Google Does Waymo Than Online Advertising

October 22, 2021

If Google Waymo smart vehicles are confused, are other components of Google’s smart software system off track as well? That’s a good question, and it is one that those fond of snorkeling may have to do a deep dive to answer.

Confused Waymo Robotaxis Keep Flooding Dead-End Street in San Francisco” reports:

Residents of an otherwise quiet neighborhood in San Francisco have been dealing lately with a very weird affliction: the constant buzzing of several Waymo vehicles crowding a dead-end street. The self-driving taxis are flooding the end of 15th Avenue, appearing rather “confused” as they enter the area ….

San Francisco is an interesting city in which to drive. I am easily confused and when I commuted from Berkeley to San Mateo in Plastic Fantastic County, I would end up in some fascinating places. The Cow Palace parking lot was memorable after a bit of congestion on the 101 forced people like me to seek an option.

The write up points out:

What we know for sure is that Waymo has been trialing its autonomous vehicles in San Francisco since 2008. But as we’ve seen other instances of Alphabet’s robotaxis freaking out, the situation begs the question, what’s going on?

Yep, beta testing, trying to minimize crashing into things, and giving those safety drivers something to enter into their Waymo app.

How long has the Google been wrestling with smart software for smart vehicles? Not long enough maybe?

Stephen E Arnold, October 22, 2021

Auditing Algorithms: A Semi-Tough Task

October 22, 2021

Many years ago, I did a project for a large outfit. The goal was to look at a project and figure out why it was a flop. I assembled an okay team, which beavered away. The end result was that a number of small things went wrong. Each added some friction to what on the surface seemed a doable project. The “small things” added friction and the process went nowhere.

I thought about this after I read “Twitter’s Own Research Show That It’s a Megaphone for the Right. But It’s Complicated.

I circled this statement from the article:

We can see that it is happening. We are not entirely sure why it is happening. To be clear, some of it could be user-driven, people’s actions on the platform, we are not sure what it is.

Now back to failure. Humans expect a specific construct to work in a certain way. When it doesn’t humans either embrace root cause analysis or just shrug their shoulders and move on.

Several questions:

  • If those closest to a numerical recipe are not sure what’s causing the unexpected outcome, how will third party algorithm auditors figure out what is happening?
  • Engineering failures like using a material which cannot tolerate a particular amount of stress are relatively easy to figure out. Social media “smart” algorithms may be a more difficult challenge. What tools are available to deal with this engineering failure analysis? Do they work or are they too unabled to look at a result and pinpoint one or more points of inappropriate performance?
  • When humans and social media interact with complex algorithmic systems, do researchers have the meta-models capable of identifying the cause of failures or performance factors resulting from tiny operations in the collective system?

My hunch is that something new exists to be studied. Was Timnit Gebru, the former Google engineer, on the right track?

Stephen E Arnold, October 22, 2021

An Epidemic of Whistle Blowing?

October 22, 2021

Are organizations prepared for an epidemic of whistle blowing?

This question struck me as I read “How One Facebook Worker Unfriended the Giant Social Network.” Here’s the statement in the article which caught my attention:

“There has just been a general awakening amongst workers at the tech companies asking, `What am I doing here?’” said Jonas Kron of Trillium Investment Management, which has pushed Google to increase protection for employees who raise the alarm about corporate misdeeds. “When you have hundreds of thousands of people asking that question, it’s inevitable you’ll get more whistleblowing,” he said.

The comment touched upon two issues which I don’t think have been resolved.

The first is the “awakening.” The idea that workers are “woke” is interesting. My reaction is that the flood of information about social unraveling, breakdowns in what were supposed to be reliable services, and the waves of disturbing news have broken down the “I’m entitled” Drosophila in these folks’ brains. Woke is not a good word. I think something along the lines “I understand now” is more accurate.

The second is the statement that a particular individual who allegedly “has pushed Google to increase protection for employees who raise the alarm about corporate misdeeds.” Okay, that’s interesting. How is that working out for those of the Timnit Gebru ilk?

Net net: Whistle blowers can present different reasons for their actions. The write up makes clear that the “cult of me” is alive and well. Some “me’s” are into dumping documents and information which are confidential. These actions take place even though the person has signed an agreement to keep an organization’s data secret. Guess that piece of paper is not working too well, right? Plus, an investment professional urging the Google to alter its DNA is a helpful endorsement of an individual’s valiant effort to induce change and get some good vibes for the action. Whistle blowing may be little more than an extension of an individual’s need to be the nail that sticks up.

Stephen E Arnold, October 22, 2021

The Bezos Bulldozer and One of Its Charming Quirks

October 22, 2021

Amazon is the Bezos bulldozer. I know. I know. He’s into space and making the world better. Nevertheless, the “trust” outfit Reuters is not buying the PR. “Amazon Copied Products and Rigged Search Results to Promote Its Own Brands, Documents Show” provides an interesting look at Amazon’s ecommerce business strategy.

The write up asserts:

… Thousands of pages of internal Amazon documents examined by Reuters – including emails, strategy papers and business plans – show the company ran a systematic campaign of creating knockoffs and manipulating search results to boost its own product lines in India, one of the company’s largest growth markets. The documents reveal how Amazon’s private-brands team in India secretly exploited internal data from to copy products sold by other companies, and then offered them on its platform.

Navigate to the source document for quotes, names of bulldozer drivers, and the specifics of the retail ants crushed under the steel tracks of the snorting behemoth.

Why would Amazon copy and boost its own products?

Gee, that’s a tough question. Pick from these possible reasons:

[a] Executive compensation incentives engineer rapacious methods into the ecommerce processes

[b] Because Amazon could. Hey, what’s power for if one doesn’t use it.

[c] Increasing profit results in higher stock prices and juicier bonuses for high-performing Amazon professionals

[d] It’s fun because business is a game

[e] The companies and products are little more than tests for Amazon. Follow the data.

I like the “It’s fun” answer. Because business is a game to be won.

Stephen E Arnold, October 22, 2021

What Can Slow Down the GOOG? Lawyers Reviewing AI Research Papers

October 21, 2021

I spotted an allegedly true factoid in “Google’s AI Researchers Say Their Output Is Being Slowed by Lawyers after a String of High Level Exits : Getting Published Really Is a Nightmare Right Now.” Here is the paywalled item:

According to Google’s own online records, the company published 925 pieces of AI research in 2019, and a further 962 in 2020. But the company looks to have experienced a moderate slowdown this
year, publishing just 618 research papers in all of 2021 thus far. 

Quite a decrease, particularly in the rarified atmosphere of the smartest people in the world who want to be in a position to train, test, deploy, and benefit from their smart software.

With management and legal cooks in the Google AI kitchen, the production of AI delicacies seems to be going down. Bad for careers? Good for lawyers? Yes and yes.

Is this a surprise? It depends on whom one asks.

At a time when there is chatter that VCs want to pump money into smart software and when some high profile individuals suggest China is the leader in artificial intelligence, the Google downturn in this facet of research is not good news for the GOOG.

Is there a fix? Sure, but none is going to include turning back the hands of time to undo what I call the Battle of Timnit. The decision to try and swizzle around the issue of baked in algorithmic bias appears to have blocked some Google researchers’ snorkels. Deep dives without free flowing research oxygen can be debilitating.

Stephen E Arnold, October 21, 2021

Is Self Driving Ready for Regular Humanoids?

October 21, 2021

Teslas are popular and expensive cars. Tesla owners love their cars with the same fervor as Prius owners, except with a more elitist attitude. Fears of Elon Musk acting as Big Brother have been placated, but Electrek shares how that subject comes into question again in: “Tesla Will Make Sure You Are A Good Driver Before Giving You Access To Fill Self-Driving Beta.”

Musk said that his company will use telemetry data to guarantee its customers are “good” drivers before giving them access to the cars’ self-driving option. That is a problematic approach, because Tesla owners already paid for the software. In September, Tesla released an update to its Full Self-Driving Beta v10 software. The software realizes the dream of cars self-driving, however, drivers are still required to pay attention at all times and keep their hands on the steering wheel.

Teslas still have bugs with its self-driving feature, but Musk promises the upgrade is “mind-blowing.” But Musk only wants “good” drivers with a high safety record to use the beta. Since Teslas are linked to a “hive mind,” Musk has access to their driving data. The “good” driving requirement is a way for Musk to prevent accidents and deaths, but it begs the question if it is legal.

Insurance companies already monitor their customers with safe driving applications to receive discounts. Law enforcement also install breathalyzers in cars to prevent drunk driving. Limiting the self-driving beta is in the same vein, but the pros and cons must be investigated.

It also brings Musk’s intentions into question. Will he take responsibility if a Tesla terminates an annoying humanoid?

Whitney Grace, October 21, 2021

China, Smart Software, and Different Opinions

October 21, 2021

I spotted “China Isn’t the AI Juggernaut the West Fears.” The main idea for the story is that China has cornered smart software applications and innovation. Therefore, the future — at least some of it — is firmly in the grip of the Chinese Communist Party.

My hunch is that this article in the Japan Times is a response to articles like “Former Senior Pentagon Official Says China is Kicking Our Ass in Artificial Intelligence.” Nicolas Chaillan, a former Pentagon official, suggested that China is making significant progress in AI. If China continues on its present path, that country may surpass the US and its allies in smart software.

What’s interesting is that quite different viewpoints are zooming around the interwebs.

The Japan Times’ take which channels Bloomberg includes this statement:

On paper, the U.S. and China appear neck and neck in artificial intelligence. China leads in the share of journal citations — helped by the fact that it also publishes more — while the U.S. is far ahead in the more qualitative metric of cited conference papers, according to a recent report compiled by Stanford University. So while the world’s most populous country is an AI superpower, investors and China watchers shouldn’t put too much stock in the notion that its position is unassailable or that the U.S. is weaker. By miscalculating the others’ abilities, both superpowers risk overestimating their adversary’s strengths and overcompensating in a way that could lead to a Cold War-style AI arms race.

Yep, citation analysis.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I want to point out that citation analysis, like patent documents, may not tell a comprehensive story.

I would suggest that citation analysis may be distorted by the search engine optimization techniques used by some academics and government-funded researchers. In addition, the publication flow from what I call AI cabals — loose federations of like minded researchers who cross cite one another — provide a fun house mirror opportunity.

That is, what’s reflected is a version of reality, not the reality that a person like myself would perceive without the mirrors.

Net net: The Japan Times’ write up may be off the mark. As a result, the view point of Nicolas Chaillan may warrant serious consideration.

Stephen E Arnold, October 21, 2021

Google Launches Even More Personalized Search Upgrade

October 21, 2021

Google is already the most used search engine on the planet and delivers fairly accurate results. Like many companies, Google continues to push innovation and The National News shares the latest search upgrade in: “Google To Introduce Search 1,000 Times More Powerful Than Current Engine.” Google’s new search technology leverages AI that combines search criteria for more personalized and accurate results.

Google revealed its latest search achievement at the Search On ’21 event, where executives discussed how they plan to use their AI research to stop the spread of misinformation and make information on the Web more useful. Google also wants to regain shopping traffic from Amazon, Alibaba, Lazada, and other commerce Web sites. The new search technology aims to improve the shopping search experience:

“Google teased the MUM technology during its annual I/O summit last May. It uses its so-called T5 – Text-To-Text Transfer Transformer – framework and is said to be 1,000 times more powerful than the Bert (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) technology the company currently uses.

The revamped search technology, using the company’s image-recognition tool Google Lens, will combine data from text, images and even videos, which would then provide more accurate and tailor-made results. Lens has been updated with new AI-powered language features that will narrow searches further. ‘For example, when you search for ‘cropped jackets’, we’ll show you a visual feed of jackets in various colors and styles, alongside other helpful information like local shops, style guides and videos,’ Bill Ready, president of commerce, payments and next billion users at Google, said.”

Google will also include a “wildfire layer” on its Maps to keep track of forest fires in real time. To combat misinformation, search results will include an “About This Result”option that cites the result’s sources and what others users think of it.

Google designed a picture search engine for shopping and is actually citing sources for search results? Yes, please!

Whitney Grace, October 20, 2021

Microsoft: A Legitimate Point about Good Enough

October 20, 2021

A post by Stefan Kanthak caught my attention. The reason was an assertion that highlights what may be the “good enough” approach to software. The article is “Defense in Depth — the Microsoft Way (Part 78): Completely Outdated, Vulnerable Open Source Component(s) Shipped with Windows 10&11.” I am in the ethical epicenter of the US not too far from some imposing buildings in Washington, DC. This means I have not been able to get one of my researchers to verify the information in the Stefan Kanthak post. I, therefore, want to point out that it may be horse feathers.

Here’s the point I noted in the write up:

Most obviously Microsoft’s processes are so bad that they can’t build a current version and have to ship ROTTEN software instead!

What’s “rotten”?

The super security conscious outfit is shipping outdated versions of two open source software components: Curl.exe and Tar.exe.

If true, Stefan Kanthak may have identified another example of the “good enough” approach to software. If not true, Microsoft is making sure its software is really super duper secure.

Stephen E Arnold, October 20, 2021

Mapping the Earth: A Big Game?

October 20, 2021

I read “Was Google Earth Stolen?” I have not thought about making a map of the earth game-like for many years. I read the article by Avi Bar-Zeev, one of the individuals close to the Keyhole approach. Interesting stuff.

I want to underscore the fact that Microsoft was noodling around in this geographic earth space as well. There is a short item on the Microsoft Web site called “The Microsoft TerraServer.” The write up states:

The Microsoft TerraServer stores aerial and satellite images of the earth in a SQL Server Database served to the public via the Internet. It is the world’s largest atlas, combining five terabytes of image data from the United States Geodetic Survey, Sovinformsputnik, and Encarta Virtual Globe™. Internet browsers provide intuitive spatial and gazetteer interfaces to the data. The TerraServer demonstrates the scalability of Microsoft’s Windows NT Server and SQL Server running on Compaq AlphaServer 8400 and StorageWorks™ hardware. The TerraServer is also an E-Commerce application. Users can buy the right to use the imagery using Microsoft Site Servers managed by the USGS and Aerial Images. This paper describes the TerraServer’s design and implementation.

The link to download the 23 year old Microsoft document is still valid, believe it or not!

Other outfits were into fancy maps as well; for example, the US government entity in Bethesda and some of the folks at Boeing.

Is this germane to the Bar-Zeev write up? Nah, probably no one cares. I find stories about technology “origins” quite interesting for what each includes and what each omits. Quite game-like, right?

Stephen E Arnold, October 20, 2021

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