Thursday, July 26, 2018

Friday Thinking 27 July 2018

Hello all – Friday Thinking is a humble curation of my foraging in the digital environment. My purpose is to pick interesting pieces, based on my own curiosity (and the curiosity of the many interesting people I follow), about developments in some key domains (work, organization, social-economy, intelligence, domestication of DNA, energy, etc.)  that suggest we are in the midst of a change in the conditions of change - a phase-transition. That tomorrow will be radically unlike yesterday.

Many thanks to those who enjoy this.

In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.

Jobs are dying - Work is just beginning. Work that engages our whole self becomes play that works. Techne = Knowledge-as-Know-How :: Technology = Embodied Know-How  

“Be careful what you ‘insta-google-tweet-face’”
Woody Harrelson - Triple 9



It’s not every day a titan of industry predicts the demise of his own. But Bob Lutz, the former vice chairman of General Motors, believes the auto industry is not long for this world.

“It saddens me to say it, but we are approaching the end of the automotive era,” he writes this month for Automotive News. Our daily travel, he predicts, will migrate to standardized passenger modules as the demolition of the traditional auto industry accelerates. Within five years, he expects, people will start selling their cars for scrap or trade them in for autonomous passenger modules as self-driving cars take over transportation. Within 20 years, human-driven vehicles will be legislated off highways. Companies like Lyft, Uber, Google, and other technology companies will take charge of an industry now centered in Detroit, Germany, and Japan.

“The end state will be the fully autonomous module with no capability for the driver to exercise command,” he writes. “You will call for it, it will arrive at your location, you’ll get in, input your destination and go to the freeway.”

Former vice chair of GM predicted car industry’s future: it has no future

McLuhan once told me that what had attracted him most in Chesterton was his perfect familiarity with and proper handling of important paradoxes. He explained to Pierre Babin that paradoxes are normal in religious matters. Pascal also cultivated paradoxical notions about man, religion and the faith. He saw in paradoxes the only way to relax the stifling demands of rationality so as to open the way for a deeper understanding of simultaneous complex issues. By opposition, McLuhan said, “Orthodoxy, in the etymological sense of the word, is to corner oneself into a single point of view”

Passion and Precision: The Faith of Marshall McLuhan

“Science Finds–Industry Applies–Man Conforms.” That was the motto of the Chicago 1933 International Exposition. I used it as the epigraph of my 1993 book, Things That Make Us Smart, suggesting that it be flipped to read “People Propose, Technology Conforms.” I have helped develop design principles that make technology easier to use and understand, principles that evolved into my book Design of Everyday Things, and that today are called human-centered design.

But if these principles are so powerful and useful, why do they continually have to be taught and retaught? Why does each new industry repeat the failures of earlier industries? I now realize that my approach was wrong: We were addressing the symptoms, not the core, fundamental issues. The phrase “man conforms” is technology-centered, rather than people-centered. That much is obvious, but what was not so obvious was how much this view has permeated everything we do.

As a result, we require people to do tedious, repetitive tasks, to be alert for long periods, ready to respond at a moment’s notice: all things people are bad at doing. When the inevitable errors and accidents occur, people are blamed for “human error.” The view is so prevalent that many times the people involved blame themselves, saying things like “I knew better” or “I should have paid more attention,” not recognizing that the demands of the technology made these errors inevitable.

Why bad technology dominates our lives, according to Don Norman

As Tooze sees it, switching our attention to the macrofinancial carries a number of implications: finance comes to be seen not as something that grows out of the “real economy,” but rather as an independent cause of change within it. It becomes necessary to grapple with the arcane structures of banks, shadow banks and still stranger institutions in the financial system, and to recognise that it is this private system—dependent though it is on central banks—that is in charge of the world’s supply of money.

Financial flows around the world have grown out of all proportion to output, trade or anything else. The world and its banks have been woven together in a credit nexus, which had many effects, both good and ill—and also created a new potential for a great unwinding. As Tooze writes: “What the Europeans, the Americans, the Russians and the South Koreans were experiencing in 2008 and the Europeans would experience again after 2010 was an implosion in interbank credit.”

How economists predicted the wrong financial crisis

This is definitely a signal of the emerging social credit capacity that is already here everywhere only more formalized in China.

A Chinese university suspended a student's enrolment because of his dad's bad social credit score

- A Chinese student had his enrollment at a university suspended because of his father's bad social credit score.
- The father, surnamed Rao, had failed to repay a $29,900 loan and was added to a debtor blacklist that prevented a university from accepting his son.
- State media reported that the incident also caused Rao's social credit score to drop.
- China is expected to roll out a national social credit system in 2020, but it remains to be seen if citizens will actually be given a "trustworthiness" score or if they'll just be subjected to more blacklists.
- Either way, the punishment seems to have worked. Rao has reportedly repaid his debt.

This seems like a very serious signal admitting what many have already conceded intellectually - but we still haven’t embraced transparency - reciprocal accountability as a possible solution to both freedom and the ‘right to not be interfered with’.

Privacy, identity 'impossible to protect' say 74% of security pros

New precautions and regulations like GDPR may not be able to help protect online identities, according to a Black Hat survey.
As more of daily life moves online, protecting personal identity and privacy becomes paramount. Unfortunately, it also may be impossible, according to 74% of cybersecurity professionals polled in a recent Black Hat survey.

Black Hat's "Where Cybersecurity Stands" report, announced in a Tuesday press release, gathered data from 300 security professionals. Their responses suggest that, even with "precautionary measures and new regulations such as GDPR," online privacy may be a lost cause. Roughly 30% said they didn't know if their organization met GDPR compliance, and 26% didn't think they were subject to it, according to the report.

As part of the survey, the respondents also weighed in on Facebook use. Some 55% of security pros said they advised their internal users to reconsider how much data they shared on the social media platform. Additionally, 75% of security pros said they were limiting their own use of Facebook, or giving it up entirely, the release said.

Another important signal related to a growing need to re-imagine the Science and its institution of conversation we call Peer-Review and the role of for-profit publication and the publish-or-perish incentive structures. We need Honesty in all our institutions - science, marketing, Algorithmic Augmented Intelligence, Journalism and more.

New international investigation tackles ‘fake science’ and its poisonous effects

Hundreds of thousands of scientists worldwide have published studies in self-described scientific journals that don’t provide traditional checks for accuracy and quality, according to a new journalistic investigation.

Dozens of reporters from media outlets in Europe, Asia and the United States have analysed 175,000 scientific articles published by five of the world’s largest pseudo-scientific platforms including India-based Omics Publishing Group and the Turkey-based World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology, or Waset.  In addition to failing to perform peer or editorial committee reviews of articles, the companies charge to publish articles, accept papers by employees of pharmaceutical and other companies as well as by climate-change skeptics promoting questionable theories.

Some of those publishers send targeted emails to scientists who are under pressure to publish as many articles as possible in order to obtain promotions and improve their curriculum, according to the findings by Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), WDR and S├╝ddeutsche Zeitung.

In addition to the German outlets, a group of more than a dozen media organizations including the New Yorker, Le Monde, the Indian Express and the Korean outlet Newstapa took part in the investigation. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists facilitated the collaboration.

This is a very interesting signal of the emerging Internet-of-Things (IoT) as implemented through the Industrial-Internet-of-Things (IIoT). This is an important signal for any organization concerned with significant logistics webs and the need for greater security in order to harness near-costless coordination.

Filament Is Making Blockchain IIoT as Easy as USB

With its Blocklet chip, Blockchain startup Filament is looking to make implementing blockchain into IIoT as easy as plugging in a USB device.
Has 2018 been the year of enterprise production blockchain? Blockchain technology is moving into more and more commercial and enterprise applications—from supply chain, to energy production, and even potential automotive applications. The ever-expanding Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is going to require solutions for automation and security alongside its solutions for connectivity. And blockchain, with its promise of facilitating encrypted, automated, and verifiable transactions between systems, looks poised to be the answer. But while interest in blockchain technology is growing, with it comes a new challenge for engineers and companies looking to implement it. Very simply, how can they do so easily and efficiently?

Reno, Nevada-based Filament, a startup focused on providing enterprise blockchain solutions, believes it has the answer in the form of a hardware solution. Earlier this year, Filament announced a beta version of its Blocklet Chip, a chip designed to communicate and interact with multiple blockchain technologies natively. Essentially, it allows any IIoT device to use multiple blockchain technologies (or currencies) for communication. The Blocklet chip is designed to be implemented into any device in development.

More signals from the domain of AI or Algorithmic Intelligence.

Evolutionary algorithm outperforms deep-learning machines at video games

Neural networks have garnered all the headlines, but a much more powerful approach is waiting in the wings.
An entirely different type of computing has the potential to be significantly more powerful than neural networks and deep learning. This technique is based on the process that created the human brain—evolution. In other words, a sequence of iterative change and selection that produced the most complex and capable machines known to humankind—the eye, the wing, the brain, and so on. The power of evolution is a wonder to behold.

So-called evolutionary computing has achieved some remarkable feats in the 30 years since it was first put to use optimizing factory production lines for tractors.
But in the last few years, this area of computer science has had to play second fiddle to deep-learning machines and their huge success.

Today, the tables look set to turn thanks to the work of Dennis Wilson and a few colleagues at the University of Toulouse in France. These guys have shown how evolutionary computing can match the performance of deep-learning machines at the emblematic task that first powered them to fame in 2013—the ability to outperform humans at arcade video games such as Pong, Breakout, and Space Invaders. The work suggests that evolutionary computing should be feted just as widely as its deep-learning-based relations. ….

More signals of Augmented Reality devices becoming integrated in some domains. The potential for doctors and many other types of professionals to augment their memory is very large.
“Many of you probably remember Google Glass from the consumer days—it’s baaack,” she said, earning warm laughter, before introducing Plataine’s project. “Glass has become a really interesting technology for the enterprise.”


Google Glass lives—and it’s getting smarter.
On Tuesday, Israeli software company Plataine demonstrated a new app for the face-mounted gadget. Aimed at manufacturing workers, it understands spoken language and offers verbal responses. Think of an Amazon Alexa for the factory floor.

Plataine's app points to a future where Glass is enhanced with artificial intelligence, making it more functional and easy to use. With clients including GE, Boeing, and Airbus, Plataine is working to add image-recognition capabilities to its app as well.
The company showed off its Glass tech at a conference in San Francisco devoted to Google's cloud computing business; the app from Plataine was built using AI services provided by Google’s cloud division, and with support from the search giant. Google is betting that charging other companies to tap AI technology developed for its own use can help the cloud business draw customers away from rivals Amazon and Microsoft.

Jennifer Bennett, technical director to Google Cloud’s CTO office, said that adding Google’s cloud services to Glass could help make it a revolutionary tool for workers in situations where a laptop or smartphone would be awkward.

I think this is an important signal of a near future tipping point to providing Internet access to everyone everywhere.
“Loon’s mission is to connect people everywhere by inventing and integrating audacious technologies,” said Alastair Westgarth, the chief executive of Loon.

Alphabet to deploy balloon Internet in Kenya with Telkom in 2019

Alphabet Inc’s Loon said on Thursday it would deploy its system of balloons to beam high-speed Internet access with Telkom Kenya from next year to cover rural and suburban populations, marking its first commercial deal in Africa.

Known as Project Loon, the technology was developed by Alphabet’s X, the company’s innovation lab. It has since become Loon, a subsidiary of Alphabet, which is the parent company of Google.

The technology was used by U.S. telecom operators to provide connectivity to more than 250,000 people in Puerto Rico after a hurricane last year. Kenya hopes the technology can help achieve full Internet coverage of its population.

A good signal of how government could enhance the emergence of the digital environment with more security, efficiency and agility - in essence with ever lower marginal costs.
Industry is very good at solving immediate problems. Where the government has stepped in in the past, and is trying to step in now, is at moments where there’s a larger leap ahead required. We’re aiming for 2025 to 2030 timelines. And oftentimes, industry isn’t looking out across those timelines as they have more immediate pressures and concerns.
They also don’t always do what’s best for the collective industry. One thing the government has done well in the past is build communities to tackle big problems as an aligned group, as opposed to just having individual entities tackle smaller problems.

DARPA Plans a Major Remake of U.S. Electronics

The defense department’s research wing is pouring $1.5 billion into projects that could radically alter how electronics are made
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is launching a huge expansion of its Electronics Resurgence Initiative, boosting the program to US $1.5 billion over five years. And while some of the research efforts will be just what you’ve come to expect from the agency that brought you disposable drones, self-driving cars, and cameras that can see around corners, a lot of this new money is going toward ideas that could fundamentally change how chips are designed.

If it all works out, the effect could be to make small groups of engineers capable of feats that would take 100 engineers to achieve today. “We envision a much more specialized, secure, and heavily automated electronics community, which will change how everything is done in electronics, top to bottom,” says DARPA’s ERI director Bill Chappell. And that means your job is probably going to feel the effects.

The agency will kick off the initiative and reveal some of the winning proposals at a summit in San Francisco from 23 to 25 July, headlined by bigwigs like Nvidia’s Bill Dally and Intel’s Mike Mayberry. Chappell spoke to IEEE Spectrum ahead of the conference about the initiative’s aims and potential impacts.

The speed of progress in visual recognition is stunning - while the claims made currently maybe a bit hyperbolic - nonetheless the claims will become real and pervasive soon.

The cameras that know if you're happy - or a threat

Facial recognition tech is becoming more sophisticated, with some firms claiming it can even read our emotions and detect suspicious behaviour. But what implications does this have for privacy and civil liberties?
Facial recognition tech has been around for decades, but it has been progressing in leaps and bounds in recent years due to advances in computing vision and artificial intelligence (AI), tech experts say.

It is now being used to identify people at borders, unlock smartphones, spot criminals, and authenticate banking transactions.

But some tech firms are claiming it can also assess our emotional state.

This is a good signal of a number of networking developments - the increasing collaborations (or colonizations) of corporate research and academia (we should worry about where funds are coming from and what that entails about ‘property’) and the integration of AI in all forms of research on complex systems. There is an 1.5 min video.

Google researchers create AI that maps the brain’s neurons

Mapping the structure of biological networks in the nervous system — a field of study known as connectomics — is computationally intensive. The human brain contains around 86 billion neurons networked through 100 trillion synapses, and imaging a single cubic millimeter of tissue can generate more than 1,000 terabytes of data.

Luckily, artificial intelligence can help.
In a paper (High-Precision Automated Reconstruction of Neurons with Flood-Filling Networks) published in the journal Nature Methods, scientists at Google and the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology demonstrated a recurrent neural network — a type of machine learning algorithm that’s often used in handwriting and speech recognition — tailored made for connectomics analysis.

In addition to the paper, the team published the model’s TensorFlow code on Github, along with the WebGL 3D software they used to visualize the dataset and improve the reconstruction results. They plan to refine the system in the future, with the aim of fully automating the synapse-resolution process and “contributing to projects at the Max Planck Institute and elsewhere.”

This is a good signal of one emerging new computational paradigm - one that could speed up the processing of AI

Researchers move closer to completely optical artificial neural network

Researchers have shown that it is possible to train artificial neural networks directly on an optical chip. The significant breakthrough demonstrates that an optical circuit can perform a critical function of an electronics-based artificial neural network and could lead to less expensive, faster and more energy efficient ways to perform complex tasks such as speech or image recognition.

"Using an optical chip to perform neural network computations more efficiently than is possible with digital computers could allow more complex problems to be solved," said research team leader Shanhui Fan of Stanford University. "This would enhance the capability of artificial neural networks to perform tasks required for self-driving cars or to formulate an appropriate response to a spoken question, for example. It could also improve our lives in ways we can't imagine now."

This is far from the Terminator - but provides a signal of the possibilities of a truly human machine integration.

The Cyborgs Are Here: Researchers Put Living Cells In A Robotic Finger

Researchers from the University of Tokyo Institute of Industrial Science have now created a biohybrid robot — a robotic device that incorporates living tissue — that remained functional for more than a week. They published their study Wednesday in the journal Science Robotics.

“Once we had built the muscles, we successfully used them as antagonistic pairs in the robot, with one contracting and the other expanding, just like in the body,” study corresponding author Shoji Takeuchi said in a news release. “The fact that they were exerting opposing forces on each other stopped them shrinking and deteriorating, like in previous studies.”

The bot’s signature (and only) move is bending its “fingertip” up and down. It may be awfully reminiscent of the creepy REDRUM finger motion that kid makes in “The Shining,” but it’s enough for the bot to pick up a tiny ring and place it on a peg. Working in harmony, two of the robots can lift a small square tab.

Another signal of the emerging potential to transform a lot of humans into genetic-bio-cyborgs.

Device Uses Flashes of Light to Restore Hearing

An optogenetic technique tested in gerbils, if it can be replicated in humans, could pave the way to better hearing aids
Scientists in Germany have succeeded in restoring hearing sensations in gerbils using flashes of light. The technique, if it can be developed for humans, could offer a more refined, high-resolution auditory experience than what can be achieved with current hearing devices such as the cochlear implant.

The scientists, led by Tobias Moser, a professor of auditory neuroscience at University Medical Center G├Âttingen, achieved the effect using optogenetics. The technique involves genetically altering specific neurons so that they respond to light, and has become one of biotech’s hottest tools.

In this case, the researchers altered auditory neurons, and then controlled them with light delivered with implanted optical fibers. They described their experiments today in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

This is a four year old TED Talk - but very worthwhile for anyone interested in the nature of our microbial profile and the possibilities for treating illness and restoring health via microbial augmentation.

How our microbes make us who we are

Rob Knight is a pioneer in studying human microbes, the community of tiny single-cell organisms living inside our bodies that have a huge — and largely unexplored — role in our health. “The three pounds of microbes that you carry around with you might be more important than every single gene you carry around in your genome,” he says. Find out why.

Just when we think we’re getting close to really understanding sex - it become even more complicated (even more than the LGBT….  - and the implications for evolution haven’t been thought out. This is a longish article - but definitely worth the read.

Why Nature Prefers Couples, Even for Yeast

Some species have the equivalent of many more than two sexes, but most do not. A new model suggests the reason depends on how often they mate.
We tend to think about two biological sexes: male and female. But before the evolution of eggs and sperm — before sex cells began to diverge in size and form — organisms couldn’t be classified by sex. The same holds true for many fungi, algae and protozoans today. Instead of sexes, these species have mating types, with sex cells that differ at the molecular level but not anatomically. And those mating types don’t necessarily come in pairs.

Take the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum, which has three: Each type can mate with members of the other two. Coprinellus disseminatus, a white-capped mushroom, has 143, each able to find a partner among the 142 others. The hairy, fan-shape fungus Schizophyllum commune boasts more than 23,000 mating types (though its more intricate reproductive strategy means that not every type can mate with every other).

Yet most species still have only two mating types. George Constable, a research fellow at the University of Bath, and Hanna Kokko, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Zurich, wanted to know why. In a paper published last month in Nature Ecology & Evolution, they developed a model that predicts how many mating types will emerge in a species based on just three fundamental ecological elements: the mutation rate (which introduces new types), the population size and — perhaps most surprisingly — the frequency of sex. Their work not only provides insights about the basic biology of these kinds of organisms, but could also contribute to our understanding of how the male and female sexes ultimately evolved.

This is a good signal of the possibilities of combining renewable energy, and biology to bring food almost anywhere. The images are interesting and illuminating.

Wired Greenhouse Tech Could Help Arctic Communities Bloom with Bounty

Developments in LED lighting and remote monitoring have made year-round growing one feasible solution to Arctic food insecurity
Enter the Inuvik Community Greenhouse in late July and you’re met with the smell of moist earth, lush kale beds, perky sunflowers and strawberries dangling like gems from vertical hydroponic grow stations. In this indoor Eden it’s easy to forget you’re just 60 miles south of the ice-capped Arctic Ocean in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

Built 20 years ago within a converted hockey arena, this 16,000 square-foot greenhouse offers a welcome source of fresh produce in a region where food security suffers in part due to climate change and also sheer remoteness. For example, five pounds of potatoes can cost $25 due to high shipping costs. “If you can grow 100 pounds of potatoes in your greenhouse, you are alleviating some of that financial stress,” says its director, Ray Solotki. The greenhouse, however, only operates in the summer and produces just a fraction of the food this town of about 3,300 people consumes each year. Solotki is working to change that.

She’s raising funds to develop a year-round growing operation that would take advantage of new technological developments to provide more fresh food for Inuvik and surrounding towns. Customizable LED lighting, remotely operated nutrient-monitoring systems as well as more efficient and insulated building designs have all made indoor growing more productive, efficient and less costly to operate. Greenhouses that could benefit from this technology are springing up throughout the Arctic: The Japanese company JGC Evergreen produces 1,000 tons of cucumbers and tomatoes in Siberia, a group called Growing North provides geodesic dome greenhouses to communities in Nunavut, Canada, and an operation called Polar Permaculture Solutions supplies the only locally grown produce in the world’s northernmost city of Longyearbyen in Svalbard, Norway. Such efforts “are providing food and jobs and all of these things that we desperately need in our communities,” Solotki says.

This is an interesting development in the domain of population statistics. The difference between varying definitions, varying consequence of national statistics versus new means to measure via satelite images or even ‘Google Earth’ :)

‘Everything we’ve heard about global urbanization turns out to be wrong’

Researchers contest widely-accepted United Nations' predictions on urban population growth
Widely accepted numbers on how much of the world's population lives in cities are incorrect, with major implications for development aid and the provision of public services for billions of people, researchers say.

The United Nations predicts the world's urban population is expected to grow to 70 percent by 2050 from 55 percent at present after becoming majority urban for the first time around 2008.

Not so, say researchers based at the European Commission.
Using a definition made possible by advances in geospatial technology that uses high-resolution satellite images to determine the number of people living in a given area, they estimate 84 percent of the world's population, or almost 6.4 billion people, live in urban areas.

Asia and Africa, which are routinely cited as majority-rural continents that are rapidly urbanizing, turn out to be well ahead of figures in the U.N.'s latest estimates.

Once thought to be about 50 percent and 40 percent urban respectively, the new research argues Asia and Africa are closer to 90 percent and 80 percent, or roughly double previous estimates.

This is a wonderful example of the power of graphic non-fiction. If anyone is interested in understanding Russell and Whitehead’s struggle to build a solid foundation of logic - Logicomix is a wonderful accessible presentation of both biography and explanation.
This one is a great explanation of memory.

Your Memory is Worse Than You Think

New research has shown that your memory is like a Wikipedia entry - you can get in there and edit it whenever you want, but so can other people

Coffee - How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Here more good news about the glory of coffee.

The scent of coffee appears to boost performance in math

Smelling a coffee-like scent, which has no caffeine in it, creates an expectation for students that they will perform better on tests
Drinking coffee seems to have its perks. In addition to the physical boost it delivers, coffee may lessen our risk of heart disease, diabetes and dementia. Coffee may even help us live longer. Now, there's more good news: research at Stevens Institute of Technology reveals that the scent of coffee alone may help people perform better on the analytical portion of the Graduate Management Aptitude Test, or GMAT, a computer adaptive test required by many business schools.

"It's not just that the coffee-like scent helped people perform better on analytical tasks, which was already interesting," says Madzharov. "But they also thought they would do better, and we demonstrated that this expectation was at least partly responsible for their improved performance." In short, smelling a coffee-like scent, which has no caffeine in it, has an effect similar to that of drinking coffee, suggesting a placebo effect of coffee scent.

Here’s a great signal of the state of research on gaming

Keynote - Ten Important Findings From The Research On Games For Impact

It has been over a decade since Jim Gee's seminal text "What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy" was published and the proposition that video games are great learning environments was advanced. Since that time, slowly but surely, games have advanced along the Gartner Hype Cycle from peak of inflated expectations to the slope of enlightenment (Squire, 2016). We now have a decade of research under our belts on what works (and why) in games for learning. We better understand how games specifically can generate learning and behavior change both inside classrooms and out. And we have begun to see third generation products enter the market that blur the distinction between games for impact and games for commercial ends. In this presentation, Steinkuehler highlights ten big findings from the scholarly literature confirm, explain, and sometimes surprise about the nature of games and changing minds. She then draws some observations about the remaining frictions and opportunities in the games for change ecosystem and offers a few admonitions as we shift into the next phase or R&D.