Quotulatiousness

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.

History of the Gun – Part 3: The Wheellock

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

RugerFirearms
Published on 16 Dec 2009

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 3 examines the Wheellock.

November 30, 2017

Bitcoin

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

Charles Stross explains why he’s not a fan of Bitcoin (and I do agree with him that the hard limit to the total number of Bitcoins sounded like a bad idea to me the first time I ever heard of them):

So: me and bitcoin, you already knew I disliked it, right?

(Let’s discriminate between Blockchain and Bitcoin for a moment. Blockchain: a cryptographically secured distributed database, useful for numerous purposes. Bitcoin: a particularly pernicious cryptocurrency implemented using blockchain.) What makes Bitcoin (hereafter BTC) pernicious in the first instance is the mining process, in combination with the hard upper limit on the number of BTC: it becomes increasingly computationally expensive over time. Per this article, Bitcoin mining is now consuming 30.23 TWh of electricity per year, or rather more electricity than Ireland; it’s outrageously more energy-intensive than the Visa or Mastercard networks, all in the name of delivering a decentralized currency rather than one with individual choke-points. (Here’s a semi-log plot of relative mining difficulty over time.)

Bitcoin relative mining difficulty chart with logarithmic vertical scale. Relative difficulty defined as 1 at 9 January 2009. Higher number means higher difficulty. Horizontal range is from 9 January 2009 to 8 November 2014.
Source: Wikipedia.

Credit card and banking settlement is vulnerable to government pressure, so it’s no surprise that BTC is a libertarian shibboleth. (Per a demographic survey of BTC users compiled by a UCL researcher and no longer on the web, the typical BTC user in 2013 was a 32 year old male libertarian.)

Times change, and so, I think, do the people behind the ongoing BTC commodity bubble. (Which is still inflating because around 30% of BTC remain to be mined, so conditions of artificial scarcity and a commodity bubble coincide). Last night I tweeted an intemperate opinion—that’s about all twitter is good for, plus the odd bon mot and cat jpeg—that we need to ban Bitcoin because it’s fucking our carbon emissions. It’s up to 0.12% of global energy consumption and rising rapidly: the implication is that it has the potential to outstrip more useful and productive computational uses of energy (like, oh, kitten jpegs) and to rival other major power-hogging industries without providing anything we actually need. And boy did I get some interesting random replies!

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