Quotulatiousness

December 17, 2017

E-Estonia

Filed under: Europe, Government, Technology — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the New Yorker, Nathan Heller reports on how Estonia is attempting to be the first digital state:

E-Estonia is the most ambitious project in technological statecraft today, for it includes all members of the government, and alters citizens’ daily lives. The normal services that government is involved with — legislation, voting, education, justice, health care, banking, taxes, policing, and so on—have been digitally linked across one platform, wiring up the nation. […]

Today, citizens can vote from their laptops and challenge parking tickets from home. They do so through the “once only” policy, which dictates that no single piece of information should be entered twice. Instead of having to “prepare” a loan application, applicants have their data — income, debt, savings — pulled from elsewhere in the system. There’s nothing to fill out in doctors’ waiting rooms, because physicians can access their patients’ medical histories. Estonia’s system is keyed to a chip-I.D. card that reduces typically onerous, integrative processes — such as doing taxes — to quick work. “If a couple in love would like to marry, they still have to visit the government location and express their will,” Andrus Kaarelson, a director at the Estonian Information Systems Authority, says. But, apart from transfers of physical property, such as buying a house, all bureaucratic processes can be done online.

Estonia is a Baltic country of 1.3 million people and four million hectares, half of which is forest. Its government presents this digitization as a cost-saving efficiency and an equalizing force. Digitizing processes reportedly saves the state two per cent of its G.D.P. a year in salaries and expenses. Since that’s the same amount it pays to meet the NATO threshold for protection (Estonia — which has a notably vexed relationship with Russia — has a comparatively small military), its former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves liked to joke that the country got its national security for free.

Other benefits have followed. “If everything is digital, and location-independent, you can run a borderless country,” Kotka said. In 2014, the government launched a digital “residency” program, which allows logged-in foreigners to partake of some Estonian services, such as banking, as if they were living in the country. Other measures encourage international startups to put down virtual roots; Estonia has the lowest business-tax rates in the European Union, and has become known for liberal regulations around tech research. It is legal to test Level 3 driverless cars (in which a human driver can take control) on all Estonian roads, and the country is planning ahead for Level 5 (cars that take off on their own). “We believe that innovation happens anyway,” Viljar Lubi, Estonia’s deputy secretary for economic development, says. “If we close ourselves off, the innovation happens somewhere else.”

December 14, 2017

Cognitive dissonance in action – Net Neutrality partisans want TRUMP to control the internet

Filed under: Government, Politics, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Jon Gabriel on the weird position Net Neutrality fans find themselves in … demanding that Il Donalduce himself, the most hated politician in Liberal America since Richard Nixon be the one to dictate how the internet is run:

If President Trump is some kind of digital facist, he sure has a funny way of going about it.

His FCC chairman is trying to remove government from the Internet, returning it to those dark, authoritarian days of 30 months ago — you know, when pretty much every website, app and online service we use was created.

Bizarrely, these net neutrality alarmists are demanding that Trump maintain control of the Internet, planting his administration firmly between citizens and whatever content they want to view or create.

Even if Democrats were running the show in Washington, how could federal meddling improve the Internet? Do they want the Web run by the bureaucrats who spent $2 billion to build a health care website that didn’t work? Do they want our privacy assured by those behind the National Security Agency?

Nevertheless, progressives insist that Trump regulate the Internet in the name of free speech. Perhaps he can do this between his tweets bashing the press.

[…]

If the FCC approves this new proposal, the worst of federal meddling online will be retired. Instead, the commission will simply require Internet service providers to be transparent about their service offerings. That way, tech innovators will have the information they need and consumers will know which plan works best for them.

In other words, Web users and creators will be back in control of the Internet instead of lawyers and bureaucrats. Just as they were for all but the past couple of years.

To ensure transparency, Pai made all his proposals public before the FCC vote Thursday. A big departure from the Obama administration’s methods, which kept its net neutrality rules secret until after they were approved.

Before the FCC’s heavy-handed intervention, we saw the creation of Amazon, Google and Twitter. If Washington removes these unnecessary regulations as expected, we’ll see the Internet continue to blossom.

And my daughters will get to watch their favorite YouTube celebrities complain about net neutrality for years to come.

December 13, 2017

Coming way too soon

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Charles Stross is a highly dependable source of nightmare fuel in his SF/horror writings. He’s just as disturbing when he points out real developments about to go mainstream:

AI assisted porn video is, it seems, now a thing. For those of you who don’t read the links: you can train off-the-shelf neural networks to recognize faces (or other bits of people and objects) in video clips. You can then use the trained network to edit them, replacing one person in a video with a synthetic version of someone else. In this case, Rule 34 applies: it’s being used to take porn videos and replace the actors with film stars. The software runs on a high-end GPU and takes quite a while — hours to days — to do its stuff, but it’s out there and it’ll probably be available to rent as a cloud service running on obsolescent bitcoin-mining GPU racks in China by the end of next week.

(Obvious first-generation application: workplace/social media sexual harassers just got a whole new toolkit.)

But it’s going to get a whole lot worse.

What I’m not seeing yet is the obvious application of this sort of deep learning to speech synthesis. It’s all very well to fake up a video of David Cameron fucking a goat, but without the bleating and mindless quackspeak it’s pretty obvious that it’s a fake. Being able to train a network to recognize the cadences of our target’s intonation, though, and then to modulate a different speaker’s words so they come out sounding right takes it into a whole new level of plausibility for human viewers, because we give credence to sensory inputs based on how consistent they are with our other senses. We need AI to get the lip-sync right, in other words, before today’s simplistic AI-generated video porn turns really toxic.

(Second generation application: Hitler sums it up, now with fewer subtitles)

There are innocuous uses, of course. It’s a truism of the TV business that the camera adds ten kilograms. And we all know about airbrushing/photoshopping of models on magazine covers and in adverts. We can now automate the video-photoshopping of subjects so that, for example, folks like me don’t look as unattractive in a talking-heads TV interview. Pretty soon everyone you see on film or TV is going to be ‘shopped to look sexier, fitter, and skinnier than is actually natural. It’ll probably be built into your smartphone’s camera processor in a few years, first a “make me look fit in selfies” mode and then a “do the same thing, only in video chat” option.

December 12, 2017

“Well sir, there’s nothing on Earth like a genuine, bona-fide, electrified, six-car blockchain!”

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The way blockchain technology is being hyped these days, you’d think it was being pushed by the monorail salesman on The Simpsons. At Catallaxy Files, this guest post by Peter Van Valkenburgh is another of their informative series on what blockchain tech can do:

“Blockchain” has become a buzzword in the technology and financial industries. It is often cited as a panacea for all manner business and governance problems. “Blockchain’s” popularity may be an encouraging sign for innovation, but it has also resulted in the word coming to mean too many things to too many people, and — ultimately — almost nothing at all.

The word “blockchain” is like the word “vehicle” in that they both describe a broad class of technology. But unlike the word “blockchain” no one ever asks you, “Hey, how do you feel about vehicle?” or excitedly exclaims, “I’ve got it! We can solve this problem with vehicle.” And while you and I might talk about “vehicle technology,” even that would be a strangely abstract conversation. We should probably talk about cars, trains, boats, or rocket ships, depending on what it is about vehicles that we are interested in. And “blockchain” is the same. There is no “The Blockchain” any more than there is “The Vehicle,” and the category “blockchain technology” is almost hopelessly broad.

There’s one thing that we definitely know is blockchain technology, and that’s Bitcoin. We know this for sure because the word was originally invented to name and describe the distributed ledger of bitcoin transactions that is created by the Bitcoin network. But since the invention of Bitcoin in 2008, there have been several individuals, companies, consortia, and nonprofits who have created new networks or software tools that borrow something from Bitcoin—maybe directly borrowing code from Bitcoin’s reference client or maybe just building on technological or game-theoretical ideas that Bitcoin’s emergence uncovered. You’ve probably heard about some of these technologies and companies or seen their logos.

Aside from being in some way inspired by Bitcoin what do all of these technologies have in common? Is there anything we can say is always true about a blockchain technology? Yes.

All Blockchains Have…

All blockchain technologies should have three constituent parts: peer-to-peer networking, consensus mechanisms, and (yes) blockchains, A.K.A. hash-linked data structures. You might be wondering why we call them blockchain technologies if the blockchain is just one of three essential parts. It probably just comes down to good branding. Ever since Napster and BitTorrent, the general public has unfortunately come to associate peer-to-peer networks with piracy and copyright infringement. “Consensus mechanism” sounds very academic and a little too hard to explain a little too much of a mouthful to be a good brand. But “blockchain,” well that sounds interesting and new. It almost rolls off the tongue; at least compared to, say, “cryptography” which sounds like it happens in the basement of a church.

But understanding each of those three constituent parts makes blockchain technology suddenly easier to understand. And that’s because we can write a simple one sentence explanation about how the three parts achieve a useful result:

Connected computers reach agreement over shared data.

That’s what a blockchain technology should do; it should allow connected computers to reach agreement over shared data. And each part of that sentence corresponds to our three constituent technologies.

Connected Computers. The computers are connected in a peer-to-peer network. If your computer is a part of a blockchain network it is talking directly to other computers on that network, not through a central server owned by a corporation or other central party.

Reach Agreement. Agreement between all of the connected computers is facilitated by using a consensus mechanism. That means that there are rules written in software that the connected computers run, and those rules help ensure that all the computers on the network stay in sync and agree with each other.

Shared Data. And the thing they all agree on is this shared data called a blockchain. “Blockchain” just means the data is in a specific format (just like you can imagine data in the form of a word document or data in the form of an image file). The blockchain format simply makes data easy for machines to verify the consistency of a long and growing log of data. Later data entries must always reference earlier entries, creating a linked chain of data. Any attempt to alter an early entry will necessitate altering every subsequent entry; otherwise, digital signatures embedded in the data will reveal a mismatch. Specifically how that all works is beyond the scope of this backgrounder, but it mostly has to do with the science of cryptography and digital signatures. Some people might tell you that this makes blockchains “immutable;” that’s not really accurate. The blockchain data structure will make alterations evident, but if the people running the connected computers choose to accept or ignore the alterations then they will remain.

Why Hold Music Sounds Worse Now

Filed under: Business, History, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Tom Scott
Published on 27 Nov 2017

It’s not your imagination; hold music on phones really did sound better in the old days. Here’s why, as we talk about old telephone exchanges and audio compression.

Thanks to the Milton Keynes Museum, and their Connected Earth gallery: http://www.mkmuseum.org.uk/ – they’re also on Twitter as @mkmuseum, and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mkmuseum/

December 9, 2017

History of the Gun Part-11: Semi-Auto Pistols

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

RugerFirearms
Published on 7 Apr 2010

The “History of the Gun” online video series produced by Ruger is a unique look at the progression of firearms technology throughout the years, hosted by Senior Editor of Guns & Ammo Garry James. Part 11 examines semi-automatic pistols.

December 8, 2017

History of the Gun Part-10: Revolvers

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

RugerFirearms
Published on 24 Mar 2010

The “History of the Gun” online video series produced by Ruger is a unique look at the progression of firearms technology throughout the years, hosted by Senior Editor of Guns & Ammo Garry James. Part 10 examines revolvers.

December 7, 2017

History of the Gun Part-9: Repeating Rifles

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

RugerFirearms
Published on 10 Mar 2010

The “History of the Gun” online video series produced by Ruger is a unique look at the progression of firearms technology throughout the years, hosted by Senior Editor of Guns & Ammo Garry James. Part 9 examines Repeating Rifles.

December 6, 2017

History of the Gun Part-8: Breechloaders

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

RugerFirearms
Published on 3 Mar 2010

The “History of the Gun” online video series produced by Ruger is a unique look at the progression of firearms technology throughout the years, hosted by Senior Editor of Guns & Ammo Garry James. Part 8 examines Breechloaders.

December 5, 2017

History of the Gun Part-7: Rifling

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

RugerFirearms
Published on 10 Feb 2010

The “History of the Gun” online video series produced by Ruger is a unique look at the progression of firearms technology throughout the years, hosted by Senior Editor of Guns & Ammo Garry James. Part 7 examines Rifling.

December 4, 2017

History of the Gun Part-6: Self-Contained Cartridge

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

RugerFirearms
Published on 3 Feb 2010

The “History of the Gun” online video series produced by Ruger is a unique look at the progression of firearms technology throughout the years, hosted by Senior Editor of Guns & Ammo Garry James. Part 6 examines the self-contained cartridge.

December 3, 2017

Command and microcontrol

Filed under: Britain, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Ted Campbell relays some thoughts from a recent British criticism of how military operations are now capable — and therefore very frequently are — micromanaged by higher authority:

There is a very useful and, I hope, thought provoking article (written under a nom de plume by a serving British officer) published in the Wavell Room website.* It is entitled “Mission Command; The Fall of the Strategic Corporal; the Rise of the Tactical Minister,” and in it the author laments the fact ~ and it is a fact in Canada, too, I assert ~ that “British Mission Command and performance has regressed, largely as a result of our headquarters incorporating American military information technology as well as replicating American headquarters structures and manning. During recent counterinsurgency operations we have employed increased quantities of manpower, technology and process to try and make sense of the exponentially increasing volumes of information piped into an increasingly static headquarters. These bloated headquarters have bred a culture of over planning and control. The information technology revolution has allowed Ministers and UK based senior officers to directly reach down to the tactical level in distant operational theatres.” As a British general said in a recent speech titled “‘In command and out of control’ [the] creep at the National Level to from Mission Command to Mission Control. Prolonged campaigning in Iraq and Afghanistan has created an expanded bureaucracy with a function of identifying and mitigating risk that has not receded. The advent of ‘lawfare’ and a hysterical media has reduced our Civil Service’s threshold for presentational and reputational risk. This has led to an ever increasing legal and policy oversight and scrutiny of operations. The lack of domestic appetite for wars of choice rather than of national survival has led to a dramatically reduced appetite for risk to life on operations.” I am 99.99% certain that several serving Canadian generals and senior officers (post ship/regiment-battalion and squadron command level) could have and wish they had written the same words.

First, the very term “Mission Command” is rubbish. I know there is a whole body of literature about it, but it’s still rubbish ~ just well very documented rubbish. There is, very simply, command which is supported by control. The notion of “Mission Command” came about in the USA when it became clear that too many US senior officers were unable to exercise effective combat command because they were “nervous nellies” (or overzealous careerist) who would not or could not trust their subordinates to get on with the job. The image of a helicopter belonging to the division commander hovering over a helicopter belonging to the brigade commander hovering over the battalion commander’s helicopter that is hovering over the company of men on the ground comes to mind. Then a few other US military leaders decided that a new “concept” and a few PowerPoint presentations featuring gothic lettering and pictures of German generals would put things right … instead things went from bad to worse, but not just in the US military.

[Click to see full-size image]

Second, command and control (C2) is, actually, a quite simple thing to understand … it is the whole process by which a commander receives and analyzes his (or her) orders, does his (or her ~ always presumed from here on in) reconnaissance, makes his appreciation (estimate) of the situation and his plan and then issues the orders that commit his troops to battle. There it is in under 40 words … that’s not too hard to grasp, is it? But it can be bloody hard to do!

History of the Gun – Part 5: Percussion

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

RugerFirearms
Published on 22 Jan 2010

The “History of the Gun” online video series produced by Ruger is a unique look at the progression of firearms technology throughout the years, hosted by Senior Editor of Guns & Ammo Garry James. Part 5 examines Percussion.

December 2, 2017

History of the Gun – Part 4: The Flintlock

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

RugerFirearms
Published on 1 Jan 2010

The “History of the Gun” online video series produced by Ruger is a unique look at the progression of firearms technology throughout the years, hosted by Senior Editor of Guns & Ammo Garry James. Part 4 examines the Flintlock.

December 1, 2017

Censorship on the web

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At City Journal, Aaron Renn explains why some of the concerns about censorship on the Internet are not so much wrong as misdirected:

The basic idea of net neutrality makes sense. When I get a phone, the phone company can’t decide whom I can call, or how good the call quality should be depending on who is on the other end of the line. Similarly, when I pay for my cable modem, I should be able to use the bandwidth I paid for to surf any website, not get a better or worse connection depending on whether my cable company cut some side deal to make Netflix perform better than Hulu.

The problem for net neutrality advocates is that the ISPs aren’t actually doing any of this; they really are providing an open Internet, as promised. The same is not true of the companies pushing net neutrality, however. As Pai suggests, the real threat to an open Internet doesn’t come from your cable company but from Google/YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and others. All these firms have aggressively censored.

For example, Google recently kicked would-be Twitter competitor Gab out of its app store, not for anything Gab did but for what it refused to do — censor content. Twitter is famous for censoring, as Pai observes. “I love Twitter, and I use it all the time,” he said. “But let’s not kid ourselves; when it comes to an open Internet, Twitter is part of the problem. The company has a viewpoint and uses that viewpoint to discriminate.” (Twitter’s censors have not gotten around to removing the abuse, some of it racist, being hurled at Pai, including messages like “Die faggot die” and “Hey go fuck yourself you Taliban-looking fuck.”)

Google’s YouTube unit also censors, setting the channel for Prager University to restricted mode, which limits access; Prager U. is suing Google and YouTube. YouTube has also “demonetized” videos from independent content creators, making these videos ineligible for advertising, their main source of revenue. Much of the complaining about censorship has come from political conservatives, but they’re not the only victims. The problem is broad-based.

Yet sometimes Silicon Valley giants have adopted a see-no-evil approach to certain kinds of content. Facebook, for instance, has banned legitimate content but failed to stop Russian bots from going wild during last year’s presidential election, planting voluminous fake news stories. Advertisers recently started fleeing YouTube when reports surfaced that large numbers of child-exploitation videos were showing up on supposedly kid-friendly channels. One account, ToyFreaks, had 8 million subscribers — making it the 68th most-viewed YouTube channel — before the company shut it down. It’s not credible that YouTube didn’t know what was happening on a channel with millions of viewers. Other channels and videos featured content from pedophiles. More problems turned up within the last week. A search for “How do I …” on YouTube returned numerous auto-complete suggestions involving sex with children. Others have found a whole genre of “guess her age” videos, with preview images, printed in giant fonts, saying things like, “She’s only 9!” The videos may or may not have involved minors — I didn’t watch them—but at minimum, they trade on pedophilic language to generate views.

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