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Comment Re:"Disruptive" (Score 2) 56

He just means "non-customer facing", right?

I think you are just grumpy this morning.

What he means is what he says - you can have an AI helper that you can talk to, and replies in a seemingly intelligent manner, without having all the self awareness, and the OMG! Bots are going to murder us in our beds!! nonsense we have had from Steven Hawking, or the singularity quasi-rapture predictions of Kurzweil et al. The first implementation of AI's is probably going to be something that will be guided by humans rather than replacing them. Cars that drive themselves, but will come safely to a stop or ask for help if they see something they cannot understand. TV remotes that can respond to speech, and find something you might like to watch without flipping channels. Less "Open pod bay doors, Hal" "I'm sorry, Dave. I cannot do that", and more "Shit! Did I forget to turn off the oven, Hal?" "Yes, you did, Dave. I turned it down a bit there was nothing in it. Would you like me to turn it off?

There is a lot of AI bull about. Oddly enough, I don't think this particular article was an example. But maybe I'm wrong.

Comment Of course it should be an inside job... (Score 1) 61

This is an entirely sensible thing to do. You might have a game that uses the gyroscope. Embedded within that game there might be a rogue application that also uses the gyroscope data to measure the tilt as a result of using the keyboard, and report that along with your high score, or whatever to some game sever. If you have some security mode so when you are entering a password, it disables keyboard sharing, screen grabs, the camera (looking for reflections in you glasses) and the microphone (in case you say the numbers aloud) it must also disable the gyroscope and accelerometer. It does not matter that the process is not reliable - all we need to know is that is could work, so we can put in a fix.

Too often we learn what is possible after the event. We have to pay ingenious people to report weaknesses in the system. If you don't then the only ones working on it are the ones with something to gain.

Comment Attempt at serious reply... (Score 3, Informative) 106

...it's also a bit of a dull reply, as it is mostly about finding names for things...

There didn't seem to be enough matter to explain the evolution of the universe, so scientists guessed at what might be causing it. It looked like there was more matter that we couldn't see, so they invented the idea of 'dark matter', which was something that had mass but was otherwise pretty inert so we didn't see it. BTW: 'dark' here is an old use meaning 'unable to be seen', such as 'the dark side of the moon' being the side that faces away from earth, not the side that is not lit by the sun. The other possibility was that gravity was somehow slightly different when operating over very large distances and times. This was settled because astronomers got better at calculating the distributions of mass in the universe when they thought there was something interesting to find, and found there were cases, such as the 'bullet nebula' where there were very significant amounts of mass in different places to the star-like matter we could see. This gives credence to the idea that 'dark matter' is a real sort of 'stuff', our can be treated as a sort of stuff, rather than just an systematic difference in the equations.

Okay, suppose we assume for now there is lots of invisible stuff that has mass and momentum, but otherwise does not interact with anything else much (think of neutrinos, but more so). If we take our best assumptions as to the right amount of dark matter, then there is a slight error which means something else is pushing the universe apart. If it looks like extra energy, we call it 'dark energy' and astronomers start looking for ways to detect it. In the meanwhile, other people look for a rival model where there is a systematic error in the equations for very large distances and times. That's pretty much where we are now. Indeed, the two explanations are not different - one just describes the error as 'extra energy' and the other one does not - until we get some new experimental evidence that shows which explanation is more useful.

Dark energy is a small correction term to our universe. If you want something we really don't understand, try the inflationary period of the early universe. We know it got really big, really fast, but really evenly; but we don't have any of the details.

Comment Lunar birthday cake (Score 2) 140

If you make a cake with 4.5 billion candles, and each candle was 1 lumen; it would give off 4.5 Gigalumens.

If the full moon lights the earth with 0.1 lux (I have found several values, but this one will do) then I calculate the moon reflects the equivalent of 50 Gigalumens. This is not quite your classical lumen, which gives off light in all directions, but that's only a factor of 2.

So the cake would be 9% as bright as the full moon.

Comment Maybe thunb drives can take over? (Score 1) 232

I wore databanks for many years, ending in the ninetries, when I could not find them any more, even on business trips to Tokyo. There were registers where you could write short bits of text. I used these to store my car registrations, and a few phone numbers. This is the sort of thing you would have on your phone these days. However, if your phone goes flat, it is sometimes useful to have a duplicate. Alarms and Reminders. I had an app on my work computer but if I was not at my desk, I missed it. If I am not wearing the watch, it would pop something on the screen. A calculator (I rarely used this). A light (this flattened the battery if you used it to see things with).

Okay, this all sounds pretty sad, but back in the day it was handy. We could do all sorts of things better. There are much smarter ways of entering text. We could have a solar cell over the front face to charge it. it could have a low power mode if the solar cell was not seeing anything, rather than having the display always on. You could keep your passwords in it, knowing that it could not be hacked.

I don't think it will happen. It now feels funny to have something on my wrist. Possibly secure USB drives with tiny displays on keyrings will take over the role.

Comment The law does things in an odd way... (Score 4, Informative) 294

The thinking behind having a patent law are roughly as follows (apologies for huge post, BTW)...

Innovation is discouraged where people who innovate, and pay costs for innovation, have their market stolen by others who copy them; or who are required to keep commercial secrets, running the risks of betrayal, or of trade secrets dying with them inventor (reputed to be what happened with the 'purple of Cassius' deep red stained glass).

The innovation may not necessarily be 'invention' as we know it. if you bought new techniques into your country by studying what people were doing abroad, you deserved to recoup your research costs over a finite time. You could patent an idea in the UK that had been patented elsewhere up until 1968. This is not a UK eccentricity - before international patent treaties, many other countries had a similar approach. So, the idea that a patent was something that exclusively covers something that you thought up is just about 50 years old.

The idea that you could only patent a solid object or a physical process is more recent. This change happened about 1985 to 1995. People could patent something physical, but the physical thing could include a programmed processor. Then people tried to patent the particulars of the processing side, or patent the program as stored on memory as a physical thing, usually as an additional claim as an alternative to some dedicated processor which could be patented under the previous law. I was working in Canon on patents at the time, and saw it happen bit by bit.

There is no abstract reason why patenting a non-physical thing such as an algorithm should necessarily be a bad thing. In practice, there was relatively little established prior art experience, so cunning people were able to patent things that have been common knowledge for a long time, but have no known inventor. Again, this is not new: the Gillette company was threatened in 1913 by a latter-day patent troll patenting their safety razor, which was not protected in US law unless someone could find written evidence that was acceptable in court to prove that Gillette were the owners. Gillette won in the end, but the 'Gillette Defence' is still a term for the enormous cost of proving something in court even though everyone knows it.

The patent is a restrictive rule: it restricts the rights of everyone but the inventor. We may support such laws in the short term to encourage invention and innovation, but this support should always be tempered by a reluctance to restrict the rights of others. There are exceptions to patent law that allow people to use specific drugs for other problems not covered by the original patent. This is intended to allow re-use of existing compounds, rather than requiring the invention of a second-best compound to get around the existing patents.

In then end, the case for or against allowing software patents hangs on whether they do more harm than good. The experiment since they came in is almost exclusively against them. Software is usually well-protected by obscurity for several years because reverse engineering is hard. An imitation product will always lag behind the true one, provided the product is still being developed. If you wanted a logical argument against software patents, you might argue that the Church-Turing thesis covered a machine that could calculate anything that was calculable, and so should anticipate and cover all possible programs. This judge is arguing from a different direction, but the argument has similarities, but with the human mind is replacing the Turing-complete machine, and language is replacing algorithms. Judges can't just call laws into existence, even on the grounds of extreme obviousness, but they can put put ideas such as this, and they will become law if they stand the test of time.

Let's all hope they do.

Comment Re:Not buying it (Score 2) 145

It is a reasonable explanation. Memory has parity bits. There are random faults from the various sorts of noise you can get in semiconducting circuits, but if you have some safety-net that will catch the occasional flipped bit. Your computer will be catching these sorts of errors all the time. The problem with cosmic rays is that they are very energetic, so they can pass through a lot of matter, but when they collide they generate a tight cone of ionising particles that knocks out electronics in a small region of circuitry. This can flip a number of bits in the same region of memory, so it can become possible for the memory to get corrupted but the parity bits (or Reed-Solomon codec or whatever) to think that everything is ok. This is still unlikely, but it is much more probably than if events were happening at random. There is nothing sensible you can do about this other than run the same calculation a second time and see whether you come up with the same answer. This is what we used to do with large codes that ran on Cray YMP's back in the 80's, and cosmic rays set the limit on complex calculations.

Putting it in a lead case? That makes it worse. If you have cosmic rays, you either have to go into a deep mine to shield them, which is what they do with neutrino experiments but it a bit impractical for a server; or to put it in a very light case and hope the cosmic ray goes straight through.

If you have a sever which seemed to be working, then did something mad, then went back to working again; and it was in a rack of other similar devices, so you can be sure nobody unplugged it to plug in a vacuum cleaner, or something like that, then the only explanation that remains for me is cosmic rays.

Comment It will happen. But it won't be easy. (Score 4, Interesting) 42

At the moment the sensible money is on silicon. Make silicon circuits 10% smaller or 10% after and the whole of electronics benefits. If you try to do the same thing with carbon, then you have to re-invent many of the fabrication processes from scratch before you can make a single useful gadget.

In the long term, carbon is a no-brainer. It has a huge band gap will lets it be stable at high temperatures. It can bond to itself and be a super-resistor, a resistor, a semiconductor, and a conductor. Down the middle of carbon tubes it may even manage to be a superconductor. You could make a memory element using a few tens of atoms. Can you imagine having a mole of bits? On the other hand, trying to make a conductive track by doping silicon gets harder and harder as the size drops, and there are problems getting the current to turn corners in a single crystal.

So, what do we do in the middle-term? We can make something that is probably bigger than is ideal using the existing silicon technology. We will find a niche market that needs the same simple thing replicated lots of times - and non-volatile memory is the obvious choice - and leave making a carbon microprocessor for when we have more of the other bits working. That is what people have been predicting for years, and now they are actually beginning to do it.

Why are they dong it now? Well, I can remember over the past 40-odd years people saying you cannot get Si fabrication much below 10 microns, and then there were limits making them below 1 micron, and then you absolutely could no get below 0.1 micron. And as long as Silicon technology oprogressed, it was the better short-term investment. But as we go on, the next-generation silicon plants will be more expensive, the rewards are getting smaller, and the chances of some unexpected breakthrough dwindle. It is a good time for something to give.

Comment G-force limits, too (Score 5, Interesting) 441

This is probably old data, but few pilots in special, elasticated suits can get beyond 10g without blacking out. As we approach our limit, our peripheral vision goes, so even if we don't black out, we are not working well if we keep this up for long. It is possible to make conventional airframes that can take 25g if you don't have to cut big holes in the airframe for the cockpit. So, a computer in a plane built for a computer ought to rule.

Comment ..then the Brexit campaigners have already won. (Score 1) 68

This is the sort of thing that Europe does right. The IWF's reaction is interesting. There is the first, knee-jerk "Nonsense! Britain has the finest tradition of free speech in the world!" speech. This is followed by a gradual retraction, and policy change. Nothing dramatic, but enough to do the job.

Some say the UK should get out of Europe for the sake of the economy. There are people who could make savings if we did not have Europe's about laws, anti-pollution regulations, employment law, human rights regulation, or green policies. Their businesses and investors would be better for it, locally and in the short term; and the rest of the population can go hang. These people already have too much influence over our lives though their money, and they always want more. It's not about immigrants filling up our A&E departments, taking our jobs, and/or living on the dole. They like migrant labour. But they see a chance to cut costs.

If you are in the UK, please don't vote more power to these people.

Comment Re:The summary answers the question (Score 1) 287

Yup, it's what you don't know that will get you. Plus they still find active virus samples in old graveyards and things like that. It is also a stupid virus. It was unpleasant in its day but it had one form, stuck to one species, and was not particularly infectious. It was the first eradicated disease because it was simple. If you are an evil mad scientist, you won't reach for the smallpox tube. AIDS is a pretty class act. The common cold is awesome. I don't think smallpox matters much either way. A labelled tube in a lab is the safest form. I wouldn't destroy it just as I wouldn't destroy an old book if it might be the only copy. The gene mapping might not tell us everything: there might be a gene folding that we aren't replicating properly. But we could probably go to an old London graveyard or crypt and find some more if we really wanted.

Comment Hell is Still Other People (Score 2) 270

Don't know His Fryness? You miss out: a good man, even outside his more well-known TV comedy roles. Attracts a lot of the nastier sort of internet trolls who want to make him attempt suicide again.

Much of the internet is a nasty place, and I would not want to live in it full-time. A trolling of some innocent can make me incoherent. A nasty piece of porn can put me off humanity altogether; if they are having fun, why does no-one ever smile? Gaze into 4chan and beyond, and see Hell. But if you totally unplug, you kill the messenger; you remove your levening presence, and leave the mob to their excess. The excess is not the fault of the internet: a lot of humanity could do with improvement, and it is always been easier to destroy than to build. Unplugged you can still read the Daily Mail, but I think you (the public) have more sense. Plugged you can do the same. Keep it all at arm's length. Visit the internet. Re-visit the places you like. Have a look at something new, perhaps something edgy and dangerous, but don't let it bring you down to it's level.

Has El Fry aimed his essay beyond his target? He hasn't actually unplugged by his own admission. Maybe it is easier and more rousing to exhort us to some ideal of total abstinence, but those of us who fall short of this will probably be happier.

Comment Re:Why the jab at Sanders in the summary? (Score 1) 287

Reporter Daymond Steer told Cameron that "Bernie had no interest in the UFO question and gave me a flippant response." His 'flippant response' is not reported so we cannot judge for ourselves. I would have been tempted to say in his place something like "Oh, grow up. I can't release secret documents that don't exist. If I don't release them, you say I am hiding them. There are much more important issues, and I will not be distracted by this". I expect Bernie was a little smarter and a bit less knee-jerky than that; but he can't win and be sensible on this issue, and he opted for sensible. If that is being 'dismissive', we could do with a bit more.

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