Has Google Smart Software Become the Sad Clown for AI?

April 20, 2021

“Is Google’s AI Research about to Implode?” raises an interesting question. The answer depends on whom one asks. For the high profile ethical AI Googlers who are now Xooglers (former Google employees), the answer is probably along the lines of “About. Okay, boomer, it has imploded.” Ask a Googler who still has a job at the GOOG and received a bonus for his or her work in smart software and the answer is probably more like, “Dude, we are AI.” With matters Googley, I am not sure where the truth exists.

The write up states:

in making certain “corrections” to large datasets, for example removing references to sex, the voices of LGBTQ people will be given less prominence. The lack of transparency and accountability in the data makes these models useless for anything other than generating amusing Guardian articles (my words, not the authors). But they have substantial negative consequences: in producing reams of factually incorrect texts and requiring computing resources that can have a major environmental impact.

Ah, ha, the roots of bias.

Google has not made enough progress is making its models neutral. Thus, human fiddling is required. And where there are humans fiddling, there are discordant notes.

The write up concludes with this statement:

What concerns me is that when Google’s own researchers start to produce novel ideas then the company perceives these as a threat. So much of a threat that they fire their most innovative researcher and shut down the groups that are doing truly novel work.

Right now, I think the Google wants to squelch talk about algorithmic “issues.”  Smart software appears to be related maximizing efficiency. The idea is that efficiency yields lower costs. Lower costs provide more cash to incentivize employees to find ways to improve, for example, ad auction efficiency. Ethics are not an emergent phenomenon of this type of system. The result is algorithmic road kill, a major PR problem, a glimpse of the inner Google, and writers who are skeptical about the world’s largest online ad vendor’s use of “smart” technology.

Stephen E Arnold, April 20, 2021

Software Development: Big Is the One True Way

April 13, 2021

I read an essay called “Everyone Is Still Terrible At Creating Software At Scale.” I am often skeptical about categorical affirmatives. Sometimes a sweeping statement captures an essential truth. This essay in Marginally Interesting has illuminated software development in a useful way.

I found this passage thought provoking:

I’ve seen a few e-commerce companies from the inside, and while their systems are marvel of technologies able to handle thousands of transactions per second, it does not feel like this, but things like the app and the website are very deeply entangled with the rest. Even if you wanted, you couldn’t create a completely new app or website.

After I read this, I thought about rotational velocity. I also thought about the idea of how easy it is to break something. Users want a software component to work and be usable. Software often appears fluid. What’s clear is that outages at big vendors and security lapses are seemingly the stuff of daily headlines. Big outfits deliver one thing; users get another.

Here’s another statement I circled:

My recommendation is to look at structures and ask yourself, how hard is it for any one “unit” in your “system” to get stuff done. Everything that cuts across areas of responsibility adds complexity.

Complexity is an interesting idea. Does Google “change” how the Page Rank method is implemented, or is Google in the software wrapper business? Can Microsoft plug security gaps when those gaps are the fabric of core Azure and Windows 10 processes? Can Facebook actually change feedback loops which feed its content processes? Is it possible for an outfit like Honda to change how it makes automobiles? In theory, a Honda-type operation can change, but the enemies are time, Tesla-like disruptions, Covid, and money.

Like the big ship which managed to get stuck in the Suez Canal, altering a method once underway is tricky.

The essay ends with this observation:

Unless you take care everyone has different understanding of the problem, and there is no focus on information gathering and constructive creativity.

But big is the way, right?

Stephen E Arnold, April 14, 2021

Business Process Management Is The New Buzzword

March 21, 2021

How does one “fix” the SolarWinds’ misstep? BPM. GovWizely will present a webinar addressing remediation of SolarWinds’ issues on March 25, 2021. You can sign up at this url: https://www.govwizely.com/contact/. The program is free and pre-registration is required.

If you never heard about business process management (BPM) it means the practice of discovering and controlling an organization’s processes so they will align with business goals as the company evolves.  BPM software is the next phase of business intelligence software for enterprises.  CIO explains what to expect from BPM software in the article: “What Is Business Process Management? The Key To Enterprise Agility.”

BPM software maps definitions to existing processes, defines steps to carry out tasks, and tips for streamlining/improving practices.  Organizations are constantly shifting to meet their goals and BPM is software is advertised as the best way to refine and control changing environments.  All good BPM software should have the following: alignment of the firm’s resources, increase discipline in daily operations, and clarify on strategic direction.  While most organizations want flexibility they lack it:

“A company can only be as flexible, efficient, and agile as the interaction of its business processes allow. Here’s the problem: Many companies develop business processes in isolation from other processes they interact with, or worse, they don’t “develop” business processes at all. In many cases, processes simply come into existence as “the way things have always been done,” or because software systems dictate them. As a result, many companies are hampered by their processes, and will continue to be so until those processes are optimized.”

When selecting a BPM software it should be capable of integrations, analytics, collaboration, form generation, have a business rules engine, and workflow managements.

BPM sounds like the next phase of big data, where hidden insights are uncovered in unstructured data.  BPM takes these insights, then merges them with an organization’s goals.  Business intelligence improves business processes, big data discovers insights, and BPM organizes all of it.

Whitney Grace, March 21, 2021

The Microsoft Supply Chain Works Even Better Going Backwards

March 4, 2021

Do you remember the character KIR-mit.  He once allegedly said:

Yeah, well, I’ve got a dream too, but it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy. That’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with.

I am not talking about Jim Henson’s memorable character. That frog spelled its name Kermit. This is KIR-mit, an evil doppelgänger from another universe called Redmonium.

Respect Kermit! (DevilArtemis Universe): respectthreads

This KIR-mit is described in “Microsoft Is Using Known Issue Rollback (KIR) to Fix Problems Caused by Windows 10 Updates.” I learned that KIR

enables Microsoft to rollback changes introduced by problematic patches rolled out through Windows Update. KIR only applies to non-security updates.

Does the method expand the attack service for bad actors? Will weird calls to senior citizens increase with offers to assist with KIR-mit modifications? Will questionable types provide links to download KIRs which are malware? Yes, yes, and yes.

The article points out:

Known Issue Rollback is an important Windows servicing improvement to support non-security bug fixes, enabling us to quickly revert a single, targeted fix to a previously released behavior if a critical regression is discovered.

KIR is something users have said they wanted. Plus Microsoft has had this capability for a long time. I recall reading that Microsoft had a method for verifying the “digital birth certificate” of software in order to identify and deal with the SolarWinds-type of supply chain hack. I point this out in my upcoming lecture for a law enforcement entity. Will my audience find the statement and link interesting? I have a hunch the cyber officers will perk up their ears. Even the JEDI fans will catch my drift.

Just regular users may become woozy from too much KIR in the system. Plus, enterprise users will be “in charge of things.” Wonderful. Users at home are one class of customers; enterprise users are another. In between, attack surface the size of the moon.

Several questions:

  • Why not improve the pre release quality checks?
  • Why not adopt the type of practices spelled out by In Toto and other business method purveyors?
  • Why not knock off the crazy featuritis and deliver stable software in a way that does not obfuscate, mask, and disguise what’s going on?

And the answers to these questions is, “The cloud is more secure.”

Got it. By the way a “kir” is a French cocktail. Some Microsoft customers may need a couple of these to celebrate Microsoft’s continuous improvement of its outstanding processes.

Don't mess with Kermit - Album on Imgur

As KIR-mit said, “It’s about making people happy.” That includes bad actors, malefactors, enemies of the US, criminals, and Microsoft professionals like Eric Vernon and Vatsan Madhava, the lucky explainers of KIR-mit’s latest adventure.

Stephen E Arnold, March 4, 2021

Facebook Found Lax in Enforcement of Own Privacy Rules. Surprised?

March 4, 2021

Facebook is refining its filtering AI for app data after investigators at New York’s Department of Financial Services found the company was receiving sensitive information it should not have received. The Jakarta Post reports, “Facebook Blocks Medical Data Shared by Apps.” Facebook regularly accepts app-user information and feeds it to an analysis tool that helps developers improve their apps. It never really wanted responsibility for safeguarding medical and other sensitive data, but did little to block it until now. The write-up quotes state financial services superintendent Linda Lacewell:

“Facebook instructed app developers and websites not to share medical, financial, and other sensitive personal consumer data but took no steps to police this rule. By continuing to do business with app developers that broke the rule, Facebook put itself in a position to profit from sensitive data that it was never supposed to receive in the first place.”

Facebook is now stepping up its efforts to block sensitive information from reaching its databases. We learn:

“Facebook created a list of terms blocked by its systems and has been refining artificial intelligence to more adaptively filter sensitive data not welcomed in the analytics tool, according to the report. The block list contains more than 70,000 terms, including diseases, bodily functions, medical conditions, and real-world locations such as mental health centers, the report said.”

A spokesperson says the company is also “doing more to educate advertisers on how to set-up and use our business tools.” We shall see whether these efforts will be enough to satisfy investigators next time around.

Cynthia Murrell, March 4, 2021

Quantum Computing: A Nasty Business

March 3, 2021

In a PhD program, successful candidates push the boundaries of knowledge and change the world for the better. Sometimes. One illustration of this happy outcome is the case of Zak Romaszko at the University of Sussex, who contributed to the school’s ion trap quantum computer project. Robaszko is now working at his professor’s spin-off company Universal Quantum on commercialization of the tech to create large-scale quantum computers. Bravo!

Unfortunately, not all PhD programs are crucibles of such success stories. One in particular appears to be just the opposite, as described in “A Dishonest, Indifferent, and Toxic Culture” posted at the Huixiang Voice. The blog is dedicated to covering the heartbreaking experience of PhD candidate Huixiang Chen, who was studying at the University of Florida’s department of Electrical and Computer Engineering when he took his own life. The note Chen left behind indicated the reason, at least in part, was the pressure put on him by his advisor to go along with a fraudulent peer-review process.

We learn:

“It has been 20 months since the tragedy that a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Florida committed suicide, accusing his advisor coerce him into academic misconduct. Our latest article dropped a bump into the academic world by exposing the evidence of those academic misconduct. The Nature Index followed up with an in-depth report with comments from scientists and academic organizations worldwide expressing their shock and deep concerns about this scandal that happened at the University of Florida.”

A joint committee of the academic publisher Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) investigated the matter and found substance in the allegations. ACM has imposed a 15-year ban on participation in any ACM Conference or Publication on the offenders, the most severe penalty the organization has ever imposed. The post continues:

“The conclusion finally confirmed two important accusations listed in Huixiang Chen’s suicide note that:
1) The review process for his ISCA-2019 paper was broken, and most of the reviewers of the paper are ‘friends’ of his advisor Dr. Tao Li. The review process became organized and colluded academic fraud:
2)After recognizing that there are severe problems in his ISCA-2019 paper, Huixiang Chen was coerced by his advisor Dr. Tao Li to proceed with a submission despite that Huixiang Chen repeatedly expressed concerns about the correctness of the results reported in work, which led to a strong conscience condemnation and caused the suicide.
“Finally, the paper with academic misconduct got retracted by ACM as Huixiang’s last wish.”

Chen hoped the revelations he left behind would lead to a change in the world; perhaps they will. The problem, though, is much larger than the culture at one university. Peer reviewed publications have become home to punitive behavior, non-reproducible results, and bureaucratic pressure. Perhaps it is time to find another way to review and share academic findings? Google’s AI ethics department may have some thoughts on academic scope and research reviews.

Cynthia Murrell, March 3, 2021

MIT Report about Deloitte Omits One Useful Item of Information

February 1, 2021

This is not big deal. Big government software project does not work. Yo, anyone remember DCGS, the Obama era health site, the reinvigoration of the IRS systems, et al? Guess not. The outfit which accepted money from Mr. Epstein and is now explaining how a faculty member could possibly be ensnared in an international intellectual incident is now putting Deloitte in its place.

Yeah, okay. A blue chip outfit takes a job and – surprise – the software does not work. Who is the bad actor? The group which wrote the statement of work, the COTR, the assorted government and Deloitte professionals trying to make government software super duper? Why not toss in the 18F, the Googler involved in government digitization, and the nifty oversight board for the CDC itself?

The write up “What Went Wrong with America’s $44 Million Vaccine Data System?” analyzes this all-too-common standard operating result from big technology projects. I noted:

So early in the pandemic, the CDC outlined the need for a system that could handle a mass vaccination campaign, once shots were approved. It wanted to streamline the whole thing: sign-ups, scheduling, inventory tracking, and immunization reporting. In May, it gave the task to consulting company Deloitte, a huge federal contractor, with a $16 million no-bid contract to manage “Covid-19 vaccine distribution and administration tracking.” In December, Deloitte snagged another $28 million for the project, again with no competition. The contract specifies that the award could go as high as $32 million, leaving taxpayers with a bill between $44 and $48 million. Why was Deloitte awarded the project on a no-bid basis? The contracts claim the company was the only “responsible source” to build the tool.

Yep, the fault was the procurement process. That’s a surprise?

The MIT write up relishes its insights about government procurement; for example:

“Nobody wants to hear about it, because it sounds really complicated and boring, but the more you unpeel the onion of why all government systems suck, the more you realize it’s the procurement process,” says Hana Schank, the director of strategy for public-interest technology at the think tank New America.  The explanation for how Deloitte could be the only approved source for a product like VAMS, despite having no direct experience in the field, comes down to onerous federal contracting requirements, Schank says. They often require a company to have a long history of federal contracts, which blocks smaller or newer companies that might be a better fit for the task.

And the fix? None offered. That’s helpful.

There is one item of information missing from the write up; specifically the answer to this question:

How many graduates of MIT worked on this project?

My hunch is that the culprit begins with the education and expertise of the individuals involved. The US government procurement process is a challenge, but aren’t institutions training the people in consulting firms and working government agencies supposed to recognize a problem and provide an education to remediate the issue. Sure, it takes time, but government procurement has been a tangle for decades, yet outfits like MIT are eager to ignore the responsibility they have to turn out graduates who solve problems, not create them.

Now about that Epstein and Chinese alleged double dipping thing? Oh, right. Not our job?

Consistent, just like government procurement processes it seems to me.

Stephen E Arnold, February 1, 2021

The Silicon Valley Way: Working 16 Hour Days in Four Hours?

January 26, 2021

Years ago I worked at a couple of outfits which expected professionals to work more than eight hours a day. At the nuclear outfit, those with an office, a helper (that used to be called a “secretary”), and ill-defined but generally complicated tasks were to arrive about 8 am and head out about six pm. At the blue chip consulting firm, most people were out of the office during “regular” working hours; that is, 9 am to 5 pm. Client visits, meetings, and travel were day work. Then after 5 pm or whenever before the next day began professionals had to write proposals, review proposals, develop time and cost estimates, go to meetings with superiors, and field odd ball phone calls (no mobiles, thumb typers. These phones had buttons, lights, and spectacular weird interfaces). During the interview process at the consulting outfit, sleek recruiters in face-to-face meetings would reference 60 hour work weeks. That was a clue, but one often had to show up early Saturday morning to perform work. The hardy would show up on Sunday afternoon to catch up.

Imagine my reaction when I read “Report: One Third of Tech Workers Admit to Working Only 3 to 4 Hours a Day.” I learned:

  • 31% of professionals from 42 tech companies…said they’re only putting in between three and four hours a day
  • 27% of tech professionals said they work five to six hours a day
  • 11% reported only working one to two hours per day
  • 30% said they work between seven and 10 hours per day.

The data come from an anonymous survey and the statistical procedures were not revealed. Hence, the data may be wonky.

One point is highly suggestive. The 30 percent who do more are the high performers. With the outstanding management talent at high technology companies, why aren’t these firms terminating the under performing 70 percent? (Oh, right some outfits did try the GE way. Outstanding.)

My question is, “For the 30 percent who are high performers, why are you working for a company. Become a contractor or an expert consultant. You can use that old school Type A behavior for yourself?”

Economic incentives? The thrill of super spreader events on Friday afternoon when beer is provided? Student loans to repay? Work is life?

I interpret the data another way. Technology businesses have a management challenge. Measuring code productivity, the value of a technology insight, and the honing of an algorithm require providing digital toys, truisms about pushing decisions down, and ignoring the craziness resulting from an engineer acting without oversight.

Need examples? Insider security threats, a failure to manage in a responsible manner, and a heads down effort to extract maximum revenue from customers.

In short, the work ethic quantified.

Stephen E Arnold, January 26, 2021

Digital Humanities Is Data Analytics For English Majors

January 4, 2021

Computer science and the humanities are on separate ends of the education spectrum. The two disciplines do not often mix, but when they do wonderful things happen. The Economist shares a story about book and religious nerds using data analytics to uncover correlations in literature: “How Data Analysis Can Enrich The Humanities.”

The article explains how a Catholic priest and literary experts used data analysis technology from punch card systems to modern software to examine writing styles. The data scientists teamed with literary experts discovered correlations between authors, time periods, vocabulary, and character descriptions.

The discoveries point to how science and the humanities can team up to find new and amazing relationships in topics that have been picked to death by scholars. It creates new avenues for discussion. It also demonstrates how science can enhance the humanities, but it also provides much needed data for AI experimentation. One other thing is brings up is how there are disparities between the fields:

“However, little evidence yet exists that the burgeoning field of digital humanities is bankrupting the world of ink-stained books. Since the NEH set up an office for the discipline in 2008, it has received just $60m of its $1.6bn kitty. Indeed, reuniting the humanities with sciences might protect their future. Dame Marina Warner, president of the Royal Society of Literature in London, points out that part of the problem is that “we’ve driven a great barrier” between the arts and STEM subjects. This separation risks portraying the humanities as a trivial pursuit, rather than a necessary complement to scientific learning.”

It is important that science and the humanities cross over. In order for science to even start, people must imagine the impossible. Science makes imagination reality.

Whitney Grace, January 5, 2021

Why Google Misses Opportunities: A Report Delivered by the Tweeter Thing

January 1, 2021

Here’s a Twitter thread from a Xoogler who appears to combine the best of the thumb typer generation with the bittersweet recognition of Google’s defective DNA. In the thread, the Xoogler allegedly a real person named Hemant Mohapatra reveals some nuggets about the high school science club approach to business on steroids; for example:

  • Jargon. Did you know that GTM seems to mean either “global traffic management” or “Google tag manager” or Guatamala? Tip: Think global traffic management an a Google’s Achilles’ heel.
  • Mature reaction when a competitor aced out the GOOG. The approach makes use of throwing chairs. Yep, high school behavior.
  • Lots of firsts but a track record of not delivering what the customer wanted. Great at training, not so good in the actual game I concluded.
  • Professionalism. A customer told the Google whiz kids: “You folks just throw code over the fence.” (There’s the “throw” word again.)
  • Chaotic branding. (It’s good to know even Googlers do not know what the name of a product or service is. So when a poobah from Google testifies and says, “I don’t know” in response to a question, that may be a truthful statement.

Did the Xoogler take some learnings from the Google experience? Sure did. Here’s the key tweeter thing message:

My google exp reinforced a few learnings for me: (1) consumers buy products; enterprises buy platforms. (2) distribution advantages overtake product / tech advantages and (3) companies that reach PMF & then under-invest in S&M risk staying niche players or worse: get taken down.

The smartest people in the world? Sure, just losing out to Amazon and Microsoft now. What’s this tell us. Maybe bad genes, messed up DNA, a failure to leave the mentality of the high school science club behind?

Stephen E Arnold, January 1, 2021

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