More AI Bias? Seems Possible

September 10, 2021

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are stuck in the past—the mid-1990s, to be specific, when the Classic FICO loan-approval software was developed. Since those two quasi-government groups basically set the rules for the mortgage industry, their reluctance to change is bad news for many would-be home buyers and their families. The Markup examines “The Secret Bias Hidden in Mortgage-Approval Algorithms.” Reporters Emmanuel Martinez and Lauren Kirchner reveal what their organization’s research has uncovered:

“An investigation by The Markup has found that lenders in 2019 were more likely to deny home loans to people of color than to white people with similar financial characteristics — even when we controlled for newly available financial factors the mortgage industry for years has said would explain racial disparities in lending. Holding 17 different factors steady in a complex statistical analysis of more than two million conventional mortgage applications for home purchases, we found that lenders were 40 percent more likely to turn down Latino applicants for loans, 50 percent more likely to deny Asian/Pacific Islander applicants, and 70 percent more likely to deny Native American applicants than similar White applicants. Lenders were 80 percent more likely to reject Black applicants than similar White applicants. These are national rates. In every case, the prospective borrowers of color looked almost exactly the same on paper as the White applicants, except for their race.”

Algorithmic bias is a known and devastating problem in several crucial arenas, but recent years have seen efforts to mitigate it with better data sets and tweaked machine-learning processes. Advocates as well as professionals in the mortgage and housing industries have been entreating Fannie and Freddie to update their algorithm since 2014. Several viable alternatives have been developed but the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees those entities, continues to drag its heels. No big deal, insists the mortgage industry—bias is just an illusion caused by incomplete data, representatives wheedle. The Markup’s research indicates otherwise. We learn:

“The industry had criticized previous similar analyses for not including financial factors they said would explain disparities in lending rates but were not public at the time: debts as a percentage of income, how much of the property’s assessed worth the person is asking to borrow, and the applicant’s credit score. The first two are now public in the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data. Including these financial data points in our analysis not only failed to eliminate racial disparities in loan denials, it highlighted new, devastating ones.”

For example, researchers found high-earning Black applicants with less debt get rejected more often than white applicants with similar income but more debt. See the article for more industry excuses and the authors’ responses, as well some specifics on mechanisms of systemic racism and how location affects results. There are laws on the books that should make such discrimination a thing of the past, but they are difficult to enforce. An outdated algorithm shrouded in secrecy makes it even more so. The Federal Housing Finance Agency has been studying its AI’s bias and considering alternatives for five years now. When will it finally make a change? Families are waiting.

Cynthia Murrell, September 10, 2021

Google Redefines Time

September 8, 2021

If you are Googley, you will adjust to the online ad giant’s manipulation of the space-time continuum. “Google Clock Bug Means Some Android Users Are Sleeping through Their Alarms” reports:

With many of us relying on our phones to get up in the morning (or any other time in the day), this is a bigger problem than it might at first appear to be. Google and Spotify do at least appear to have worked quickly to figure out what might be happening.

Perhaps those not happy with the Google manipulation of time, is it time to switch to an alternative device?

Apple sells some mobiles I believe. Are there issues with these devices? Nope, nothing that on device content scanning can cure.

Isn’t it wonderful to have choices in the mobile market?

Stephen E Arnold, September 8, 2021

The Print Nightmare Method Advances to the Windows 11 Tool Bar and Start Button

September 8, 2021

Once again someone has discovered a bug in Windows machines. The vulnerability allows bad actors access to remove code execution and local privilege escalation. Tech Radar details how this is the second issue related to this vulnerability in “There’s Yet Another New PrintNightmare Hack.” The problem started when Chinese security researchers shared a proof-of-concept exploit online, believing that Microsoft had patched the hole in Windows Print Spooler. Nope!

Microsoft quickly released a patch, but not before damage was done. Creator of the popular exploitation tool Mimkatz, Benjamin Delpy exploit exploited the bug again. The bug enables anyone to gain admin privileges on vulnerable machines. It works like this:

“According to reports, Delpy’s workaround takes advantage of the fact that Windows doesn’t prevent Limited users from installing printer drivers. Furthermore, it won’t complain when these drivers are fetched from remote print servers, and will then run them with the System privilege level.”

Microsoft issued another PrintNightmare patch, but Delpy and other security researchers are not happy with it. They say that Microsoft checks for remote libraries in PrintNightmare patch and it gives an opportunity to work around it. Delpy and other security researchers have since learned a lot about printer spooler and drivers. He released his own proof-of-concept that downloads a rogue driver that misuses the latitude to allow Windows users access to admin privileges. Delpy and others explain this will not be the last of Windows printer spooler abuse.

And how’s that Microsoft method working out?

It is consistent. “Windows 11 Preview Glitch Hits Start menu and Taskbar” explains:

“Recently, Windows Insiders in both the Dev and Beta Channels began reporting that Start and Taskbar were unresponsive and Settings and other areas of the OS wouldn’t load,” wrote the Windows Insiders team at Microsoft in a blogpost.

Yep, consistent.

Whitney Grace, September 8, 2021

A Bold Prediction about Quantum Computing

September 6, 2021

IBM’s big sales person once thought the market for computers was limited. Obviously that wizard was not channeling musk-scented Teslas. Now the NSA is going out on a digital limb. “NSA Doesn’t Think Quantum Computers Can Break Public Key Encryption” offers a viewpoint which I found interesting. The US government is interested in quantum computing. Heck, even big time intelligence conference attendees show some desire to backfill their technical understanding of the discipline which mucks around with space-time.

Here’s a statement from the write up I circled:

“NSA does not know when or even if a quantum computer of sufficient size and power to exploit public key cryptography (a CRQC) will exist,” said the security agency in response to whether it is worried about the potential of adversarial use of quantum computing.

If I were motivated, I would try to extract from the budget for the new US government fiscal year exactly how much money is allocated to quantum computing at DARPA, government research labs, three letter agencies, grants to universities research outfits, and miscellaneous funding in other US government-linked entities.

But I am not.

My thought is that this statement, as colorful as it may be, is a bit of a red herring. Who knew that red herrings were popular in quantum circles? Will the cyber dogs pick up the scent?

Stephen E Arnold, September 10, 2021

Big Tech Ignores Pigeons: Solution? Eliminate Nature?

August 30, 2021

I read an amusing post called “Starlink Dishes Apparently No Match for … Pigeons, But There May Be Hope.” The write up states:

… apparently the Starlink terminals or the dishes at users’ places are seemingly vulnerable to pigeons, perhaps among other animals, as the birds’ interference with the dishes apparently could disrupt the connectivity.

My first thought is that massive solar arrays, super-sized windmills, and power generation for electric vehicles and always-on devices will solve the problem.

Elon Musk-infused Starlink has another approach to try. I learned:

According to a recent license filing in the FCC, the company seems to be working on a more “high-performance (HP)” “rugged” version of the dishes that are being built for “use in harsh environments”. These new “rugged” terminals may be able to handle such nuisances from animals like pigeons, if they are deployed for households too.

My thought is that the big-tech entities which are largely unregulated should take offensive action. Birds, squirrels, and possibly agile chipmunks could be bioidentified and terminated via EMP pulses launched from an Amazon or Google drone. What do you think?

On the other hand, maybe the whiz kids should think about antenna design and orientation before learning about blights on high school science club infused ideas for the real world.

Stephen E Arnold, August 30, 2021

Deteching: Not Possible, Muchachos

August 6, 2021

Don’t become an Enterprise/IT Architect…” contains a small truth and a Brobdingnagian baby.

The small truth is, according to the article:

there are two speeds in IT: change is slow, growth is fast(-ish). Even if upper management (and many others, but the focus of this post is directed at the gap between ‘top’ and ‘bottom’) thinks they understand the complexity and effects, in reality, most of the time they have no clue as to the actual scale of the problem…

The idea is that there is a permanent break in the cable linking the suits with the people who have desks littered with usb keys, scraps of paper, and technical flotsam and jetsam.

Now for the Big Boy truth:

The frustration is that it will become harder to explain the ‘top’ what is going on and it will be particularly difficult to convince. This is especially true if that top has no interest in actually paying attention, because then it will be even harder as the first difficult step is to get them to hear you out.

What’s this mean for little problems like the SolarWinds’ misstep? What’s this mean for making informed decisions about cloud versus on premises or hybrid versus cloud, etc.? What’s this mean for making deteriorating systems actually work; for example, monopoly provided services which experience continuous and apparently unfixable flaws?

Big and small appear to be forcing a shift to a detech world; that is, one in which users (people or entities) have no choice but to go back to the methods which can be understood and which work. A good example is a paper calendar, not a zippy do, automated kitchen sink solution which is useless when one of the niggling issues causes problems.

As I said, SolarWinds: A misstep. Cyber security solutions that don’t secure anything. Printing modules which don’t print.

Detech. No choice, muchachos.

Stephen E Arnold, August 6, 2021

Tit for Tat, Not TikTok, Spurs Chinese Innovation

August 5, 2021

I don’t think of Foreign Affairs magazine as a hot technology read. Its articles conjure memories of political science. Yeah, that’s right “science” in politics.

However, I did read an interesting essay called “China’s Sputnik Moment?” (Get your credit card, gentle reader, the information may be behind a paywall.)

The main point is that the humiliation of a Chinese Go expert sounded the alert to Chinese technologists. The result is that the Middle Kingdom shifted gears and started “innovating.” The idea that China was losing to a group of Westerners was unpalatable.

You may want to check out the original essay. I want to highlight one passage from the write up as characteristic of the article:

China’s industrial policy has failed.

Well, there you have it. And what’s China beavering away at?

Beijing is pushing hard for technological self-sufficiency.

And how is that working out? The article asserts:

The combined efforts of China’s state drive and its innovative industry will accelerate the country’s technological advancement.

What’s the outlook for China with regard to US policies?

The author concludes:At this point, no effort on behalf of the U.S. government can deter China’s state from its end goal of industrial self-sufficiency.

Those US teens’ clicks of TikTok are count downs it seems.

Stephen E Arnold, August 5, 2021

Cheaper Lodgings Correlated with Violence: Stats 101 at Work

July 20, 2021

I don’t have a dog in this fight, but AirBnB- and VRBO-type disruptors do. ”AirBnB Listings Lead to Increased Neighborhood Violence, Study Finds” reports:

AirBnB removes social capital from the neighborhood in the form of stable households, weakening the associated community dynamics…

The write up explains:

Researchers at Northeastern University in Boston conducted a statistical analysis of AirBnB listings and data on different types of crime in their city. Covering a period from 2011 to 2017, the team found that the more AirBnB listings were in any given neighborhood, the higher the rates of violence in that neighborhood – but not public social disorder or private conflict.

Who causes the crime? The tourists? Nah, here’s what’s allegedly happening:

the transient population diminishes how communities prevent crime.

Interesting assertion. I have a small sample: One. One home in our neighborhood became an AirBnB-type outfit. No one stayed. The house was sold to a family.

No change in the crime rate, but that may be a result of the police patrols, the work from home people who walk dogs, jog, post to Nextdoor.com, and clean the lenses on their Amazon Ring doorbells.

Insightful.

Stephen E Arnold, July 20, 2021

China Chipping Away at Chips: Progress Evident

July 7, 2021

Intel is paying a third party to fab some super duper chips using the same teeny weeny traces rumored to be used in Apple’s next gen, does-everything chip. But Intel itself is not making the chips. China, however, seems to be plugging along with its chip fabbing efforts. It seems that China is moving forward in fabrication and technology for embedding AI in silicon. Global Times reports, “Chinese Tech Giant Baidu Spins Off $2 Billion AI Chip Unit, Gears Up for Homegrown Production Amid Fierce Competition.” Does this mean the bias will now be hardwired in? Who will know until it is too late.

The chip unit Kunlun will soon become an independent company, with the Baidu chip’s chief architect as its CEO. It is hoped the move will bring Kunlun more funding and more flexibility. Shares of Baidu climbed since the announcement. The brief write-up reports:

“Kunlun chips are designed to optimize AI workload and improve cloud cost structure. The project was first announced by Baidu CEO Robin Li at Baidu AI Developer Conference in 2018. It can be widely applied in scenarios such as computer vision and natural language processing. The first generation of Kunlun chips has seen the mass production in early 2020. The second generation with the performance of three times higher than that of the first generation, will be mass produced in the second half of 2021, according to media reports. Chips, which play a crucial role in the Internet of Things era, have become a new focus of competition for China’s technology giants. The competition has intensified amid the recent global shortage of chips and the US restriction on chip supplies to Chinese companies, according to industry experts.”

We are reminded AI chips are crucial to growing fields like unmanned vehicles and cloud servers, so there is much money to be made for companies that act quickly. Will China consider such issues as the unintentional harm biased AI can wreak on individuals and society. Nope. I think in the next six to nine months, there will be harm, and it may affect outfits like Intel which are working overtime to regain some of their former glory in the Great Chip Derby.

News releases are much easier to churn out than advanced semiconductors in our opinion. Maybe Wingtech via Nexperia will buy Newport Wafer Fab. This Newport outfit is the largest chip maker in the UK? Could this be a signal that China wants to make sure it can be a player in the chip game? The answer is, “Looks like it.”

Cynthia Murrell, July 7, 2021

IBM: Watson, What Email Service Should Big Blue Use?

July 6, 2021

Watson, yes, you, IBM Watson. What mail system should IBM use? I am waiting… in the meantime:

This is a one liner offered at lunch by one of my DarkCyber researchers. This individual finds IBM amusing. I, on the other hand, feel for the company.

IBM’s 18 Month Company Wide Email System Migration Has Been a Disaster, Sources Say” may not be 100 percent spot on. However, I believe it is indeed possible that the former Big Dog of computing may have itself swimming in an Olympic sized pool filled with Schwartzs Kosher Dill Pickles.

The write up reports:

“Outlook won’t work with the new system, IBM Notes won’t work and the online email called Verse has now gone down,” a tipster told us. “Everyone has been affected and no fix is in sight.”

The write up adds:

a blog post to IBM’s internal network w3 said the migration had been planned for 18 months and that everything should go fine provided everyone follows the instructions emailed to them. Evidently, this did not happen.

Now back to my question: Watson, what email service should Big Blue user?

Answer: Proton Mail. Are you sure?

Stephen E Arnold, July 6, 2021

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