This Week in Tech
AWOL. Sorry. Been busy wrestling with a project that I will be very pleased to reveal later in the year. Time and other tasks blurred into the background. That's no excuse for the blog to suffer - after all, the news keeps coming... I come back today shamefaced and contrite and will attempt not to do it again. As the title says, this edition will be largely a catchup - lots of bullets and links for you to explore on your own; little or no commentary from yours truly (you probably prefer it this way). Anyway, enjoy.
Robots and robotics:
Cybercrime - hacks, cracks, scams, etc.
Network & Internet
It finally happened. It was only a matter of time. A self-driving car has collided with and killed a pedestrian. The car belonged to Uber and Uber has pulled all of its self-driving cars off the road whilst the incident is being investigated.
Motherboard has a fascinating article on the hard decisions that have to be made when planning and coding the decisions that a self driving car has to make regarding safety and who gets hurt / who dies. This is a great read - and a really great topic for a class discussion / debate. This is an issue which is going to feature prominently in your learner's lives.
You can read about the incident itself here.
The Facebook drama continues...
Facebook is dealing with a massive backlash from the Cambridge Analytica data scandal mentioned in last week's blog. There is a concerted DeleteFacebook campaign complete with hashtag and all. Elon Musk removed the Tesla and SpaceX presence from Facebook. Vox has an interesting article that details 'The Case against Facebook' - taking it far beyond data breaches. CNN AMP points out that no matter how much he promises and how much he wants to, Zuckerberg cannot control or fix Facebook (and he knows it). It's become a monster beyond its creator's control.
It's so bad even their own investors are suing them.
Meanwhile Boing Boing says : Facebook, ShmaisBook --- you should see what your ISP is doing with your data!
This week the SA Post Office web presence did not exist - because someone did not pay the R125 domain renewal fee....!!!!
What's really special about Siren is that she is rendered in real time from a motion captured human using the Unreal gaming engine - and a PC with multiple graphics cards.
The video below shows a fish-man (actually Andy Serkis) created with the same technology.
This shows where 3D graphics and video are headed. Soon you will really not be able to distinguish virtual from reality.
World's smallest computer.
The older ones amongst you (those who saw the first PCs in the 90's) pay attention. That clunking desktop computer that you paid an arm and a leg for.. well it is now the size of a grain of salt and cost $0.20. IBM just announced the product and sees it as the ideal way to embed computing power in everything.
Mashable has the details.
That's it for this week. Holidays soon!
Facebook never seems to stop putting its foot in its mouth. They're in the news again this week because of, amongst other things, spreading fake news videos about the victims of the recent mass school shooting in the USA. China also features with a concept sure to appeal to at least some of your learners - namely gaming schools! Then there's a whole batch of other interesting tidbits - specifically an in depth article on how it is becoming more difficult to learn to program.
E-Sports - a career option?
E-Sports are a thing. There are competitions with significant prizes and even TV stations dedicated to covering people playing games such as StarCraft against each other. The Citizen has an interesting article on China's approach to the concept of learners playing games in school. Well worth a read...
|260 million people are already playing eSport games or watching competitions...|
the eSport industry will be worth $906 million in global revenues in 2018
China an example of future surveillance state?
Not really an article you can use in the classroom, but an interesting view of ways that the state can use technology to surveil its citizens. Engadget has the details.
Always Connected Windows - limits exposed
Remember a few posts back I mentioned the prospect of an 'Always Connected' Windows machine using ARM processors - and feared that it would have the same kind of limitations as the failed Windows RT project. Well, DigitalTrends has an article detailing these limitations that was briefly listed (and then pulled) by Microsoft. Spoiler: if you were expecting the full Windows experience then prepare to be disappointed.
YouTube, Facebook and Fake News
Recently 17 young people were killed in a school shooting in Florida. Or were they? Right wing gun freaks claim its all a hoax - and YouTube and Facebook spread their message... Business Insider has the details. Om Malik Explains why Facebook will never change this kind of behaviour.
This YouTube channel has a set of lessons on how computing theory that you could find very useful.
That's it! Hope it's useful.
Social interaction has always (in my mind) been humanities Achilles' Heel. It is in this area where our insecurities and fears are most exposed - and where our need to dominate and profit often rise above our more redeeming characteristics. The rise of mobile, always on, always connected computing has gone hand in hand with the rise of mega-companies that are little more than symbiotic parasites - they ostensibly offer 'free' services that add value to our lives yet - leech like - drain much of the good and decent and substantive from our lives and social interactions. It would seem as if there is no low they will not stoop to in order to maximise their own profits.
In recent weeks we have seen these giant corporations scrambling to explain how and why they sold adverts that influenced the American election; how and why they publish and promote fake news; how and why it is OK for the American President to spout divisive, bullying hate speech on their platform... I find myself viscerally sickened and repulsed by it all.
And yet their quest to inveigle themselves into our lives is ever more persistent, determined --- and creepy. Two stories on Gizmodo this week particularly creeped me out:
Both stories deal with PYMK (People You May Know). Facebook wants you to make 'friends'. Their thinking (and research) is that the more friends you have, the more you will interact with their site (and the more money they will make from you). So they keep on suggesting people for you to connect with and be friends with. How they find these people is a closely guarded algorithmic secret (after all, other companies want you to connect to people using their network so that they can make money from you) and no one outside of Facebook really knows how it works.
PYMK uses '100 signals' to work out who to connect you to. Facebook refuses to say what these signals are. They deny that they use data bought from third parties or location data / location tracking in this mysterious algorithm. Yet they only vaguely describe around five of these 100 signals.
Both the articles describe extremely creepy connections that Facebook has made between users - connections that should not be possible.
Should any company have this kind of invasive power that they can wield at their own discretion without our having any recourse to prevent them?
The Reed Dance and social media
Facebook and Google and most other social media tries to block and censor nudity. But what if being bare breasted is part of your culture?
The Mail and Guardian has an article on how local girls protest their bare-breasted photos from the Reed Dance being deleted from social media....
In case you missed it, Microsoft has discontinued support for Office 2007 (upgrade if you haven't already) and says that Windows 10 Mobile (and physical phones) is no longer a priority. The mobile space really belongs to Apple's iOS and Google's Android.
Kaspersky - Anti-Virus or Hacking tool?
If you use Windows then going without anti-virus software is like going into space without a spacesuit. It feels kinda suicidal. Of course, the fact that everyone needs anti-virus to protect themselves from the baddies who want to hack and steal data means that, well, the AV programs themselves are the perfect way to hack...
In the news this week is a complicated story of how Israeli intelligence hacked into Kaspersky AV to find proof that the Russians had hacked the AV software so that it would steal American spies' secrets. Sounds more complicated than a badly written Hollywood tech-spy thriller? Probably - but it is true nonetheless. Read it at Ars Technica (and many other places).
Technology and the future
MIT Technology Review has an interesting article on predicting the future of AI (and technology). It does a good job of explaining the limits of AI in its current forms (including the 'machine learning' that is a buzz concept today). Excellent, thoughtful and worth a read.
|We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.|
|Roy Amara - Amara's Law|
A robotic massage
Digital Trends has an article on a massaging robot that has just started work in Singapore.
That's it for this week. Enjoy.
This week's news contains two significant robot announcements that point the way to a future where robots take over and humans have very little work to do. What existed only in the imaginations of comic book and Sci Fi authors in the 1960's is lowly becoming reality as our technology starts to catch up with our dreams. What is making this robot revolution possible? Small, low powered, reliable sensors (including GPS); powerful SoCs (System on a Chip - where the whole computer system is on a single chip); plentiful, fast, reliable and cheap memory and storage and major advances in AI algorithms....
Our robotic future
To the self-driving cars that seem to be just over the horizon we can now add robots that can farm by themselves - and carry out dental surgery without a human's guiding hand...
Hands Free Hectare is a project at Harper Adams University which just successfully proved that robots can plant and harvest a field without any human intervention. The robots in question were installed into old farming equipment (tractors, harvesters, etc.). During the entire process - from planting to harvest - humans were not allowed into the hectare sized field. The result? 4.5 tons of Barley!
And in China (where there is apparently a shortage of dentists) a robot installed two dental implants in a patient (humans are still required to change drill bits etc, but the precise, in-mouth work was carried out by the robot autonomously. On top of that, the implants were 3D printed! 3Dprint.com has more.
These are two great and interesting examples of ICT 'disrupting' the world as we know it and possibly increasing productivity whilst causing job losses for humans. It used to be that only factory style work (precise and very repetitive involving no ability to sense the world or make decisions) was the target for robotic replacement. Now any job is fair game...
Mining vs Advertising
Much of the web (and most of the 'free' apps and services we use) is 'powered' by advertising. The problem is, advertising is becoming over saturated and people are becoming suspicious and resentful of the 'tracking' that advertisers do. This week we saw proof that companies are investigating alternative sources of income. One of these alternative sources of income is 'mining' cryptocurrency. To 'mine' a bitcoin or ether or any other type of cryptocurrency you need to perform some intense calculations to solve complex mathematical problems. To make money by mining cryptocurrency you need expensive computer hardware running at full capacity - which uses a lot of electricity.
So why not get other people's computers to do the mining for you using a type of distributed computing?
That's exactly what The Pirate Bay (something you could expect of them) and video streaming site Showtime (a big surprise) did this week. They embedded scripts in their web pages that made your computer do cryptocurrency mining when you visited them. Your computer did the work, you got the electricity bill and they earned cryptocurrency. All without asking your permission. The Guardian has the details.
Tinder is a dating app. Like most modern apps it collects data about you to 'improve its performance'. We all know this. What might surprise you is how much data it collects. A journalist who used Tinder for 4 years of using Tinder requested that Tinder supply her with the data it collected. European data laws allowed her to do this and eventually Tinder complied - the result adds up to 800 pages of collected data. Data from Tinder, Facebook and Instagram had been collected. All the places she was when she used the app. The online conversations she had with people she matched up with.
|“Tinder knows much more about you when studying your behaviour on the app. It knows how often you connect and at which times; the percentage of white men, black men, Asian men you have matched; which kinds of people are interested in you; which words you use the most; how much time people spend on your picture before swiping you, and so on. Personal data is the fuel of the economy. Consumers’ data is being traded and transacted for the purpose of advertising.”|
Alessandro Acquisti - from "I asked Tinder for my data. It sent me 800 pages of my deepest, darkest secrets" in The Guardian, 26 Sept 2017.
The extent of data collected by Tinder is astonishing - but is nothing compared to what Google knows about you. Remember - the connected world is NOT a private place.
Read the article at The Guardian (worth the time).
Tapes are back!
No, not your 70's, 80's and 90's mix cassettes - no matter what the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise would have you believe. We are talking tape based data backups. The fact is, disk based backups are vulnerable to hackers. Tapes are slower, not permanently online and more cumbersome - but their major advantage is that they are secure. You need physical access to mess with their data. That's why many companies are looking to use tapes as a secondary, more secure type of backup. Read it at Marketwatch.com. This ties in with spies and security agencies going back to typewriters, paper and filing cabinets because hackers make data security a joke!
That's it for this week. Happy teaching...
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