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Comment Oh yes, a gigantic worry (Score 1) 303

Oh yes it's a huge new threat we now face- the workplace might cease to resemble so closely a pirate ship where every ship is out to scuttle destroy and otherwise steal from the others and the people who work on each pirate ship have no loyalty that's not coerced by the threat of being thrown overboard .

Where the interpersonal relationships are characterized by pure power and rank plays and people setup then backstab each other to gain more power.

Yes because Zappos workplace does not resemble a 15th century pirate ship we need to start making comparisons to Mao who killed tens of millions of his countrymen while attempting to impose an unsupported, anti-scientific, irrational belief system he claimed was some form of Communism.

God yes, we need to worry about this and worry about this a lot.

Let's get started.

Comment Re:And they say we have nothing to worry about (Score 1) 127

It's not about bacteria per se, it's about genes. It's about mass tinkering with genes just to see what can happen. Bad idea. Bad idea. Very. Bad. Idea.

Sorry it goes against my grain too, but some technologies are better restricted, limited, denied and otherwise controlled by responsible parties who can at least be presumed to not be, you know, totally insane.

So far, the US govt hasn't released a DIY nuke kit and neither has the former USSR.

That's where the real power utility of the herd comes in. No one person is going to be left to go their own way and do whatever their mind can conceive of without other people second guessing them, watching what they're doing, checking on them and not just trusting them or worse, making it an article of faith or what have you.

Or worst of all, as some asshole in some university held forth the other day on /. - all science is protected by 1st Amendment rights, therefore get outta my way.

We have survived as a society so far by a enacting a complex web of limitations, laws, circumventions, tricks, treaties, maneuverings, policies, norms and *other* against the things which would threaten us. It's a patchwork framework, just like everything in biology.

We will continue to survive by *not* raising any principle higher than the survival principle, aka The Constitution Is Not A Suicide pact Principle.

People with extremist ideologies like that professor need to not be listened to. And yes, extremism in defense of *just any form of* liberty is indeed a vice.


Comment Re:And they say we have nothing to worry about (Score 3, Interesting) 127

Exactly. To get some idea how well the democratization of knowledge serves as a defense against BadGuys, take a look at how we're doing on the internet. There we have full democratic access to a technology of mid-value intellectual difficulty. Do you feel like you can defend your computer against all created viruses trojans etc. or do you turn to professionals to provide you with tools to do that job?

And about those professionals. How are they doing?

Last I looked, they were basically getting a near zero-score for near zero-days.

That's because they're good at defending themselves against what they recognize and know about and can fingerprint but essentially terrible at recognizing the uncatalogued attack, the novel approach, the slightly innovative variation.

I point this out because I hear the argument that the more DIY biohacking we do, the better able we will be to defend ourselves. It really hasn't worked out that way. Things- people, cats dogs puzzles- go together one way. They can be taken apart in an infinity of ways.

The surface of attack is infinite within the bounds of the target's particular characteristics. That's not a good castle to have to defend. The fewer people who can attack the castle, the better.

Comment Re:Nature provides the solution (Score 2) 127

You have no idea what you're yacking on about. What you call a "European" circa 500 CE is some admixture of Mediterranean, Near Eastern, Middle Eastern, Eurasian, Russian , Ukrainian and Maikop. The LAST thing the European continent was ever is "isolated" at least not since 2500 BCE.

If you want to see what happens with genes when they're isolated, go to the Galapagos Islands.

Comment And they say we have nothing to worry about (Score 0) 127

"Now researchers are beginning to reveal a surprising genetic history of the plague. A rash of discoveries show how just a small handful of genetic changes â" an altered protein here, a mutated gene there â" can transform a relatively innocuous stomach bug into a pandemic capable of killing off a large fraction of a continent."

And people say we have nothing to fear from the biohacking movement.

Comment Re:I hate these stories (Score 1) 96

We all benefit from 80s-style expert systems every day. Even your GPS is a form of expert system.

The idea we'll soon be of replacing humans, which is causing a sort of mini moral panic amongst some engaged and intelligent but non-expert part of the population is totally off course.

Just focusing in on driving applications, lane awareness and accident avoidance are two great uses of AI but the thing is, they serve only to take minor, stereo-typical (get back in your lane! Break right now as hard as you can!) actions in response to common re-accident scenarios in which there is only one-best-thing-to-do (so do it now!) It is assumed that the driver will take over to address the possibly more complex real-time situation.

AI is not going to parse out every possible set of real world events which a driver may encounter. Google is finding that out now. The situations are too varied, too unpredictable (the technical term for this is "fucked up") and engage too many independent actors whose reactions are unknowable but critical.

Sure , it can be used on highways with a human driver, and warehouses (maybe) and golf courses and it can , you know replace the guy who drivers the smoother over your local ice skating rink, OK now HE'S got a job to defend against AI, but when you mix in the liability issues there is about zero chance Google cars are going to be how people get around.

When Palm finally quit trying to recognize all possible handwriting from everyone and started instead to make people write using their stylized alphabet, then they became successful. So also here. We'll all drvie Google cars when and if Google convinces the legislature to re-engineer the roads, the rules of the road, and the liability laws to support their technology or, to be more precise, the limitations of their technology.

Society moves forward and changes so don't say THAT won't happen. It might. It might not. It's a lot of money, but then it would save a lot of lives, save a lot of money and reduce crime a lot also. Maybe THIS is their REAL end game.

At any rate, something like the above changes is going to happen sooner than a Google car is going to replace your car, with everything otherwise staying the same.

Comment Re:I hate these stories (Score 1) 96

OK that's the conceit of NN in a nutshell- just like a biological brain, so you said it. To me that's like saying a camera is like an eye. The brain is more than just neurons firing over synapses and reinforcing the ability to communicate across synpases. For example, nitrous oxide diffuses through the brain and is used in signalling. There are other things like that going on.

I am not saying that I think NN are worthless. I probably came across like that; a delay reaction from years of overexposure to NN cheerleaders. It may be the start of a good way to model the actual working of the brain. I am all about Rodney Brooks' bottom up approach. The thing is, so far, it's NOT a good way to gain insight into the brain. It's all going the other way- NN models built on Hebbian learning and all that.

I get sick of people pushing AI as "on the verge of an incredible breakthrough" or worse , doing what IBM did with Deep Jeopardy or whatever they called it, Deep Thought . That whole thing was a total dog and pony show that potentially misled the general public, potential investors and government funding authorities about what they had achieved (virtually nothing significant) and where it might lead (nowhere).

AI has a very very long and ignoble history of overhawking its wares, dating back to the 60s then the 80s then the 90s.. oh fuck it, every 10 or 15 years..

In '68 HAL9000 was completely plausible by 2001 in the eyes of the AI establishment.

Great things have come out of basic AI research. Expert systems. Defense systems. But the idea that we're anywhere close to "the Singularity" which a lot of naive people believe, anywhere close at all is just not true.

So Google is big on AI. I give you 100 to 1 that their self driving cars FAIL as a general mode of transportation by the year 2050.

Comment Re:I hate these stories (Score 1) 96

You're point is valid. WRT to neural networks, I am not impressed really. In a nutshell, I think it's a disguised way of doing statistics. An iterative, on-analytical way. With neural nets, after it's trained, no one can tell why the neural net functions as it does and no one can tell you when the neural net will do something completely insane.

There is no analytical framework which decomposes a neural network which has arrived at THESE weights on THESE node with THIS many layers using THIS algorithm to update itself. It's just a standalone thing that works OK ... until it doesn't.

My uni was so huge on neural nets especially my dept. If you wanted to irritate the profs,who had been made famous by their research in NN, ask them a few of these questions. If you wanted to really destroy your career whilst still an undergrad, press the point.

Not impressed then, not impressed now. OK not impressed is not quite right; more like "underwhelmed".

What WOULD be interesting is if there were analytical rapprochement between neural nets and statistics or at least an analytical framework whereby number of layers number of nodes connections weights, update algorithms and reward algorithms were understood well enough to support a predictive framework such that given a goal, you could write a NN without having to "train" it or given an arbitrary NN, you could analytically decompose it and understand what it was capable of.

OK now THAT would be interesting.

Comment Re:No doubt about it Tor is broken (Score 3, Interesting) 122

>> Do you never think there will be a time in which our government overreach will land us in another McCarthy era and use this kind of monitoring to have witch hunts?

Yes absolutely. In my mind, there's no doubt that if Cheney at. al. had had the powers we have today when they first started their governmental careers we'd have disappeared political opposition, people framed and ruined, entire departments of government at the end of a short blackmail chain. All in the name of "national security", because their opponents' policies would have endangered us all. Even today, Cheney actually makes this claim in the media against Obama. What do you think he would have done to candidate Obama if he had had the chance? After all, national security.

One source of hope ()and that's all it is really) that this won't materialize is that the people who come of age with this technology won't abuse it just because they've grown up in a time in which fear of it's abuse was discussed in the larger culture, and they don't want to be The Bad Guy. that is, they've absorbed society's norms and values and won't contradict them.

If that sounds too optimistic to you, sociopaths like Gonzales, Cheney and Oliver North have a preternatural ability to rise to the top of organizations, then you like me are more interested in structural solutions to the McCarthy problem.

What are those solutions? We don't know, but they must be brought into existence.

Comment Re:No doubt about it Tor is broken (Score 1) 122

OK there's a difference between ability to do something and the actual doing of it. No government organization can contemplate the exchanges between all people, much less all people all the time. But they have the ability to zero in people if they believe it's warranted. That's how it's always worked. That's how it is now. The ability to tap a phone was always there, but not all phones were tapped.

Now, in a sense, all phones ARE tapped, but they don't have the ability to listen to all that, so they're NOT tapped in the sense of they're listening in. Looked at in this way, the concept of "tapped" has been deconstructed into its constituent parts- recording the fact of the call, and human awareness of what was said , followed by action. "Tap" used to imply both of those things.

You have the right to not incriminate yourself, as ever. The right to remain silent (in the US, but not really in the UK, which is shocking to Americans). But the police had always had the power to subpoena witnesses, material, phone records etc.

I am not suggesting anyone take the expansion, ease and ubiquity of these police powers without trepidation. I would like to see more worry about them. In response to that worry I would like to see structural, inspectable safeguards, unassailable and possibly anonymous (to the police) overseers, and severe, crippling life-ruining punishment for anyone, at any position of government who abuses them to any degree or anyone who covers up the same, lies about the same to Congress ever for any reason (Clapper) without exception and anyone who knows about the same, but does not report it to a disconnected, legally unassailable watchdog.

But as time goes on, we will trend towards wanting greater and greater transparency of all individuals, at will, anywhere and everywhere and at any and all times, both in and out of government.

That's just where we're being forced by both constructive and destructive advances in technology.

Comment Re:No doubt about it Tor is broken (Score 1) 122

Yes exactly. Basically this holds true:

Civil Liberties = number of people it takes to do it / (degree of harm * number of people effected)

All kinds of violence can be categorized using this


normal person on person crime:
Large number of people to do small harm to small number of people (aka , normal life) Civil Liberties not effected (stays around 1)

large number of people to do large harm to large number of people (aka war) civil liberties might go down (as they do at war time)

humdrum terrorism
small number of people to do large harm to small (1000s at most) number of people. Civil liberties start to be noticeably effected. It starts to become structural.

supercharged terrorism
small number of people, tending towards one, render high degree of damage (death) to large numbers of people (tens of thousands, millions, everyone...). Civil Liberties severely curtailed , eliminated or redefined by public demand. It's structural and it's permanent.

We want to do everything we can to never reach the last one. This may involve redefining notions which in the face of scientific progress prove themselves to be outdated and archaic.

Comment I hate these stories (Score 4, Interesting) 96

I hate these stories. Games were designed (albeit evolutionarily, through generations of culture) to exploit specific human cognitive limitations in exhaustive search and look ahead, and thereby force us to fall back on things like heuristics and strategies. This makes games unpredictable and interesting.

But computers don't have those limitations. Of course they can out play us at games. They also add faster than we do.

This is all IBM's DeepBlue was, a massive, massive lookahead machine which used a little human-discovered / human programmed rules of thumb to reduce the search space and then human-discovered, human programmed rules of thumb for judging the relative goodness of each move.

The fact that computers are good at beating humans at something specifically designed to make humans perform badly is not an advancement in A.I.

Well, OK it is, but that's not saying much.

Comment No doubt about it Tor is broken (Score 5, Interesting) 122

For a long time in my mind there's been no doubt that Tor is broken, at least with respect to the powers available to the United States and its allies. Think about it. There are no where near a million Tor nodes and even fewer exit nodes, and a million servers is a rounding error in the DoD black budget for a year.

Sure, non DoD Tor nodes exist, but what % of them are p0wned? I'll hazard a guess; just that % required to make it statistically implausible that, combined with traffic analysis, context gleaned from exit nodes a handful of zero-days etc. etc. no one can use Tor and expect sustained anonymity from the government.

I actually think that's a good thing. Hear me out. For the general Tor user who just wants their ISP , nosy Shark Wire aware neighbor, political opponents, large corporations, website owners land various databrokers to fuck off, they have what they want For dissidents in oppressive nations, those nations probably can't muster the resources to de-anonymize Tor users. For very bad people who want to do very bad things, we can get them, with some effort.

I know this is a minority opinion, but I think that the opposing opinion is regressive. Once, it wasn't possible for a small group of non-nation-state individuals to wreak mayhem on millions of people at once.

Once, the amount badness that could be achieved by Bad Guys was a trade-off between the number of people the Bad Guys wanted to effect, the number of people the Bad Guys could enlist to help them and the degree of severity of the Badness itself. Not any more. This changes everything.

We are living more and more in a world in which a few or even one really fucked up person can reach out and kill. This is nothing but the advancement of technology, and it's not going to stop. That means the power of small groups gets larger and broader even as the size of that group spiral down to one.

How are we going to counter this general phenomena? I agree, that giving any government unchecked, unobservable, unlimited powers is always a bad idea. (Ironcially, I believe this because of the actions members of administrations who profess to want to "get government off our backs" and told us "government isn't the solution, it's the problem"- Oliver North, James Secord, Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales etc etc. )

But in the face of this hypothetical and not-always hypothetical threat we still have the facts on the ground with respect to advancing technologies and the leverage it gives just anyone.

I don't think the answer is to limit the power of government. We need that power to exist. I think the answer lies in the people being able to hold the government accountable and their actions rendered transparent to a degree that would shock most people today, both in and out of government. We need to radically re-think the national security 3rd-rail issues like national security classifications, clearances, Presidential directives, etc. etc.

It will tear this country apart if the government continues to do what it knows it needs to do in order to avert terrorism and societal chaos and the people continue to feel like they have no faith in the integrity of the processes and powers of the government- that it could at any moment turn the death ray on them, and probably will. That whole dynamic, the whole world view needs to be addressed and not just addressed but actually resolved by some radical out of the box thinking no one had done yet.

We can have both security and freedom, but it's not going to just arise naturally by continuing on with the status quo conceptual categories we are using now.

Comment This is bad for us if it's true (Score 1) 262

We need a better way to detect lying if polygraphs can be beaten.

Actually, on a personal note, I had an interest in this at school; it was one of the things I was zeroing in on as a career path. Unfortunately, universities being the places they are now, a liar made it difficult for me to pursue this research interest. It's not as ironic as it seems, since people who are willing to lie about another person's actions and easy to come by. Our university was rife with people undermining each other through whatever means they could think of. Lying was the least of it. But that's another story, and besides, you probably have your own.

The reason I had that interest at all was because my life has been strongly effected again and again by people who think it's OK to just fabricate things to hurt people they don't like for one reason or another. It's basically a pandemic attitude, at least here in the states. I think I missed out on the part of growing up that said absolutely anything goes if you don't like person X. Certainly everyone around me got that message. I mean, WTF?

People in positions of security who try to beat lie detectors are Bad People. The ability to detect when someone is lying is essential to stopping Very Bad People from doing Very Bad Things to us.

I still think there's got to be a way to detect lying using information coming from the brain. A lie is volitional by definition; that's gotta lead to something usable in this context. Perhaps with DIY EEGs and such like coming onto the marketplace, amateurs tinkerers will make a breakthrough. I would love to have the time to pursue this myself.

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny ..." -- Isaac Asimov