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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘computers

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • blogTO shares vintage postcard images of Toronto in the 1970s.
  • Centauri Dreams notes a proposed method for detecting exomoons, by detecting the disruptions that they cause in their parent worlds’ magnetic fields on the pattern of Io’s disruption of Jupiter’s magnetic fields.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes a new paper suggesting that Enceladus’ geysers are caused by its tides with Saturn.
  • The Everyday Sociology Blog looks at what sociology has to say about sibling relationships.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that some American conservstives think gays should oppose immigration because immigrants bring tuberculosis which kills HIV-positive people.
  • Languages of the World’s Asya Perelstvaig demonstrates that there is no evidence at all that Yiddish descends from the Turkic Khazarian language, noting instead arguments for a Germanic origin.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog maps population change in Estonia over 1989-2011, noting that there has been population growth only in the metropolitan areas of three Estonian cities with Russian-majority Narva not seeing growth.
  • At Savage Minds, Uzma Z. Rizvi thinks about racism in the United States over time.
  • The Search interviews online anthropologist Robert Kozinets.
  • Spacing Toronto notes that Toronto saw the invention of the first arcade game.
  • Strange Maps shares an interactive infographic tracing the cross-border electricity trade in the European Union.
  • Towleroad notes a fatal gay-bashing in San Francisco and the near-murder of an Azerbaijani teen by parents who wanted to burn him alive.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes an American court ruling refusing to enforce a Moroccan court judgement on the grounds of the Moroccan legal system’s corruption.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests that support for federalism is spreading in Russia, notes one analyst’s argument that Russia can become a beacon of reactionary conservative ideology, and suggests that Russia is trying to nudge outside powers out of the Armenia-Azerbaijan dispute.

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • blogTO shares pictures of the lineups for free food on Canada Day at Mandarin’s buffet restaurants.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper identifying three thousand nearby red dwarf stars as potential sites of Earth-like exoplanets.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a sober assessment of the Chinese space program.
  • The Frailest Thing considers the import of Facebook’s experiment on its user base by noting the ability of complex systems to undergo unexpected catastrophes.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that Google’s social network Orkut, big in Brazil and India but absent elsewhere, will be shutting down at the end of this September.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that anti-gay activists are pleased with the Hobby Lobby ruling.
  • The Planetary Society Blog’s Adam Block shares pictures of colliding and interacting galaxies.
  • Seriously Science notes that not only do spiders have different personality types, but that these types contribute to the maintenance of their physical cultures.
  • The Signal notes ongoing research into data recovery methods and issues with compact discs.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes cases where putting the victim on trial does matter. (Records of past violence are noteworthy.)
  • Towleroad notes an economist observing that homophobia has an economic impact and points to an upcoming Irish referendum on same-sex marriage in 2015 that’s quite likely to pass.
  • Window on Eurasia quotes a Ukrainian about Russia’s issues with a separate Ukraine and notes a statement by Kaliningrad’s government claiming some Ukrainian refugees in Russia might be anti-Russian activists in disguise.

[LINK] What it actually means for Eugene to have passed the Turing test

News that a computer passed the Turing test was quickly undermined once people began looking into the claim in detail. CBC’s John Bowman collected a sample of the criticisms on Twitter.

News media, including the CBC, carried the story and the skepticism surrounding it. But on Twitter, programmers and tech journalists almost immediately began to question the claim on a number of fronts.

Eugene Goostman isn’t a “supercomputer,” but a computer program called a “chatbot,” meant to emulate a person typing into an instant messaging service, they pointed out.

As for the claim that it “passed” the “Turing Test” “for the very first time,” well, they found each part of that claim questionable.

The Turing test is based on a question and answer game, proposed by renowned British mathematician and codebreaker Alan Turing, to distinguish humans from computers.

Turing predicted in a 1950 paper that within 50 years, computers would play the game so well that an “average interrogator will not have more than 70 per cent chance of making the right identification after five minutes of questioning.”

[. . .] There’s even dispute over whether the test as the researchers set it up was really the “iconic Turing Test.” The judges were told that “Eugene” was a 13-year-old boy from Odessa, Ukraine, and that English wasn’t his first language.

So, right away, the bar was lowered.

Wired‘s Adam Mann takes it apart at leisure.

There’s nothing in this example to be impressed by,” wrote computational cognitive scientist Joshua Tenenbaum of MIT in an email. He added that “it’s not clear that to meet that criterion you have to produce something better than a good chatbot, and have a little luck or other incidental factors on your side.”

Screenshots on the BBC’s article about the win show a transcript that doesn’t read like much more than a random sentence generator. When WIRED chatted with Goostman through his programmers’ Princeton website, the results felt something like an AIM chatbot circa 1999.

WIRED: Where are you from?
Goostman: A big Ukrainian city called Odessa on the shores of the Black Sea

WIRED: Oh, I’m from the Ukraine. Have you ever been there?
Goostman: ukraine? I’ve never there. But I do suspect that these crappy robots from the Great Robots Cabal will try to defeat this nice place too.

The version on the website could of course be a different version than was used during the competition.

This particular chatbox almost passed a version of the Turing test two years ago, fooling judges approximately 29 percent of the time.

Fooling around 30 percent of the judges also doesn’t seem like a particularly high bar. While the group claims that no previous computer program has been able to reach this level, there have been numerous chatbots, some as far back as the 1960s, which were able to fool people for at least a short while. In a 1991 competition, a bot called PC Therapist was able to get five out of 10 judges to believe it was human. More recently, there have been fears that online chatbots could trick people into falling in love with them, stealing their personal information in the process. And a 2011 demonstration had a program named Cleverbot manage a Turing Test pass rate of nearly 60 percent.

Anders Sandberg, meanwhile, links to a blog post of his, “Eugene the Turing test-beating teenbot reveals more about humans than computers”. He suggests that the appeal of the Turing test lies in human incapacity to discern actual intelligence.

Why do we fall for it so easily? It might simply be that we have evolved with an inbuilt folk psychology that makes us believe that agents think, are conscious, make moral decisions and have free will. Philosophers will happily argue that these things do not necessarily imply each other, but experiments show that people tend to think that if something is conscious it will be morally responsible (even if it is a deterministic robot).

It is hard to conceive of a human-like agent without consciousness but with moral agency, so we tend to ascribe agency and free will to anything that looks conscious. It might just be the presence of eyes, or an ability to talk back, or any other tricks of human-likeness.

So Eugene’s success in the Turing test may tell us more about how weak we humans are when it comes to detecting intelligence and agency in conversation than about how smart our machines are.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 11, 2014 at 11:05 pm

[LINK] “This Is How You Stream Netflix to the Moon”

Wired‘s Klint Finley describes the advent of a new high-speed communications system that would let people on Earth connect to computers on the Moon at a very high speed.

Traditionally, NASA has used radio frequencies to communicate with spaceships, satellites, and rovers, but that’s rather slow. Plus, the further a contraption gets from earth, the more power–and the bigger the dish–it needs to send a signal. That’s why NASA’s most distant probe, Voyager 1, requires a 70-meter antenna to be heard. Optical connections are much faster, but they’ve been limited by things like varying lighting conditions, cloudy skies, and atmospheric interference.

So, in order to quickly send signals across the approximately 250,000 miles between earth and NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) observatory, Stevens and his team built a completely new optical communication system, with new transmitters as well as receivers, drawing on techniques used in past projects. “People in the space business have long known that laser communications has a lot of potential benefits including higher data rates and smaller space terminals,” Stevens says. “NASA has been pursuing parts of the technology for several decades.”

On the transmission side, the team used four telescopes to beam information coded as pulses of infrared light into space. Each of the four signals travels separately, and though each will encounter interference, this four-pronged approach improves the odds that at least one signal will make it to the receiver.

When a signal arrives, it’s focused into an optical fiber similar to what’s used in high-speed internet connections such as Google Fiber. Then it’s amplified and is converted into electrical pulses that carry the data transmission. Less than one billionth of a watt will be received of the original 40-watt signal, but that’s still about 10 times the signal strength required for error-free communication.

The satellite had its own transmitter, which was able to send the data signal back to earth at an even faster speed: 622 megabits per second. That’s faster than most home internet connections, though not quite as speedy as the one-gigabit speeds you get with something like Google Fiber.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 2, 2014 at 7:58 pm

[LINK] Two links on the decline of the homepage

The apparent decline in visits to the homepages of sites, triggered by people heading directly to the pages hosting articles, was analyzed at The Atlantic by Derek Thompson.

The New York Times lost 80 million homepage visitors—half the traffic to the nytimes.com page—in two years.

[. . .]

If the clicks aren’t coming from homepages, where are they coming from? Facebook, Twitter, social media, and the mix of email and chat services summed up as “dark social” (dark, because it’s hard for publishers to trace). [. . .]

News publishers lost the homepage firehose, and gained a social media flood. This social flood corresponds with the emergence of another powerful piece of technology: audience analytics software that tells digital publishers what people are reading, and how long they’re reading it, with greater specificity than ever.

One theory is that the rise of twin technological forces—the social flood and the age of analytics—will (a) make the news more about readers; and (b) make news organizations more like each other.

Why should the death of homepages give rise to news that’s more about readers? Because homepages reflect the values of institutions, and Facebook and Twitter reflect the interest of individual readers. These digital grazers have shown again and again that they aren’t interested in hard news, but rather entertainment, self-help, awe, and outrage dressed up news. Digitally native publishers are pretty good at pumping this kind of stuff out. Hence quizzes, hence animals, hence 51 Photos That Show Women Fighting Sexism Awesomely. Even serious publishing companies know that self-help and entertainment often outperform outstanding reporting.

It’s also the subject of discussion at Marginal Revolution.

I would put it this way: the fewer people use RSS, the better content providers can allow RSS to be. There is less fear of cannibalization, and more hope that easy RSS access will help a post go viral through Facebook and other social media.

When a blog is linked to the reputations of its producers, rather than to advertising revenue, the home page remains all the more important. That is who you are, and many people realize that, even if they are not reading you at the moment. I call those “shadow readers.” For MR, I have long thought that the value of shadow readers is quite high. (“Tyler and Alex are still writing that blog — great stuff, right? I don’t get to look at it every day [read: hardly at all]. Why don’t we have them in for a talk?”) In other words, a shadow reader is someone who hardly reads the blog at all, but has a not totally inaccurate model of what the blog is about. For Vox or the NYT the value of a shadow reader is lower, although shadow readers still may talk up those sites to potential real readers. For companies which run lots of events, such as The Atlantic, the value of shadow readers may be high because it helps make them focal even without the daily eyeballs.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 23, 2014 at 8:06 pm

[PHOTO] “Shipwrecked camera found underwater after 2 years with photos intact”

This CBC article describing how a digital camera belonging to one Paul Burgoyne was recovered two years after it was lost in a shipwreck, images intact, is personally quite heartwarming to me. The resilience of modern technology is grand.

A camera lost in a shipwreck off the west coast of Vancouver Island two years ago is finally to be returned to its owner — with the memory card and its images intact.

Vancouver artist Paul Burgoyne lost the camera in 2012, when his boat the Bootlegger was shipwrecked on a 500-kilometre voyage from Vancouver to his summer home in Tahsis, B.C. His camera and treasured photos went down with the ship.

“That just shocked me,” said Burgoyne. “Getting the camera, or the photos back, that’s really quite wonderful.”

Two years on, earlier in May, Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre university students Tella Osler and Beau Doherty were conducting research dives with BMSC Diving and Safety Officer Siobhan Gray off Aguilar Point, B.C., where they discovered Burgoyne’s camera 12 metres down.​

According to Isabelle M. Côté, Professor of Marine Ecology at Simon Fraser University, there were multiple marine species, from two kingdoms and at least seven phyla, living on the camera when it was found.

The Lexar Platinum II, 8 GB memory card still worked and Côté was able to post online a family portrait she found among the photos, in hopes of finding the owner.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 23, 2014 at 4:58 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • blogTO has a visual history of the Toronto Islands up.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at GU Piscium b and Beta Pictoris b.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a paper examining two concepts for theoretical nuclear fusion-fueled space drives, one using additional coolant and one not.
  • Eastern Approaches examines the disastrous floods in the former Yugoslavia.
  • Joe. My. God. reports on a study suggesting church attendance is exaggerated by traditional self-reporting methods.
  • Language Log notes the success in the digitization of ancient Persian manuscripts, including of a bilingual Persian/Gujarati Zoroastrian text.
  • Registan notes the influence of the Internet and social media in reshaping Islam in Uzbekistan.
  • Savage Minds features a post by Nick Seaver talking about the ways in which anthropology can get involved with computer-mediated processes, like the algorithms which recommend tunes.
  • Towleroad examines Dolly Parton as a gay icon.
  • Window on Eurasia notes Russian academic disinterest in Ukrainian culture and covers the Crimean Tatars’ commemoration of their deportation in the context of Russian occupation.

[LINK] “Tablet Sales Slowdown Comes Sooner Than Expected”

BusinessWeek‘s Adam Satariano writes about the extent to which tablet computer sales have slowed down, and are continuing to slow down. Tablet computers fill a particular niche but a particular niche only, with laptops at the high end of functionality and smartphones at the low end doing their specialties better.

This is interesting, especially in the context of new tablets like the $C40 Ubislate 7Ci tablet I posted about last week. Will the tablet end up assimilating into the background of the personal computing environment?

Apple reported that iPad sales dropped by one-sixth last quarter from the same period a year earlier, and Microsoft (MSFT) said revenue from its Surface tablet, not robust to begin with, dropped about 40 percent after the holiday season. Amazon.com (AMZN) doesn’t break out sales, but according to researcher Gartner, it hasn’t moved up the market-share charts. Global tablet sales rose 19 percent in the first quarter, propelled by purchases of cheap models in emerging markets, but that’s paltry compared with growth of 83 percent during the same period last year and more than 100 percent during that period in 2012 and 2011, according to researcher Strategy Analytics.

The tablet’s early success has resulted in unrealistic expectations for the long term, says Horace Dediu, the founder of research and consulting firm Asymco. He’s surprised growth is slowing, because only about 40 percent of the U.S. market currently owns a tablet. For hot consumer electronics of previous generations, like color TVs and microwaves, this kind of decline in sales growth doesn’t usually happen until at least half the market has the product, he says. Tablets, Dediu adds, may ultimately prove to be more like game consoles: a large, valuable market that nonetheless cannot match the ubiquity of mobile phones. “It’s a very compelling product,” he says, “but isn’t of the same utility as a phone.”

As smartphones get bigger and do more, there are fewer good reasons for people to pony up several hundred dollars for a tablet, says Benedict Evans, an analyst and investor with the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Consumers are perfectly fine using their iPhone or Samsung Galaxy smartphone to browse the Web, play games, or scan e-mail while watching TV or lying in bed, Evans says, and that trend will likely continue as phone screens keep growing.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 6, 2014 at 7:48 pm

[LINK] “The Rise and Fall of AIM, the Breakthrough AOL Never Wanted”

I still have AOL Instant Messenger installed on my laptop, though these days I use it much more for an add-on that lets it interact with Facebook Chat than to talk to the few others who remain online in the AIM domain. Mashable’s Jason Abruzzese has a great extended interview with the engineers who developed the software, suggesting that AIM was hobbled by being too ahead of its time at a company too invested in the status quo.

Barry Appelman, Eric Bosco and Jerry Harris worked at AOL in the 1990s and early 2000s as engineers on AOL Instant Messenger, known commonly as AIM. They weren’t hired to build a messenger. Appelman and Bosco programmed in the Unix operating system. Harris had been a programmer at a small web browser company purchased by AOL.

But together with a group of other engineers they helped take AIM from inception to dominance, then watched it fall into dormancy, unable to convince AOL management that free was the future.

Sitting with them and talking about the program, they exude pride for what they built and how it impacted the Internet. That pride is accompanied by a sense of “what if?”

During our conversation, the term “innovator’s dilemma” is thrown around a few times.

Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen coined the term, which is the title of his renowned book. The concept is simple — companies concerned with its current products, profits and customers often fail to recognize and adapt to change even from within.

Whatsapp is not far from their minds. That comes up a couple times as well. The app, which Facebook bought for $16 billion, is essentially what they worked on in the mid 90s — messaging over the Internet.

AOL is still pivoting away from its days as an ISP. Under the leadership of Tim Armstrong it now focuses on video and its ad network. In another life, before a disastrous acquisition of Time Warner, it brought the Internet into the homes of Americans and controlled the program that popularized online messaging without ever really meaning to.

It would be easier to call AIM ahead of its time if it had not become so wildly popular almost immediately after its launch. In many ways, AIM was right in line with the times, just at a company hanging on to a business model that would soon become obsolete.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2014 at 11:00 pm

[LINK] “Guizhou emerges as China’s big data center”

Chinese news agency ECNS noted that the southwestern province of Guizhou is becoming a major centre for “big data” on the basis of its environmental and other attributes.

Guizhou Province, one of the least developed in China, has emerged at the center of China’s big data ambitions, with Alibaba Group and other tech leaders moving to cash in on the big data boom.

Alibaba signed a framework agreement with the Provincial Government of Guizhou on April 17 to use the province as its industrial base for the development of cloud computing and big data.

[. . .]

Guizhou’s visibility has been rising in China’s big data frontier as a number of heavyweight telecommunication carriers, including China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile, have moved into the province’s Guian New District since October to establish cloud computing bases and big data centers.

So far, more than 100 big data enterprises, including Baidu, Jingdong and Dawning, and Internet giants such as Sina.com and Sohu.com have moved in. ( In the eyes of Li Guojie, academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the swarming in of heavyweight players is not driven by bandwagon appeal.

[. . . T]he province is an ideal industrial base for big data development. Cool weather, plenty of energy resources, well-developed equipment manufacturing, military industry, sufficient power supply and lower electricity prices are all advantages to lure data centers to set up bases in the region[.]

As one of China’s least developed provinces, Guizhou is eyeing the big data industry to boost its economic sustainability while China speeds up its reforms. In 2012, the GDP per capita of Guizhou was only 50.9 percent of the national average, the lowest in the country.

Although rich in energy and natural resources, Guizhou has seen its economy heavily dependent on traditional heavy industries such as chemical manufacturing and ferrous metal production, whose growth potential have been declining.

[. . . T]he province faces a lack of talent to supply the industry’s needs.

To remedy the situation, Guizhou launched a talent recruitment project to attract college graduates to set up big data companies in Guiyang by offering them preferential policies.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2014 at 7:42 pm


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