital shelf displays that can be changed in real time from anywhere, and it also can display promotions, dietary information, and more.

Yep, that’s an idea. But the flaw is that Kroger’s in Kentucky struggle to complete these tasks in an orderly, coherent way:

  1. Restock. Aisles are choked with people trying to cram products on shelves in aisles clogged with free standing cardboard promotions, mothers wrangling toddlers, and clueless males struggling to locate milk and bread.
  2. Functioning check outs. At the Louisville Westport Kroger, the store has a dozen next generation self check out machines. At 1225 pm Eastern exactly three of the machines were working. The hapless attendant was clueless and an even more confused “manager” was trying to calm down impatient shoppers. How many human check outs were open at this fine retail outlet? Exactly one. Yeah, Windows 10 will fix this puppy.
  3. Accurate data. I routinely locate products on shelves with prices different from what the Kroger check out systems display. The error rate seems to chug along at somewhere between 10 and 15 percent. The solution? Hide the prices so the hapless shopper will not be able to compare what one tag says with what the invisible database says. I suppose one could ask Cortana.

But the kicker is the idea that a shelf will illuminate only when a person is interfacing. It is pretty tough to buy a frozen burrito when the automatic illumination systems does not function. That assumes, of course, that one can actually locate frozen burritos which are in the frozen snack freezer two aisles away from frozen Mexican food.

Should I talk about the crazy Kroger app for wireless shopping and payment. Nope, I am heading to Whole Foods.

Stephen E Arnold, January 8, 2019

The Five Stages of Digital Death and Dying

January 5, 2019

Check out “Childhood’s End.” I noted this passage:

The digital revolution progressed through five stages: the repurposing of war-surplus analog vacuum tube components into the first generation of fully-electronic stored-program computers; the era of large central mainframes; the era of the microprocessor and personal computer; the advent of the Internet; and finally the era of fully-metazoan codes that populate the mobile landscape of today. The next revolution is the assembly of digital components into analog computers, similar to the way analog components were assembled into digital computers in the aftermath of World War II.

There you go, you fully metazoan code unit. Is this another way for a vacuum expert to say something sucks?

Stephen E Arnold, January 5, 2019

Blood Sugar Levels Will Not Work. What about Death?

November 17, 2018

Google, as I recall, wanted to smash through medical barriers. When the contact lens thing surfaced at Microsoft with inputs from Babak Parviz, I figured Google knew something Microsoft did not. I read “Alphabet Stops Its Project to Create a Glucose-Measuring Contact Lens for Diabetes Patients” and learned:

Verily, Alphabet‘s life sciences arm, has paused work on its so-called “smart lens” program, which was aiming to put tiny sensors on contact lenses to measure blood sugar levels in tears.

Parviz, one of the wizards responsible for Google Glass (that’s a story as well) is now at Amazon. The contact lens thing is a goner.

That happens. But it raises a question in my mind:

If Google can’t make blood sugar monitoring work, what’s that say about the company’s goal of solving death?

High school science club project? Maybe. Death may be a more difficult problem, but it might spark fascinating ad sales.

Stephen E Arnold, November 17, 2018

Quantum Computing: Rah, Rah, Rah

November 16, 2018

I don’t pay much attention to quantum computing. I gave a lecture at Yale, a fine institution a decade ago. At lunch, one of the lights of intellectual insight was yammering about quantum computing. I listened and offered, “Quantum. Think about light. Photon lensing maybe?” Wow, quite a reaction to the wave/particle thing that my former employer Halliburton Nuclear found interesting. I fell silent and listened to explanations of low temperatures, states, and the end of encryption as we know it. Believe me, I was glad to get to the train station and head back to rural Kentucky.

Over the years, I have noted the increasing interest in quantum computing. The idea is that the barriers or limitations of today’s computing methods are not doing the job. You know. Predicting the weather, figuring out what bond to buy or sell, and solving cancer or maybe even solving death. (That’s a Google thing, by the way.)

I read “The Case Against Quantum Computing.” I want to highlight a couple of statements in the write up. After the dust settles, you may be a believer in quantum computing or own a chunk of D-Wave Systems or some other forward leaning quantum computing outfit.


The D-Wave 2000Q is perfect for use on the run, in your home office, or on the beach.

The first statement I marked was:

It has gotten to the point where many researchers in various fields of physics feel obliged to justify whatever work they are doing by claiming that it has some relevance to quantum computing.

This is the everybody’s doing it approach. I am waiting for some bright spark to suggest that quantum computing enterprise search will make it possible to find the most recent version of a PowerPoint a sales manager used in a presentation yesterday after a wine infused lunch.

The second statement I noted was:

When will useful quantum computers be constructed? The most optimistic experts estimate it will take 5 to 10 years. More cautious ones predict 20 to 30 years. (Similar predictions have been voiced, by the way, for the last 20 years.) I belong to a tiny minority that answers, “Not in the foreseeable future.”

Roger that.

I found this statement interesting as well:

A useful quantum computer needs to process a set of continuous parameters that is larger than the number of subatomic particles in the observable universe.

My hunch is that the wizard at Yale thinks that quantum computing will be the next big thing. That’s useful.

Stephen E Arnold, November 16, 2018

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