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

Quantum Wampum: Public Relations Output

September 23, 2019

Quantum computing generates PR wampum. Forget useful, cost effective, programmable computation. PR may be the true measure of quantum goodness.

Google modestly suggested that its wizards and wizardettes have achieve “quantum supremacy.” As I said, understated, tasteful. A Google-infused report explains that “Its quantum computer can solve tasks that are otherwise unsolvable.” CNet has the details.

IBM, not to be outdone, will roll out for your personal use a 53-qubit quantum computer in six or seven weeks. In fact, according to ExtremeTech:

The new 53-bit quantum computer will join the array of devices available through IBM’s Quantum Computation Center, which currently offers 10 quantum computers — five 20-qubit systems, one 14-qubit system, and four 5-qubit systems. Within a month, it’ll have 14 systems running, including the new 53-qubit machine.

And, IBM is positioning these devices as a “commercial” product / service.

Imagine. Cloud access to a quantum computer and an online ad vendor declaring itself the Big Dog in qubits. What’s next? More PR seems probable.

Stephen E Arnold, September 23, 2019

Information Technology Outsourcing: Good or Bad?

September 18, 2019

One of the early twentieth century woes was outsourcing IT jobs. These jobs were sent to India, China, and other places in Asia. The outsourcing was a topic for comedy sketch shows and a political slogan for right and left wingers. There is more to IT outsourcing than we think, especially in the United Kingdom. Computer Weekly shares a new side about IT sourcing in the article, “IT Outsourcing Is Increasing, But Not As We Know It.” There is nothing new bout the growing demand for IT workers, but service providers have changed what they offer their customers.

The outsourcing statistics are worrying for the United Kingdom economy, because Whitelane Research and PA Consulting discovered that 71% of UK organizations plan to outsource the same amount or more of their services in 2019, according to a survey of 760 IT deals. The same study showed that the same organizations are going to insource less at 16%, compared to 22% in 2018. The main reasons for the outsourcing is how traditional service providers are being changed to meet customer demands and businesses streamline operations, such as automation, AI, and mobile apps.

An IT expert said:

“ ‘Technology-driven challenger organizations are transforming the way services are delivered and consumed across sectors,’ said Manish Khandelwal, IT transformation expert at PA Consulting.”

The traditional service providers might be changing, but they, along with smaller players, are increasing their IT spending. The same IT expert observed:

“’Technology investments are growing, presenting significant opportunities for established service providers and new entrants with differentiated offerings,’ said Khandelwal. ‘Service providers that are able to transition from traditional delivery and commercial models without compromising the service quality are looking at an exciting future ahead.’”

Organizations want to meet their customers’ demands, while achieving their business goals at the same time. This requires changing the traditional service structure, but also how companies are established and how they spend their money. It does not look good for growing local economies, but it could offer individuals the ability to start businesses when they might never had the chance. It is tough balance to keep, but no one knows what the results will be.

Whitney Grace, September 18, 2019

Skip the Nose Ring. Think Cyborg Implants

September 16, 2019

Ah, cyborgs! Cyborgs are the invention of science fiction, a combination of a human with robotic parts. Some people with artificial limbs with robotic components could be considered cyborgs. A full blown cyborg, however, is still in the future, but it is not that far away. Fast Company reports on one man’s dream to combine humans and machine: “Yuval Noah Harari: Humans Are On The Verge Of Merging With Machines.”

Harari spoke at the Fast Company European Innovation Festival in Milan about how humans and machines are closer than ever to becoming one. He pointed how Apple, Facebook, Google, and other technology companies created an online reality. Harari said that technology, such as a smartphone, will not be separated from a human body:

“If we are able to somehow merge these technologies with the human body—through chips in our brains or bodies—Harari says this would be the biggest revolution in all of human history. Throughout our existence as a species, we have always been able to manipulate our environment and create tools that make our lives better. But until now, we haven’t been able to manipulate ourselves.”

He makes another comparison between technology and magic, i.e. the technology of the present is the magic of the past. Harari does make a good argument that humans have already manipulated genetics and there are technologies like IVF. He does go on to insult Earth, but with climate change adapting to another environment is not a bad idea. Perhaps his most valid argument is that humans armed with their technological creations have a tendency to use them negatively.

Harari wants technology to improve human consciousness: our creativity, compassion, and spirituality. Good idea, but could it work? The negative usually trumps the bad, powered by money.

Whitney Grace, September 16, 2019

Productivity and Information Technology: A Myth?

August 30, 2019

The IT department is the go-to department for new technology and innovative ideas. According to the IT Pro Portal article, “Workers Aren’t Convinced IT Departments Are Making Them More Productive” United Kingdom workers believe that their IT departments are not the centers of productivity (the title says it all).

Citrix conducted a poll of 1000 UK based workers and discovered that people are clinging to outdated IT workplace practices. The IT departments are also not updating to implement new technology. Many practices compromise security:

“Almost a third doesn’t share securely hosted files, but instead use email to share documents around, making multiple copies, confusing workers and generally hurting productivity. A quarter saves important documents on their desktop even though they know they should be using the secure cloud.”

Humanoid punching bags — I mean millennials — are blamed for violating company security, according to the poll. They work on unprotected Wi-Fi networks and use unapproved apps for communication, like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

It seems that Citrix responded to the poll with PR speak about the value of information technology as a sure fire way to improve productivity and employee engagement.

Do employees want to change their behavior?

Some IT workers have become complacent and resist change. But why invest? Perhaps this year’s “Citrix” crop does not satisfy like fresh squeezed information technology?

Whitney Grace, August 30, 2019

A List of Eavesdroppers: Possibly Sort of Incomplete and Misleading?

August 22, 2019

DarkCyber noted “Here’s Every Major Service That Uses Humans to Eavesdrop on Your Voice Commands.” Notice the word “major.” Here’s the list from the write up:

  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • Microsoft

DarkCyber wonders if these vendors/systems should be considered for inclusion in the list of “every” eavesdropping service:

  • China Telecom
  • Huawei
  • Shoghi
  • Utimaco

DarkCyber is confused about “every” when five candidates are advanced. The six we have suggested for consideration are organizations plucked from our list of interesting companies which may be in the surveillance sector. We await more comprehensive lists from the “real news” outfit “Daily Beast.” Growl!

Stephen E Arnold, August 22, 2019

Web Site Accessibility

August 20, 2019

Over the years, the DarkCyber team has had to create Web sites which conform to the ADA and 508 guidelines for Web site accessibility. In that same span of time, Web sites have become more and more difficult to use, not just for individuals with disabilities but for people in general.

We noted “The Internet’s Accessibility Reckoning.” We found the information and point of view in the article generally in line with our ideas.

This passage captures the sentiment often expressed:

In order to be accessible to consumers with disabilities, businesses often need to update their website’s software code to work with screen readers and other technologies that make websites more accessible to those with disabilities.

This observation seems accurate as well:

Inconsistent court rulings and regulatory positions on the issue over the years have brought little clarity on whether businesses have to legally update their software, leaving millions of Americans unable to access retail and consumer websites.

DarkCyber wants to point out that Web sites evokes an image of a large computer and a desktop monitor. The reality is that the majority of Internet access is from:

  • Mobile devices, some of which have tiny screens and interface elements which are impossible for a person with a vision impairment, no matter how slight, to identify and press accurately.
  • Internet of Things devices which assume a person can talk to the gizmo and it will deliver the desired function.
  • Behind-the-scenes or predictive services which display what an algorithm determines the user requires.

The problem with each of these interface “spaces” is that the article does not discuss them, few Web designers think about them, and most regulators are unable to perceive these issues.

To sum up, making Web sites accessible is a bit more difficult than writing a regulation that adequately addresses each of these three areas. The word “reckoning” might be missing the mark. Perhaps “impossibility”?

Stephen E Arnold, August 20, 2019

Scalability: Assumed to Be Infinite?

August 20, 2019

I hear and read about scalability—whether I want to or not. Within the last 24 hours, I learned that certain US government applications have to be smart (AI and ML) and have the ability to scale. Scale to what? In what amount of time? How?

The answers to these questions are usually Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft, or some other company’s cloud.

I thought about this implicit assumption about scaling when I read “Vitalik Buterin: Ethereum’s Scalability Issue Is Proving To Be A Formidable Impediment To Adoption By Institutions.” The “inventor” of Ethereum (a technology supported by Amazon AWS by the way), allegedly said:

Scalability is a big bottleneck because Ethereum blockchain is almost full. If you’re a bigger organization, the calculus is that if we join it will not only be full but we will be competing with everyone for transaction space. It’s already expensive and it will be even five times more expensive because of us. There is pressure keeping people from joining, but improvements in scalability can do a lot in improving that.”

There are fixes. Here’s one from the write up:

Notably, Vitalik is known to be a supporter of other crypto currencies besides Ethereum. In July, Buterin suggested using Bitcoin Cash (BCH) to solve the scalability barrier in the short-term as they figure out a more permanent solution. Additionally, early this month, he supported the idea of integrating Bitcoin Lightning Network into the Ethereum smart contracts asserting that the “future of crypto currencies is diverse and pluralist”.

Questions which may be germane:

  1. What’s the limit of scalability?
  2. How do today’s systems scale?
  3. What’s the time and resource demand when one scales to an unknown scope?

Please, don’t tell me, “Scaling is infinite.”

Why?

There are constraints and limits. Two factors some people don’t want to think about. Better to say, “Scaling. No problem.”

Wrong. Scaling is a problem. Someone has to pay for the infrastructure, the know how, downstream consequences of latency, and the other “costs.”

Stephen E Arnold, August 20, 2019

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