Intelligence Researchers Pursue Comprehensive Text Translation

March 27, 2017

The US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA) is seeking programmers to help develop a tool that can quickly search text in over 7,000 languages. ArsTechnica reports on the initiative (dubbed the Machine Translation for English Retrieval of Information in Any Language, or MATERIAL) in the article, “Intelligence Seeks a Universal Translator for Text Search in Any Language.” As it is, it takes time to teach a search algorithm to translate each language. For the most-used tongues, this process is quite well-along, but not so for “low-resource” languages. Writer Sean Gallagher explains:

To get reliable translation of text based on all variables could take years of language-specific training and development. Doing so for every language in a single system—even to just get a concise summary of what a document is about, as MATERIAL seeks to do—would be a tall order. Which is why one of the goals of MATERIAL, according to the IARPA announcement, ‘is to drastically decrease the time and data needed to field systems capable of fulfilling an English-in, English-out task.’

Those taking on the MATERIAL program will be given access to a limited set of machine translation and automatic speech recognition training data from multiple languages ‘to enable performers to learn how to quickly adapt their methods to a wide variety of materials in various genres and domains,’ the announcement explained. ‘As the program progresses, performers will apply and adapt these methods in increasingly shortened time frames to new languages.’

Interested developers should note candidates are not expected to have foreign-language expertise. Gallagher notes that IARPA plans to publish their research publicly; he looks forward to wider access to foreign-language documents down the road, should the organization meet their goal.

Cynthia Murrell, March 27, 2017

Palantir Technology: Making Some Waves

March 16, 2017

I don’t know about you, but I am not keen on waking up one morning and finding protestors with signs in front of my house. Bummer. One of the motive forces behind Palantir had the pleasure of this experience on March 11, 2017. You can see the invitation to the protest against Palantir in general and Peter Thiel in particular at this link. Note that it helpfully provides Mr. Thiel’s private residence address. Nifty.

I also found interesting the article “Palantir’s Man In The Pentagon.” Buzzfeed seems to have a keen interest in Palantir. I follow Palantir’s technology too. Buzzfeed does seem to come up some enthusiastic writing.

I assume, of course, that everything I read on the Internet is accurate. Therefore, I learned:

A former Palantir “evangelist” has taken a top job at the Defense Department, after spending years lobbying the Pentagon on behalf of the Silicon Valley company.

As a former a laborer in the vineyards of Booz, Allen Hamilton, I know that this is not a shocker. People routinely move from outfit to outfit as they try to create the perfect work history, make money, and do some interesting, even entertaining, work.

The write up told me:

Mikolay, 37, worked for Palantir for four years as an “evangelist,” according to his LinkedIn profile, meaning he met with government officials to sell Palantir’s software. According to a confidential email obtained by BuzzFeed News, Mikolay’s role at Palantir involved pitching the Army on the battlefield intelligence contract, which has become something of a white whale for the Silicon Valley firm.

I also noted:

A Defense Department spokesperson, Capt. Jeff Davis, told BuzzFeed News in a statement: “Mr. Mikolay took action to ensure he would not participate in any matters that would have a direct and predictable effect on Palantir, consistent with conflict of interest statutes and government ethics regulations. Further, he worked with the DoD Standards of Conduct Office to implement a screening arrangement to ensure all particular matters involving Palantir are forwarded to another senior defense official for appropriate disposition. Such recusals are not uncommon for civilian appointees who have worked previously in the private sector.”

Frankly I was more interested in this statement:

Mikolay, in joining the Defense Department, is returning to an agency where he once worked as a speechwriter for former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. He is a Navy veteran who attended the United States Naval Academy and got a master’s degree at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Yep, shocker. A job change in DC with a new administration if office. Hardly surprising because it is standard operating procedure along the banks of the Potomac.

Stephen E Arnold, March 16, 2017

Attivio Takes on SCOLA Repository

March 16, 2017

We noticed that Attivio is back to enterprise search, and now uses the fetching catchphrase, “data dexterity company.” Their News page announces, “Attivio Chosen as Enterprise Search Platform for World’s Largest Repository of Foreign Language Media.” We’ve been keeping an eye on Attivio as it grows. With this press release, Attivio touts a large, recent feather in their cap—providing enterprise search services to SCOLA, a non-profit dedicated to helping different peoples around the world learn about each other. This tool enables SCOLA’s subscribers to find any content in any language, we’re told. The organization regards today’s information technology as crucial to their efforts. The write-up explains: 

SCOLA provides a wide range of online language learning services, including international TV programming, videos, radio, and newspapers in over 200 native languages, via a secure browser-based application. At 85 terabytes, it houses the largest repository of foreign language media in the world. With its users asking for an easier way to find and categorize this information, SCOLA chose Attivio Enterprise Search to act as the primary access point for information through the web portal. This enables users, including teachers and consumers, to enter a single keyword and find information across all formats, languages and geographical regions in a matter of seconds. After looking at several options, SCOLA chose Attivio Enterprise Search because of its multi-language support and ease of customization. ‘When you have 84,000 videos in 200 languages, trying to find the right content for a themed lesson is overwhelming,’ said Maggie Artus, project manager at SCOLA. ‘With the Attivio search function, the user only sees instant results. The behind-the-scenes processing complexity is completely hidden.’”

Attivia was founded in 2007, and is headquartered in Newton, Massachusetts. The company’s client roster includes prominent organizations like UBS, Cisco, Citi, and DARPA. They are also hiring for several positions as of this writing.

Cynthia Murrell, March 16, 2017

Intelligence Industry Becoming Privatized and Concentrated

March 10, 2017

Monopolies aren’t just for telecoms and zipper manufacturers. The Nation reveals a much scarier example in its article, “5 Corporations Now Dominate Our Privatized Intelligence Industry.” Reporter Tim Shorrock outlines the latest merger that brings us to this point, one between Pentagon &  NSA contractor Leidos Holdings and a division of Lockheed Martin called Information Systems and Global Solutions. Shorrock writes:

The sheer size of the new entity makes Leidos one of the most powerful companies in the intelligence-contracting industry, which is worth about $50 billion today. According to a comprehensive study I’ve just completed on public and private employment in intelligence, Leidos is now the largest of five corporations that together employ nearly 80 percent of the private-sector employees contracted to work for US spy and surveillance agencies.

Yes, that’s 80 percent. For the first time since spy agencies began outsourcing their core analytic and operational work in the late 1990s, the bulk of the contracted work goes to a handful of companies: Leidos, Booz Allen Hamilton, CSRA, SAIC, and CACI International. This concentration of ‘pure plays’—a Wall Street term for companies that makes one product for a single market—marks a fundamental shift in an industry that was once a highly diverse mix of large military contractors, small and medium technology companies, and tiny ‘Beltway Bandits’ surrounding Washington, D.C.

I should mention that our beloved leader, Stephen E Arnold, used to work as a gopher for one of these five companies, Booz Allen Hamilton. Shorrock details the reasons such concentrated power is a problem in the intelligence industry, and shares the profile he has made on each company. He also elaborates on the methods he used to analyze the shadowy workforce they employ. (You’ll be unsurprised to learn it can be difficult to gather data on intelligence workers.) See the article for those details, and for Shorrock’s discussion of negligence by the media and by Congress on this matter. We can agree that most folks don’t seem to be aware of this trend, or of its potential repercussions.

Cynthia Murrell, March 10, 2016

 

 

Dark Web Explosives Buyer Busted Through FBI Infiltration

March 9, 2017

Here is the story of another successful Dark Web bust. Motherboard reports, “Undercover FBI Agent Busts Alleged Explosives Buyer on the Dark Web.” The 50-year-old suspect was based in Houston, and reporter Joseph Cox examined the related documents from the Southern District of Texas court. We are not surprised to learn that the FBI found this suspect through its infiltration of AlphaBay.; Cox writes:

The arrest was largely due to the work of an undercover agent who posed as an explosives seller on the dark web marketplace AlphaBay, showing that, even in the age of easy-to-use anonymization technology, old-school policing tactics are still highly effective at catching suspects.

According to the complaint, on August 21, an FBI Online Covert Employee (OCE)—essentially an undercover agent—located outside Houston logged into an AlphaBay vendor account they were running and opened an unsolicited private message from a user called boatmanstv. ‘looking for wireless transmitter with detonator,’ the message read. ‘Everything I need to set of a 5 gallon can of gas from a good distance away [sic].’ The pair started a rapport, and boatmanstv went into some detail about what he wanted to do with the explosives.

One thing led to another, and the buyer and “seller” agreed to an exchange after communicating for a couple of weeks. (Dark Web sting operations require patience. Lots of patience.) It became clear that Boatmanstv had some very specific plans in mind for a very specific target, and that he’d made plenty of purchases from AlphaBay before. The FBI was able to connect the suspect’s email account to other accounts, and finally to his place of business. He was arrested shortly after receiving and opening the FBI’s package, so it would appear there is one fewer violent criminal on the streets of Houston.

It is clear that the FBI, and other intelligence organizations, are infiltrating the Dark Web more and more. Let the illicit buyer be wary.

Cynthia Murrell, March 9, 2016

ScyllaDB Version 3.1 Available

March 8, 2017

According to Scylla, their latest release is currently the fastest NoSQL database. We learn about the update from SiliconAngle’s article, “ScyllaDB Revamps NoSQL Database in 1.3 Release.” To support their claim, the company points to a performance benchmark test executed by the Yahoo Cloud Serving Benchmark project. That group compared ScyllaDB to the open source Cassandra database, and found Scylla to be 4.6 times faster than a standard Cassandra cluster.

Writer Mike Wheatley elaborates on the product:

ScyllaDB’s biggest differentiator is that it’s compatible with the Apache Cassandra database APIs. As such, the creators claims that ScyllaDB can be used as a drop-in replacement for Cassandra itself, offering users the benefit of improved performance and scale that comes from the integration with a light key/value store.

The company says the new release is geared towards development teams that have struggled with Big Data projects, and claims a number of performance advantages over more traditional development approach, including:

*10X throughput of baseline Cassandra – more than 1,000,000 CQL operations per second per node

*Sub 1msec 99% latency

*10X per-node storage capacity over Cassandra

*Self-tuning database: zero configuration needed to max out hardware

*Unparalleled high availability, native multi-datacenter awareness

*Drop-in replacement for Cassandra – no additional scripts or code required”

Wheatley cites Scylla’s CTO when he points to better integration with graph databases and improved support for Thrift, Date Tiered Compaction Strategy, Large Partitions, Docker, and CQL tracing. I notice the company is hiring as of this writing. Don’t let the Tel Aviv location of Scylla’s headquarters stop from applying you if you don’t happen to live nearby—they note that their developers can work from anywhere in the world.

Cynthia Murrell, March 8, 2016

Take the Time for Alexa

March 6, 2017

In the new digital assistant line up, Alexa responds better than Cortana and Siri, because it can provide better and more intelligent services that the smartphone based app.  As an Amazon product, as with Amazon Web Services, developers can learn how to build apps and other products for Alexa.  The question is how to get started?  HeroTurko created a learning tutorial for interested Alexa developers and it can be checked out at, “Amazon Alexa Development From Beginner To Intermediate.”

Voice-based apps are a growing sector in the technology industry and will only get bigger as the demand for voice-controlled technology increases.  The tutorial is designed to teach developers how to design voice apps and then launch them on the Amazon Echo.  Building your Alexa skills is a necessary step, so the course says, to get an edge on the voice app market:

The biggest industries in technology are surrounded by AI, Bots, and Voice technology. Voice technology I believe will be the new 21st user interface that will not only understand basic commands, but will be so smart to understand anything you tell it. This is why Amazon is making a big bet with Alexa, which it plans to generate close to $11 billion dollars by 2020. They know something about Amazon Echo, which is why now is the best time to learn these skills before the mainstream starts developing applications. We all know the story about apps for the smartphones, this is the same thing.

This course contains over 50 lectures and 1.5 hrs of content. It’s designed for beginners to play with new platforms in the voice space. You’ll learn the tools needed to build the Alexa Skills, how Alexa Skills work, and publish a skill to Amazon’s Alexa store.

Learning how to use Alexa is the precursor to designing other voice app and will probably segway into NLP.  If you want to learn where the IT market is going beyond machine learning and artificial intelligence, this is one of the places to start.

Whitney Grace, March 6, 2017

New Technologies Meet Resistance in Business

March 3, 2017

Trying to sell a state of the art, next-gen search and content processing system can be tough. In the article, “Most Companies Slow to Adopt New Business Tech Even When It Can Help,” Digital Trends demonstrates that a reluctance to invest in something new is not confined to Search. Writer Bruce Brown cites the Trends vs. Technologies 2016 report (PDF) from Capita Technology Solutions and Cisco. The survey polled 125 ICT [Information and Communications Tech] decision-makers working in insurance, manufacturing, finance, and the legal industry. More in-depth interviews were conducted with a dozen of these folks, spread evenly across those fields.

Most higher-ups acknowledge the importance of keeping on top of, and investing in, worthy technological developments. However, that awareness does not inform purchasing and implementation decisions as one might expect. Brown specifies:

The survey broke down tech trends into nine areas, asking the surveyed execs if the trends were relevant to their business, if they were being implemented within their industry, and more specifically if the specific technologies were being implemented within their own businesses. Regarding big data, for example, 90 percent said it was relevant to their business, 64 percent said it was being applied in their industry, but only 39 percent reported it being implemented in their own business. Artificial intelligence was ranked as relevant by 50 percent, applied in their industry by 25 percent, but implemented in their own companies by only 8 percent. The Internet of Things had 70 percent saying it is relevant, with 50 percent citing industry applications, but a mere 30 percent use it in their own business. The study analyzed why businesses were not implementing new technologies that they recognized could improve their bottom line. One of the most common roadblocks was a lack of skill in recognizing opportunities within organizations for the new technology. Other common issues were the perception of security risks, data governance concerns, and the inertia of legacy systems.

The survey also found the stain of mistrust, with 82 percent of respondents sure that much of what they hear about tech trends is pure hype. It is no surprise, then, that they hesitate to invest resources and impose change on their workers until they are convinced benefits will be worth the effort. Perhaps vendors would be wise to dispense with the hype and just lay out the facts as clearly as possible; potential customers are savvier than some seem to think.

Cynthia Murrell, March 3, 2017

 

Chan and Zuckerberg Invest in Science Research Search Engine, Meta

March 1, 2017

Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have dedicated a portion of their fortune to philanthropy issues through their own organization, the Chan Zuckerberg InitiativeTech Crunch shares that one of their first acquisitions is to support scientific research, “Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Acquires And Will Free Up Science Search Engine Meta.”

Meta is a search engine dedicated to science research papers and it is powered by artificial intelligence.  Chan and Zuckerberg plan to make Meta free in a few months, but only after they have enhanced it.  Once released, Meta will help scientists find the latest papers in their study fields, which is awesome as these papers are usually blocked behind paywalls.  What is even better is that Meta will also assist funding organizations with research and areas with potential for investment/impact.  What makes Meta different from other search engines or databases is quite fantastic:

What’s special about Meta is that its AI recognizes authors and citations between papers so it can surface the most important research instead of just what has the best SEO. It also provides free full-text access to 18,000 journals and literature sources.

Meta co-founder and CEO Sam Molyneux writes that “Going forward, our intent is not to profit from Meta’s data and capabilities; instead we aim to ensure they get to those who need them most, across sectors and as quickly as possible, for the benefit of the world.

CZI invested $3 billion dedicated to curing all diseases and they already built the Biohub in San Francisco for medical research.  Meta works like this:

Meta, formerly known as Sciencescape, indexes entire repositories of papers like PubMed and crawls the web, identifying and building profiles for the authors while analyzing who cites or links to what. It’s effectively Google PageRank for science, making it simple to discover relevant papers and prioritize which to read. It even adapts to provide feeds of updates on newly published research related to your previous searches.

Meta is an ideal search engine, because it crawls the entire Web (supposedly) and returns verified information, not to mention potential research partnerships and breakthroughs.  This is the type of database researchers have dreamed of for years.  Would CZI be willing to fund something similar for fields other than science?  Will they run into trouble with other organizations less interested in philanthropy?

Whitney Grace, March 1, 2017

Dark Web Drug Dealers Busted in Finland

March 1, 2017

Law enforcement’s focus on the Dark Web seems to be paying off, as we learn from the write-up, “Finland: Dark Web Drug Operation Exposed” at Hetq, an outlet of the Association of Investigative Journalists. In what was described as Finland’s largest drug bust, authorities seized over a million dollars’ worth of narcotics from a network selling their wares on the Dark Web. We learn:

The network is alleged to have imported €2 million (US$ 2.2 million) worth of drugs between 2014 and 2016, selling them on the dark web site Silkkitie. More than 40 kilograms of powdered narcotics, such as amphetamine, heroin and cocaine, as well as 40,000 ecstasy tablets and 30,000 LSD blotters were smuggled into Finland from the Netherlands and Germany, and then sold on the site. …

As part of the investigation, customs officers in April seized at least €1.1 million worth of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA and ecstasy in the coastal town of Kustavi. The same month, police arrested three Finnish citizens.

The write-up notes that Silkkitie users communicated through encrypted messages under pseudonyms, and that Bitcoin was the currency used. We’re also reminded that Silkkitie, a.k.a. Valhalla, is one of the Dark Web’s most popular drug marketplaces. The Finnish site was launched in 2013.

Cynthia Murrell, March 1, 2017

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