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

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

Facebook Engineering: Big Is Tricky

October 12, 2021

The unthinkable happened on October 4, 2021, when Facebook went offline. Despite all the bad press Facebook has recently gotten, the social media network remains an important communication and business tool. The Facebook Engineering blog explains what happened with the shutdown in the post: “More Details About The October 4 Outage.” The outage happened with the system that manages Facebook’s global backbone network capacity.

The backbone connects all of Facebook’s data centers through thousands of miles of fiber optic cable. The post runs down how the backbone essentially works:

“When you open one of our apps and load up your feed or messages, the app’s request for data travels from your device to the nearest facility, which then communicates directly over our backbone network to a larger data center. That’s where the information needed by your app gets retrieved and processed, and sent back over the network to your phone.

The data traffic between all these computing facilities is managed by routers, which figure out where to send all the incoming and outgoing data. And in the extensive day-to-day work of maintaining this infrastructure, our engineers often need to take part of the backbone offline for maintenance — perhaps repairing a fiber line, adding more capacity, or updating the software on the router itself.”

A routine maintenance job issued a command to assess the global backbone’s capacity. Unfortunately it contained a bug the audit system did not catch and it terminated connections between data centers and the Internet. A second problem made things worse. The DNS servers were unreachable yet still operational. Facebook would not connect to their data centers through the normal meals and loss of DNS connections broke internal tools used to repair problems.

Facebook engineers had to physically visit the backbone facility, which is armed with high levels of security. The facility is hard to enter and the systems are purposely designed to be difficult to modify. It took awhile, but Facebook diagnosed and resolved the problems. Baby Boomers were overjoyed to resume posting photos of their grandchildren and anti-vaxxers could read their misinformation feeds.

Perhaps this Facebook incident and the interesting Twitch data breach illustrate that big is tricky? Too big to fail become too big to keep working in a reliable way.

Whitney Grace, October 12, 2021

Mistaken Fools Versus Lying Schemers

October 4, 2021

We must distinguish between misinformation born of honest, if foolish, mistakes and deliberate disinformation. Writer Mike Masnick makes that point in, “The Role of Confirmation Bias In Spreading Misinformation” at TechDirt.

If a story supports our existing beliefs we are more likely to believe it without checking the facts. This can be true even for professional journalists, as a recent Rolling Stone article illustrates. That venerable publication relied on a local TV report that made what turned out to be unverifiable claims. Both reported that gunshot victims were turned away from a certain emergency room because ivermectin overdose patients had taken all the beds. The story quickly spread, covered by The Guardian, the The BBC, the Hill, and a wealth of foreign papers eager to scoff at the US. Ouch. According to the healthcare system overseeing that hospital, however, they had not treated a single case of ivermectin overdose and had not turned away any emergency-care patients. The original article was based on the word of a doctor who, they say, had not worked at that hospital in over two months. (And, we suspect, never again after all this.) This debacle should serve as a warning to all journalists to do their own fact-checking, no matter how plausible a story sounds to them.

Though such misinformation is a serious issue, Masnick writes, it is a different problem from that of deliberate disinformation. Conflating the two leads to even more problems. He observes:

“However, as we’ve discussed before, when you conflate a mistake with the deliberate bad faith pushing of false information, then that only serves to give more ammunition to those who wish to not just discredit all content from certain publications, but to then look to minimize complaints against ‘news’ organizations that specialize and focus on bad faith propaganda, by simply claiming it’s no different than what the mainstream media does in presenting ‘disinformation.’ But there is a major difference. A mistake is bad, and everyone who fell for this story looks silly for doing so. But without a clear pattern of deliberately pushing misleading or out of context information, it suggests a mere error, as opposed to deliberate bad faith activity. The same cannot be said for all ‘news’ organizations.”

An important distinction indeed.

Cynthia Murrell, October 4, 2021

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

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