Evolution? Sure, Consider the Future of Humanoids

November 11, 2022

It’s Friday, and everyone deserves a look at what their children’s grandchildren will look like. Let me tell you. These progeny will be appealing folk. “Future Humans Could Have Smaller Brains, New Eyelids and Hunchbacks Thanks to Technology.” Let’s look at some of the real “factoids” in this article from the estimable, rock solid fact factory, The Daily Sun:

  1. A tech neck which looks to me to be a baby hunchback
  2. Smaller brains (evidence of this may be available now. Just ask a teen cashier to make change
  3. A tech claw. I think this means fingers adapted to thumbtyping and clicky keyboards.

I must say that these adaptations seem to be suited to the digital environment. However, what happens if there is no power?

Perhaps Neanderthal characteristics will manifest themselves? Please, check the cited article for an illustration of the future human. My first reaction was, “Someone who looks like that works at one of the high tech companies near San Francisco. Silicon Valley may be the cradle of adapted humans at this time. Perhaps a Stanford grad student will undertake a definitive study by observing those visiting Philz’ Coffee.

Stephen E Arnold, November 11, 2022

Robotics Firms Sternly Bid Customers Not to Weaponize their Products

November 11, 2022

For anyone troubled by visions of armed robots roaming the streets, patrolling our workplaces, or invading our homes, rest assured robotics firms are addressing the concern. Can they implement some sort of failsafe? Well, no. ZDNet reports, “Boston Dynamics: We Won’t Weaponize our Robots and Neither Should our Customers.” So there. That lukewarm declaration should dissuade anyone inclined to MacGyver weapons onto an innocent machine, right? Reporter Liam Tung writes:

“Boston Dynamics, the formerly Google-owned firm behind the Spot robot dog and its humanoid equivalents, has published an open letter vowing to counter attempts by buyers to weaponize its products. The company released the pledge, saying it was worried by recent ‘makeshift efforts’ by people to weaponize commercially available robots. Several other robotics firms have signed the commitment.

The firm doesn’t mention which efforts it is worried about, but one example of this trend, as Vice reported in July, is shown in a video on YouTube, where a robot dog is rigged up with a gun and is shooting at targets. ‘Robots should be used to help, not harm. We prohibit weaponization, while supporting the safe, ethical, and effective use of robots in public safety,’ Boston Dynamics said in a blog post. The company’s open letter highlights that consumers’ trust in robots has waned after seeing weapons combined with autonomous and remotely controlled robots. Other companies that have signed the commitment are Agility Robotics, ANYbotics, Clearpath Robotics, Open Robotics, and Unitree Robotics.”

Great! Or it might be if these companies had any way to enforce this mandate stronger than the threat of a voided warranty. Besides the basic threat to humanity, robotics firms seem to have an even greater concern: The public might question the wisdom of unleashing their products on the world. Oh, are there wars underway?

Cynthia Murrell, November 11, 2022

Quantum Computing: PR and a Business Idea for the Google

November 8, 2022

Quantum Winter Is Coming” converts the Sabine Hossenfelder video “The Quantum Hype Bubble Is About To Burst” into text. I read the text; you may find the video more appropriate for your learning method. The key point in the Hossenfelder analysis is that quantum computing is a thing, just not what the marketers have said it is. I do want to call attention to one statement in the video because I think it highlights an important facet of today’s research mechanisms; to wit:

…big companies have another way to make money from quantum computers, namely by renting them out to universities. And since governments are pouring money into research, that’s quite a promising way to funnel tax money into your business. Imagine the LHC was owned by Google and particle physicists had to pay to use it.

You may not have a quantum chip in your next mobile phone, but my hunch is that most research-centric universities will have a pay-to-use deal with Google-type outfits. What if these virtuous cycles fail to deliver a reproducible or high value output?

Here’s my answer to the question:

  1. The use information can be applied to online advertising
  2. Each “breakthrough” leads to a greater need for research, government funding kicks in, marketers get to work, the cycle repeats
  3. Progress is easier to achieve when the underlying technology appears to create an enhanced or new weapon.

Stephen E Arnold, November 8, 2022

Microsoft Goggle Chunder

October 19, 2022

I can resist. I read “Microsoft’s Army Goggles Left U.S. Soldiers with Nausea, Headaches in Test.” I am not too familiar with the training drills for US military personnel. Some create some discomfort. I can here “no pain, no pain” and other friendly, supportive, positive comments.

The write up explains:

U.S. soldiers using Microsoft’s new goggles in their latest field test suffered “mission-affecting physical impairments” including headaches, eyestrain and nausea, according to a summary of the exercise compiled by the Pentagon’s testing office.

How long did it take to create the interesting side effects? Less than three hours.

The trigger for the chunder is Microsoft’s innovation Integrated Visual Augmentation System. I wonder if the acronym or code for the gizmos will be ZUCK which rhymes with upchuck? Probably not.

One government official who works in procurement allegedly said:

the service “conducted a thorough operational evaluation” and “is fully aware” of the testing office’s concerns. The Army is adjusting the program’s fielding and schedule “to allow time to develop solutions to the issues identified…”

One of the issues may be the illumination of the gizmo itself. If true, is this a device designed by those who love science fiction movies or engineers with expertise in warfighting gear? My hunch is that the video game and motion picture aficionados outnumber the combat seasoned on the headgear team.

Bolting a weapon on a robot dog might be an alternative in my opinion.

Will more information be forthcoming? My hunch is that the next report will contain more positive information. F35 pilots seem to be doing okay with their new immersive helmets. Are pilots different from other military professionals?

What if the F35 helmet approach is better than the Softies who continue to struggle with getting printers to work in a way users expect?

Stephen E Arnold, October 19, 2022

Ford Motors of Pinto Fame Wants an App to Prevent Death

October 13, 2022

Smart cars, such as Tesla, are supposed to propel humanity into the future and revolutionize travel. Because smart car technology is still in its infancy, the vehicles experience many hiccups. Gizmodo explains how one car manufacturer is trying to prevent human deaths with an app: “Ford Hopes People Will Download An App To Avoid Being Hit By Its Cars.”

Since many cars are equipped with Bluetooth, Ford figured that the technology could protect pedestrians, animals, cyclists, etc. from a collision. Ford is designing an app that alerts to drivers to possible targets…er…obstructions with Bluetooth Low Energy technology. The downside is that it only works for those using the app.

People who download the app on their mobile devices would alert drivers of Ford vehicles to their presence. The driver who be alerted via Ford’s Sync infotainment system and would be part of the manufacturer’s existing advanced driver assistance system. The driving assistance system intervenes when a driver fails to notice obstacles.

There is a growing amount of deaths related to traffic accidents. A large contributing factor is the popularity of large trucks and SUVs; Ford sells more of these cars than any US automaker.

There is a logical downside:

“However, as a report from Engadget first pointed out, it’s hard to imagine that something like Ford’s app will be able to solve the problem of increasing pedestrian mortality. How many people will be willing to download yet another location-tracking app, for a purpose that could and should be better addressed by policy and infrastructure changes?”

It could also beg the question that Ford could set the smart car technology to purposely crash into non-Ford drivers and/or environmentalists. Or Ford could stop making overly large vehicles…just a thought.

Whitney Grace, October 13, 2022

Surprise. Flawed Software Gums Up the Works

October 12, 2022

Did you ever hear the quote, “A man is only as good as his tools”? The quote usually applies to skilled laborers, doctors, athletes, teachers, etc. It can also work for anyone who relies on a computer hooked up to a network for work. Jacob Kaplan-Moss of the Jacobian blog posted a piece entitled, “Quality Is Systemic” which discusses how poorly designed software is the result of a poorly designed system. He negates that individual performance has a strong impact on a system.

Kaplan-Moss suggests that mediocre programmers working within a structure to design quality software will do so better than a group of phenomenal programmers who are working in a system with other goals in mind. He defines quality as documented, well-factored, and edited codebases, well-designed testing harnesses, easy-to-use high-fidelity development, and staging environments, a blameless workplace, and no toxic work relationships. He continues that humans and technical factors are important to establish a virtuous cycle for systemic quality:

“ Great tests catch errors before they become problems, but those tests don’t magically come into existence; they require a structure that affords the time and space to write tests.

That structure works because engineers are comfortable speaking up when they need some extra time to get the tests right.

  • Engineers are comfortable speaking up because they work in an environment with high psychological safety.
  • That environment exists in part because they know that production failures are seen as systemic failures, and individuals won’t be punished, blamed, or shamed.
  • Outages are treated as systemic because most of them are. That’s because testing practices are so good that individual errors are caught long before they become impactful failures.”

The post ends with suggestions to reevaluate work environment toxicity and not concentrate on hiring the best, instead focus on building a system that makes great results and encourages individual performance. Moss-Kaplan’s suggestions are ideal for any workplace, but they are almost too good to be true for the US.

Whitney Grace, October 12, 2022

Libraries: A Target?

October 4, 2022

Reading is FUNdamental. I am not sure that’s an accurate slogan today. “Libraries Across The US Are Receiving Violent Threats” reports:

In the last two weeks, at least a dozen public libraries across the U.S. received threats that resulted in canceled events and system-wide closures. While bomb and active shooter threats to public library systems in Nashville, Fort Worth, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Boston and other cities across the country were ultimately deemed hoaxes, library workers and patrons say they are still reeling in the aftermath.


I grew up with the following impressions of libraries:

  1. My mother took me to the library each week so she could return the books she read from the previous week. She checked out books. I am not sure how old I was when I became aware of this library routine. Didn’t everyone go to the library once a week? Not to protest or make threats, but to get books and introduce a child to the “routine”?
  2. My sixth grade teacher, Ms. Costello, awarded a paper “flag” for each book read by a student. On the wall was a list of her students. The flags were pinned after each student’s name. One book received one white flag. Five books were converted to a white flag with a blue border. Ten books received a white flag with a red border. Twenty books were represented by a white flag with a yellow border. Each school year ended with Ms. Costello recognizing the students who read the most books. (Guess who won?) I made many trips to the Prospect Branch Library because I nuked the grade school library of books which interested me quickly.
  3. In high school, wearing my worn out sneakers, my cool plaid shirt, and my blue jeans with cuffs no less, I went to the downtown library which I reached via the bus. In my high school, English teachers assigned essays which had to have footnotes. The reference desk librarians were helpful and showed me the ropes of microfilm newspapers (wow, that technology sucked. Wasn’t there a better way to search?), the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature (wow, that print index sucked. Wasn’t there a better way to search and get access to the full text of the article?), the mysteries of the books behind the reference desk. (Oh, Constance Winchell, I loved you!)
  4. In college, I made the library my home away from home between classes. I had favorite tables at which to work. I loved the Library of Congress cataloging system. I knew exactly where certain book topics were shelved. I worked in the library on and off for a couple of years until I landed a higher paying job, but I learned how to get first crack at books professors put on reserve. I also located the COBOL instruction manuals and used them to do my first computer based indexed project for a professor named William Gillis. Believe it or not, that project was my ticket to the world of commercial database indexing and my first real job at Halliburton Nuclear in Washington, DC. I indexed nuclear information using good old PDP computers. Exciting? You bet.

Why have I isolated four library experiences?

None require terror threats, political actions, or any behavior other than respect for the professionals who assisted me. My wife has told me that I could have gone to work right after high school and skipped college. She’s wrong. I am not sure I learned too much in my college courses. The bulk of the information was repetitive or something with which I was familiar based on my reading.

What was valuable to me was the opportunity to spend significant time in the university library. Here’s a fun fact: I was thrilled when a college event took place on Friday nights. I knew I would be one of a very few students in the library when the event was underway. Silence, no delays at the photocopy machine, no waiting for a specific card catalog drawer, and no one clogging the space between the shelves.

What’s my view of libraries? Can’t figure it out? Perhaps you should consider what one can achieve by doing the library thing. Online is okay, but it sure isn’t the library thing.  I should know because I was involved and maybe instrumental in a number of very successful and widely used commercial databases. I knew paper indexes sucked, and I did something about it.

But libraries. The prime mover for me. Why be afraid of learning, knowledge, information, and different ideas? My answer is that those without a library “backbone” are lost in a digital world in which TikTok information imparts wisdom. Ho ho ho.

Stephen E Arnold, October 4, 2022

The Stochastic Terrorism Loophole: A Hidden Dimension?

September 7, 2022

Now that’s an interesting way to describe the actions of network providers / ISPs who look like “good guys” but may have a less visible suite of services on offer. I think stochastic terrorism is information warfare designed to achieve specific goals. You may disagree, but this notion is okay for me.

I read “How Cloudflare Got Kiwi Farms Wrong.” The write up states:

Most casual web surfers may be unaware of Cloudflare’s existence. But the company’s offerings are essential to the functioning of the internet. And it provided at least three services that have been invaluable to Kiwi Farms.

That’s a fair statement … as far as it goes. I would suggest that the world of network providers / ISPs — what the source article calls infrastructure — is not well understood even by those who are the senior managers of Cloudflare-type companies. This willful unknowing produces statements like, “Senator, thank you for the question. I will get the answer to your office…” My hunch is that Cloudflare is large enough to have a plethora of apologists and explainers, PR professionals and lawyers, to make clear that Cloudflare is working overtime to be wonderful.

The cited article asserts:

… it’s notable that for all its claims about wanting to bring about an end to cyberattacks, Cloudflare provides security services to … makers of cyberattack software! That’s the claim made in this blog post from Sergiy P. Usatyuk, who was convicted of running a large DDoS-for-hire scheme. Writing in response to the Kiwi Farms controversy, Usatyuk notes that Cloudflare profits from such schemes because it can sell protection to the victims.

Is this what I call the saloon door approach? The idea is that technology like a saloon door can admit anyone who can stagger, walk, or crawl. Plus the saloon door swings both ways, just like a flow of zeros and ones.

Also, Cloudflare is visible, has many customers, and positions itself as a champion of truth, justice, and the American way. Is this a new tactic? Has the rhetorical positioning be used by other network providers / ISPs; say, for instance, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and some others? Are there network providers and ISPs which most people know nothing about? Is there such an operation in Bulgaria, Germany, or Moldova? (Next week I will share some details with those attending my lecture to a couple of cyber professionals who are affiliated with the US government. Sorry. That information is not appropriate for my free blog about stuff that sort of intrigues me.

Let me try to share how I translated the the Silicon Valley real news essay about Cloudflare and KiwiFarms. I think the point beneath the surface of 2,000 word essay is something along the lines of:

No one understands too much about these network providers / ISPs, their business models, their customers, and their services. Wow. Wow. Wow.

May I ask a couple of questions?

Who is responsible for paying attention to the plumbing? Is it the government, the local police department’s cyber investigators, the folks at Interpol, the companies’ boards of directors, the Silicon Valley real news people, or those zapped by weaponized information and services?

I think you know the answer.

No one.

The nifty phrase stochastic terrorism loophole is a consequence of the Wild West, revenue-any-way- one-can-get-it, apologize-and-never ever-ask-for-permission mentality that is having a few trivial social consequences. How are those YouTube content creators in Russia dealing with network providers / ISPs? One could ask Bald and Bankrupt I suppose as he modifies his life in the face of IRL.

News flash: There are thousands of network providers and ISPs in North America. There are some interesting outfits in Iceland and Romania. There are countries not aligned with American processes providing plumbing, including an almost unknown outfit in northern India.

The fancy phrase makes clear that a good understanding of network services / ISPs is not part of the equipment for living. The current dust up has captured the hearts, minds, and clicks of some observers.

There’s more to learn but when one does know what one does not know, the stochastic terrorism loophole does not provide what a day time drama tried to deliver: A guiding light. Who sponsored that program anyway?

Stephen E Arnold, September 7, 2022

Consumer Image Manipulation: Deep Fakes or Yes, That Is Granny!

September 7, 2022

I find deep fake services interesting. Good actors can create clever TikTok and YouTube videos. Bad actors can whip up a fake video résumé and chase a work from home job. There are other uses as well; for example, a zippy video professional can create a deep fake of a “star” who may be dead or just stubborn and generate a scene. Magic and maybe cheaper.

I read “Use This Free Tool to Restore Faces in Old Family Photos.” The main idea is that a crappy old photo with blurry faces can be made almost like “new.” The write up says:

This online tool—called GFPGAN—first made it onto our radar when it was featured in the August 28 edition of the (excellent) Recomendo newsletter, specifically, a post by Kevin Kelly. In it, he says that he uses this free program to restore his own old family photos, noting that it focuses solely on the faces of those pictured, and “works pretty well, sometimes perfectly, in color and black and white.”

The service has another trick amidst its zeros and ones:

According to the ByteXD post, in addition to fixing or restoring faces in old photos, you can also use GFPGAN to increase the resolution of the entire image. Plus, because the tool works using artificial intelligence, it can also come in handy if you need to fix AI art portraits. ByteXD provides instructions for both upscaling and improving the quality of AI art portraits, for people interested in those features.

Will it work on passport photos and other types of interesting documents? We will have to wait until the bad actors explore and innovate.

Stephen E Arnold, September 8, 2022

A Surprise: Newton Minnow Was Prescient

August 30, 2022

Social media is to blame for most misinformation spreading across the Internet faster than viral videos. Despite declining numbers, TV still plays a huge part in the polarization of the American populace. Ars Technica explains why: “It’s Just Not Social Media: Cable News Has Bigger Effect On Polarization.” While social media echo chambers exist, it is not at the huge scale we have been led to believe.

Researchers from Microsoft Researchers, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania tracked TV consumption from thousands of American adults between 2016 to 2019. They discovered that selective news exposure did increase polarization, but it mostly came from TV. They found that 17% of American TV news watchers are politically polarized with a near-split average between left and right politics. That is three to four times higher than online news watchers.

TV watchers also do not change their viewing habits:

“Besides being more politically siloed on average, our research found that TV news consumers are much more likely than web consumers to maintain the same partisan news diets over time: after six months, left-leaning TV audiences are 10 times more likely to remain segregated than left-leaning online audiences, and right-leaning audiences are 4.5 times more likely than their online counterparts. While these figures may seem intimidating, it is important to keep in mind that even among TV viewers, about 70 percent of right-leaning viewers and about 80 percent of left-leaning viewers do switch their news diets within six months. To the extent that long-lasting echo chambers do exist, then, they include only about 4 percent of the population.”

Also depending on the TV viewers’ political leanings, they never stray too far from preferred news networks. The political imbalance is increasing among how audiences get their news, because more are shifting from broadcast news to cable.

This is not good, because it increases divisions among people rather than showing the commonalities everyone shares. It also makes news more sensational than it needs to be.

Whitney Grace, August 30, 2022

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