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Twill by yiibu - No.2


Twill by yiibu

February 21 · Issue #2 · View online

An occasional dispatch on our evolving relationship with technology.

Not sure yet if each week will have a theme, but this instalment has a distinct machine learning bent.

What we're up to
A few new articles this week…
The nice people who publish .NET magazine are holding their Generate web design conference in San Francisco on July 15th. Some great speakers announced already, and Steph will present something about IoT. Get your tickets while they’re cheap :-)
From the department of machine learning
0.0 From the department of “the AI made me do it” a deep learning system called RankBrain now plays a role in “a very large fraction” of the millions of queries that go through Google each second of each day. Problem is, humans rarely completely understand how neural nets make their decisions…
“…it’s unclear how the move will affect Google’s ability to defend its search results against claims of unfairness or change the results in the face of complaints.” 
1.0 A slightly terrifying article and Google Research paper on technical debt in machine learning. And one about MIT using machine learning to fix bugs in code. All we need now is machine learning to fix the errors in machine learning?
2.0 A mysterious bot on MakerBot’s Thingiverse seems to be smashing 3D models together and re-uploading them. The end-result is both weird and wonderful
3.0 A security analyst has discovered a ‘hidden’ Facebook API’ that allows users to monitor the sleeping patterns of their friends
4.0 An AI has beaten humans at sketch-recognition. Its creators suggest their program could be adapted to help police match drawings of suspects to mug shots.
5.0 Speaking of which…can you tell which of these pieces of art was painted by a human? 
6.0 Amazon’s Alexa seems to be striking a chord in a way that Siri herself may start to envy. We’ve been collecting examples…
“My wife said Alexa had to go. She was making the kids rude. More specifically, they were being impolite by not using ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’ when addressing her. My wife didn’t want that sort of behaviour encouraged.” (source)
“…(my mom) asks Alexa for jokes, to play soft music, wake her up…the last time she traveled out of town to see my sisters, she packed Alexa up and took her too” (source)
7.0 Research suggests robots could learn human values by reading ‘stories’ about often mundane tasks like going to the pharmacy. When faced with a wait, will he know the right thing to do?
“Under ideal circumstances, Quixote [the prototype] never performs actions that would be considered psychotic, harmful, or antisocial. This is significant because we never told Quixote what is right or wrong. We can make the system ‘fail’ by scrambling its understanding of the stories, in which case sometimes it will do antisocial behaviours like stealing.”
Always sobering to think that we’re no doubt already actively training the future brains of these things on a daily basis.
Other interesting reads...
  • Come July, the EU will formally recognise Estonian digital signatures
  • As Google and Microsoft continue to build and patent modular personal computing devices, LG has formally announced and demonstrated a modular mobile phone
  • The debate about Facebook’s free walled-garden internet continues with some thoughts from Steven Sinofsky from a16z. Lots to mull over in here (whether you agree with him or not), including some very well-researched and articulated responses.
  • Is Humanity Getting Better? Long but fascinating read “The 20th century marked an inflection point — the beginning of humanity’s transition from its ancient crises of ignorance to its modern crises of invention. Our science is now so penetrating, our systems are so robust, that we are mostly endangered by our own creations.
  • Honeywell, I’m Home! The Internet of Things and the New Domestic Landscape. An architect’s point of view on the slow march of smart things into the home. Includes reference to the growing pains of past major infrastructural additions such as electricity and air conditioning. 
A thing from the past. A thing from the future.
From the past: Ad-blocking circa 1955. “Shut off annoying commercials while the picture remains on the screen!” (whatever that meant…)
From the future: Samsung “SmartThings Future Living Report” (PDF) provides a glimpse of earth 100 years in the future. Apparently, many of us will live underwater (although no clear explanation is given as to why…zombie apocalypse perhaps?).
Best jargon of the week
  • ELT - extremely large telescope, and OLT - overwhelmingly large telescope. Both from the Samsung Future Living report (above) :)
  • The hairy panic - crazy giant tumbleweed things that take over Australian towns at certain times of the year.
  • Yellow big-head - the “blistering of hairless or light-coloured areas on the heads of farm animals” who ingest large amounts of said hairy panic. It apparently poses no threat to pets however (!?)
A final note
Our best wishes for a productive week.
We’re still working out the kinks but if this is not of interest, feel free to unsubscribe. If you think a friend or colleague would benefit from what we share, please pass this on.
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Bryan and Steph
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