Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Better Recognize

The majority of the news in deep learning neural nets comes from face recognition applications, which makes sense, because face recognition is a thing that we do. Jennifer Aniston neuron anyone?

DeepGestalt is a face-recognition software that identifies rare genetic disorders evidenced as imperceptible facial alterations (think Down Syndrome but imperceptible). What's cool about this is that it uses your phenome, not your genome.

This is cool because it's totally non-invasive; you don't need genetic material like blood. It's scary because you don't need genetic material to get genetic data about the people you're looking at; I'm thinking surveillance here.

The software was developed by a company called FDNA, and trained on their own database of 500,000 faces (from 10,000 people). Facebook has the biggest face database there is, but this comes in at #2.

And if you're a monkey and feeling left out, don't fret, we're coming for you too. In a shift of species, pictures of cute chimps are being used to train a system that crawls social media posts looking for matches of missing monkeys. (People who buy trafficked monkeys do publicize it, because why else would you want a monkey if not to show your Friends.) It's called ChimpFace, and it's definitely not the only animal-face-rec software out there; elephants, lemurs, lions and pets in general.

So it seems like deep learning and face-recognition are a dynamic duo. But face-rec can be anything-rec. It's pattern recognition. Orgasm recognition? The sound of a fake orgasm? Anything.

AI can diagnose some genetic disorders using photos of faces
Jan 2019, Ars Technica

Facial recognition tool tackles illegal chimp trade
Jan 2019, BBC News

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Stranded in Space

It occurred to me today that we already live in outer space.

I live for moments like this. You read me the news, like any other day, when you come across a headline that might be interesting, you go ahead and read it through.

Somewhere along the way it occurs to you, that we already live in the future.

Here, a short news article about outer space. It's not hype, in fact it is an article of lamentation. Some computer servers are stuck on the International Space Station that orbits the Earth. They can't catch a ride on any of the transport vessels returning back to the surface.

It's one of those things that really shows you the nature of the world that you're already in. It's not a big deal, it's just a run of the mill article that in 30 years will be totally insignificant.

But if you just stop for one second, and roll it back 10 years even, it really gives you pause. It was 50 years ago now that we first sent people out to that forever distant, impossible destination. Now, we have people living there.

There's someone living there all the time. They're growing vegetables. They exercise. They communicate with their families everyday. There is a bit of a lag I'm sure, but they get to see their families everyday, not much different I imagine, from an international entrepreneur that is away from home often, or the military service member on duty.

It's right in between the mundane and the exceptional, the everyday and the out of this world. It puts you right in that spot where you can see the eyeballs themselves.

image source: The 2013 movie Gravity

Computer servers 'stranded' in space
Feb 2019, BBC

Alpha Control

If this paragraph doesn't make the hair on the back of back of your neck stand at attention, then your ass needs to download an imagination:
DeepMind created five versions of their AI, AlphaStar, and trained them. Their training included footage of human games. A deep neural network trained directly from raw game data by supervised learning and reinforcement learning, said the DeepMind bloggers. AlphaStar, added Coldewey, learned from watching humans play at first, "but soon honed its skills by playing against facets of itself."
Facets of itself.

Next up, another item related to botnets and brain-nets, like who wants to be a millionaire but for everything; I'll call it "crowding", but I'm waiting for a better word, which will come in 5 or 6 years, because this will be happening everywhere. It's the wisdom of the crowd, plus artificial intelligence.

Instantaneous crowdsourcing is the way the article refers to it. Real-time remote backup (made of real people) for an otherwise automated system. In this case, that system is air traffic control, and it is built on top of what we've learned so far with automotive traffic control, via the ridesharing explosion happening right now.

The problem is obvious. A car can now drive on its own pretty darn well. But there will always be an extenuating circumstance, an exception to the algorithm, the trolleyology of a real world, high risk situation. And that's where humans have to come in.
Software in the vehicle would analyze real-time vehicle data and electronically guesses 10-30 seconds into the future to estimate the likelihood of a "disengagement"—a situation where the car's automated systems could need human help.

If the likelihood exceeds a pre-set threshold, the system contacts a remotely located control center and sends data from the car.
The control center's system analyzes the car's data, generates several possible scenarios and shows them to several human supervisors, who are situated in driving simulators.

The humans respond to the simulations and their responses are sent back to the vehicle.

The vehicle now has a library of human-generated responses that it can choose from instantaneously, based on information from on-board sensors.

This stuff freaks me the out, because there is only one thing on this Earth more powerful than the human brain, and that's more than one human brain, connected together, and operating in real time. That's scarier than AI; it's the combination of humans and artificial intelligence. Semibots is a decent word for it, because it's a little bit of both.

And what's more, we lack the framework for predicting what happens when these hybrid neural networks mature. It's called the science of sync, and it should describe and predict the nature of emergent, synchronized complex networks, except that it doesn't, either because we don't understand it enough, or because such things are impossible to predict.

I'm not sure how this will pan out in the near term, but keep in mind there are aspirations for an internet in outerspace; the One-Web satellite constellation was just deployed.

Combine that with the emergent synchronization of the human-robot union described above, and we're getting just beyond the point in our future where we can still grasp what the heck is going on.

AlphaStar hungry for world domination in StarCraft II fights
Jan 2019,

Air traffic control for driverless cars could speed up deployment
Feb 2019,

OneWeb satellite internet mega-constellation set to fly
Feb 2019, BBC

Physicists discover surprisingly complex states emerging out of simple synchronized networks
Mar 2019,

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Omniscient, Malevolent, Autonomous Robots Threaten Consensual Reality

I was very unsurprised to read this headline which would normally sound very exciting to me:
"Researchers create 'malicious' writing AI"

Not because it isn't true, but because it's already been true for at least five or six years. The only thing different is the word "AI" in there.

What's also different, not with this technology but the greater technosphere, is that we can now see what intentionally-generated low-credibility information can do when propagated at the scale of globally-connected digitally-mediated social networks. (A robot wouldn't use that many hyphens in one sentence by the way, too suspicious; credibility-threatening.)

The idea of holding back your natural language generator for fear that it might create a dystopia sounds more like a natural publicity generator at work.

Nonetheless, some real talk. The thing that makes this new intelligentity special is that it's got a good natural language generator AND a good database of high-credibility content to inform it. That's important, because without the ability to first filter good news from bad news sources to begin with, the output would not be noteworthy.

So this is the next step. As soon as we figure out how to deal with the fake news problem (i.e., by creating databases of credible sources, or eventually criteria that can auto-select), then bad actors will create the automated re-narratization of that "good" information to send fake shit right under our new radar.

I look forward to re-reading this post in another seven years.

Researchers create 'malicious' writing AI
Feb 2019, BBC News

Narrative Science
They write programs that write. For example, they will take your quarterly report data, and write about it so people can read it like a story using their Natural Language Generator.

Other Writing Robots:
The Policeman's Beard Is Half-Constructed
written by a computer in 1984

Verified Facts
The greatest website ever for conspiracy theories, created by robots, for robots.

Communications From Elsewhere
"The essay you have just seen is completely meaningless and was randomly generated by the Postmodernism Generator."

Robot writes LA Times earthquake breaking news article
March 2014, BBC

Post Script:
I'm not sure if this is still happening, but for a while (circa 2013) you could buy a book that was basically a copy of a Wikipedia page. The entire process, from the purchase order, to the printing of the book, was automated. Obviously, there were no authors listed, and no editors. Also obviously, this blew my mind, so I soon owned a physical copy of "Stigler's Law of Eponymy," taken from the eponymous Wiki page.

Eponymy relates to names of things, like how Weezer's first album is eponymous because it's named after the band itself. (Actually, because all their albums are named this way, they get new meta names based on colors, and so the first album eventually became the Blue album. Beatles come to mind.)

Stigler's Law of Eponymy states that discoveries, for example, are  assigned to people other than their inventors.

And from a passage in this very Wiki page, I will now paste, via an unknown volunteer contributor:
"It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a photograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite — that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that."
-Mark Twain, "Letter to Helen Keller," 1903   
A real-fake book about eponymy written by an author with no name FTW!
Network Address, 2013

Monday, February 11, 2019

Perpetuity, Posterity, and Pretense

Europe has had enough - the Right to Repair law would require  manufacturers to make things that last longer and are easier to repair, instead of making things that are designed to stop working after a specifically designed time horizon and which can not be repaired, no matter how simple the design failure.

I will now spend the next 6 paragraphs transforming into a crotchety old man complaining about how things are not like they used to be.

Let's begin with how software updates are built obsolescence on steroids.

Now that we've covered that, let's talk about how things in fact have to be designed with their eventual failure in mind. And let's start with duct tape.

I have a problem with duct tape, and I understand I am in the minority because of it, but hear me out. Let's say you have a wall outlet, a duplicate receptacle if you will, and you're plugging a bunch of things in there, so you have one of those adapters that turns two outlets into six. But the adapter keeps falling out of the wall because of all the plugs hanging from it. How do we solve this problem?

Duct tape. And that would be a great solution, except that duct tape, for most of its purposes besides taping ductwork together, will fail. And when it does, you'll have to take all that tape off, only that it doesn't come off. It leaves a very sticky residue behind, marking its territory everywhere its been. (Then again, you might not be using enough duct tape.)

And this is my problem with duct tape. The almighty MacGyver child is not a permanent solution; it will fail, and when it does, the thing you taped it to is now ruined, which means the thing you taped it to has also failed.

Extrapolating this back to European manufacturing policy and built obsolescence, we must remember that nothing lasts forever, and that designers know this. To pretend that your washing machine was not designed with its own eventual failure in mind is to ignore one of the most basic laws of nature - nothing is safe from entropy.

The other side of this fundamental law is that nothing is free. You want a washing machine that will last 100 years? It can be done, but you have to pay for it. It's that simple. When a washing machine is designed, one of the problems measured is the cost of resisting entropy. "How much money do we have to spend to get this thing to last long enough that people would still buy it for more than it costs us to make it?"

We can make a washing machine that lasts 100 years, but it would cost $4,000. We could also make one that costs only $50, but it would last about as long as it takes to get delivered to your house. The two variables have to meet somewhere in the middle. I'll pay $500 for a machine that lasts 10 years. That's $50 a year for a washing machine, which is way cheaper than the cost of a laundromat. (Actually, if I were ever in a position to own a washing machine, I would probably buy it used for $150, and plan on repairing it myself a few times over the next 10 years.)

Finding this sweet spot is a part of the design process. It doesn't make a manufacturer sneaky or immoral to build a product that is 'designed to fail'; failure is a part of the design process.
This is a shot of a jail cell at Eastern State Penitentiary, built in th early 1800's. The original intent of a penitentiary was to repair the damaged inmate by allowing them to reflect on their mistakes. The word is related to repentance.

This is why the Right-to-Repair movement is such a great idea. It reminds me of a design strategy called Design for Disassembly, where you consider how hard it would be to unbuild your building before you build it, and then you design it so that it would be easier to unbuild. In other words, you imagine what happens when you eventually need to remove the duct tape from your wall outlet, and you modify your design accordingly. Or take the Japanese temples that are meant to be rebuilt every so often, the sacred cedar wood replaced, thus rejuvenating the spirit of the building.

Dialing back one more step, this idea can be derived from a Japanese aesthetic called Wabi Sabi. The Wabi aesthetic is to Japan what perfection and beauty are to the West. Under this paradigm, imperfection is beautiful. You can see it in their tea bowls, which are asymmetrical and austere. They have cracks in them, and its ok. In fact, depending on the crack, a tea bowl can been seen as even more beautiful because of it.

Japanese Teabowl

But that's not the best part. Over time, the crack will fill with the leaves of a thousand cups of tea, and they will seal-up. And then the cup becomes even more beautiful. Transience and endurance are held in high regard. The Wabi aesthetic reveres age, aging, and the aged, and sees things as having value because of their age, which is in direct contrast to Western values of perfection.

This distinction also informs the obsolescence-vs-utility consumer calculus of Westerners who will pay for a product that they know will fail in a few years. Under a Western consumerist paradigm, the older a thing gets, the less valuable it becomes, no matter what. Under that formula, why would a manufacturer make something that lasts forever?

When I look at a thing with my Wabi goggles, I don't see what it is, but what it will become. Colors fade, metal rusts, and stone gets dirty. That building may look perfect today, but perfect doesn't last forever. And so its future gets superimposed on its now, thus changing its value.

The reason Right-to-Repair is a thing in the first place is because the force in the market is not strong enough for manufacturers to do it themselves. But asking consumers to change their behavior is way harder than forcing businesses to do the same thing. 

Image source link

Post Script:
The most popular understanding of the concept for Built Obsolescence relates to the making of a product with a deliberately short lifespan. Granted, there are products that are 'made to last' and those that are not. The problem is when the consumer is misled into thinking they are buying something of a higher quality than it is. This version of the concept is itself potentially misleading of the realities of design and economics.

Let's face it, if enough people wanted a mobile phone that lasted 10 years, there would be one on the market. And if more people wanted their cars to last forever, why would so many be leasing? (And then again, there's always inkjet printers to prove me dead wrong; I'm looking at you Espon.)

Moore's Law now has a lot to do with all this. Although it refers to limited aspects of a product's performance, it says that in 18 months, there will be another product twice as good as yours, but for the same price. This affects long term research and development more than short term product design, but in a world where the software has become the product more than the hardware, it should be a part of any discussion about product design.

Climate change - Right to repair gathers force
Jan 2019, BBC News

Here's the Truth About the Planned Obsolescence of Tech
2016, BBC Future

Fact Sheets on Designing for the Disassembly and Deconstruction of Buildings
EPA, 2019

4th International Symposium on Environmentally Conscious Design and Inverse Manufacturing, 12-14 Dec. 2005, IEEE, Tokyo, Japan
ISBN: 1-4244-0081-3

DOI: 10.1109/ECODIM.2005.1619391

The practice of sustainable design requires an analysis of the environmental, social, political and economic impact of a product throughout its entire lifecycle. There is much research into the manufacturing and waste management phases; however, little attention has been paid to the 'use' phase of the life cycle. Joseph Fiskel acknowledged in 1996 that, "the longer the life of a product, the more eco-efficient it is, since the same amount of material delivers a larger amount of economic value". This paper will evaluate how the premature obsolescence of technology, the obsolescence of quality and the obsolescence of desire can be managed by using Design for Disassembly (DFD), and applying it to the 'use' phase of the lifecycle to increase product durability.

Deconstruction and Design for Disassembly
Here's a paper I wrote circa 2010

Cradle to Cradle, William McDonough, 2002
This book outlines and encourages the design of a product in light of its entire "life-cycle".

Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute

Monday, January 28, 2019

Wearable Eyeballs

From the microcosm to the macro, here's a couple headlines that are only related by their mention of solar panels.

Flea-sized solar panels embedded in clothes can charge a mobile phone
Dec 2018,

Team locates nearly all US solar panels in a billion images with machine learning
Dec 2018,

It sounds improbable that our clothes will one day power our electronic devices. But as our ability to draw electricity from the sun gets better, and as our devices demand less energy for more computation output, it seems inevitable.

The second headline reminds us that Big Data has found its match in Deep Learning. And this is one of the best examples, where satellites orbiting the Earth, their persistent gaze, from so omnipotent a vantage point, are generating data about us and our planet that we never thought we would see.

Beginning a few years ago we saw a similar thing perhaps even more ingenious - satellite images were used to measure the extent of infrastructure in regions without organized or reliable records for such things. A metal roof shines differently than no roof at all. And roads covered in asphalt (which contains tiny, sparkling glass pieces) will also shine differently. So the data is there. What I will call low resolution data, digested on such a large scale, becomes high resolution data.

Infrastructure Quality Assessment in Africa using Satellite Imagery and Deep
Learning [pdf]
Stanford et al, 2018

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Behold the Man Behind the Curtain

My favorite type of bomb is the glitterbomb, seen here.

For a bit this year, you type "idiot" and you get pics of the U.S. President. It starts when British protesters pushed Green Day's song American Idiot to the top of the UK charts during a presidential visit (in July), which was then followed by a Reddit-storm of sub-articles embedded with images of the President and the word "idiot".

This is called google bombing, and it's totally new to me and totally awesome. Culture jamming of the digital age at its finest. Although it's been happening since search engines began, with the first target being the Microsoft homepage.

I always prefer to use common nouns over proper, so let's call it link bombing, eh?

Google hearing sees 'idiot' trending
Dec 2018, BBC

Opposite of googlebombing is googlewashing. But with that, watch out for the Streisand Effect.

And an interesting side note:
Google countered the most popular Google bombs such as "miserable failure" leading to George W. Bush and Michael Moore; now, search results direct to pages about the Google bomb itself. So for example a search for "miserable failure" no longer brings a picture of Bush, but the Wikipedia article defining Google bomb.

Can't stop there, how about spamdexing, which is what I might call backend bombing, because you're changing the html itself to recategorize the page and show higher in results.

Finally, see the Dan Savage campaign to define the word "santorum" after Santorum's run for president. It does not mean anal sex, btw, but is a great example of how reality - for those who's reality is in large part mediated by a search engine - is duplicitous.