Category Archives: Software

So-Called Artificial Intelligence: Google Translate Awakens

Bernard,

This weekend’s New York Times has a fine article on AI, The Great A.I. Awakening. I commented briefly on the article on the Times’s site but I want to say a lot more.

The article vividly documents Google Translate’s recent revolution in how it works. Until now, auto-translation engines have modeled languages explicitly via rules, dictionaries, and the like. The new Translate, and its Chinese competitor on Baidu, instead enable a multi-layer neural net – a simulated brain, basically – to learn language translation by being fed thousands or millions of existing examples of translations. Researchers fed Google Translate the complete English and French versions of the Canadian Parliament’s proceedings, for instance, presumably along with many translated classic books, newspapers, and so forth. The new engines learn like human toddlers do, by unconsciously copying behaviors they observe, over and over again, until they evolve to proficiency. And like humans, the new engines will continue learning their entire “lives” by observing and copying new examples with new words and new phrases in all languages. But note: the new engines will not be able to go out in the world themselves to find worthy new examples, not for a very long time yet. They’ll need human care and feeding for the foreseeable future.

From near the end of the article:

A neural network built to translate could work through millions of pages of documents of legal discovery in the tiniest fraction of the time it would take the most expensively credentialed lawyer. The kinds of jobs taken by automatons will no longer be just repetitive tasks that were once — unfairly, it ought to be emphasized — associated with the supposed lower intelligence of the uneducated classes. We’re not only talking about three and a half million truck drivers who may soon lack careers. We’re talking about inventory managers, economists, financial advisers, real estate agents.

All true. But all decades out in the future, maybe several or many decades. Why? I see it like this. A toddler computer learns from a team of humans whose only job today is to feed and raise this child quickly to do one thing well. The toddler computer has no eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands, legs or feet. The toddler computer processes fed-in data 24×7 and learns its one thing quickly in its tiny simulated brain, much faster than a human child would. But a human child processes many orders of magnitude of far, far richer data per time period than the computer child can: visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, the physics of standing and walking and making sounds, the complexities of language, and so forth, all integrated and organized within its real brain. See for example this discussion.

The human child’s brain is the culmination of millions of generations of evolving, increasingly more powerful prototypes equipped with extraordinarily capable sensors of several kinds. The human brain perceives and processes the world around it continuously at a huge data rate. The human body moves freely in space. With respect to attaining human-like intelligence and self awareness, then, the computer toddler has a truly enormous gap yet to cross. The crossing cannot possibly be quick, meaning in just a few years or a decade. It’s been only a few years since the total computing power on the planet exceeded just one human brain’s computing power.

Not to diminish or underplay the Google Translate achievements in any way. They are stunning. But I view them as like Watt’s invention of rotary steam motion in the late 1700s: an enormous enabler of a revolution, but still just the very beginning. And I’m not one bit worried by the article’s conclusion that “once machines can learn from human speech, even the comfortable job of the programmer is threatened.” No, not for a very long time yet to come.

As the article says, “The goal posts for ‘artificial intelligence’ are thus constantly receding.” Each step seems major, and Google Translate’s awakening is indeed major, but it’s still tiny in the big picture of true intelligence and self awareness.

Wayne

 

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So-Called Artificial Intelligence: Hate Sites and Fake News

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Bernard,

An online Guardian article on December 4 described how search-engine auto-completion of typed-in queries leads preferentially to certain hate-filled sites and fake news. Some very smart and industrious people figured out how to game search engines – Google in particular – into automatically bringing up suggestions that took searchers to propaganda-laden or fake sites. For example, if you typed “are jews” into Google, among the first auto-completed choices that Google would bring up were things like “are jews evil” or “are jews white”, questions that some people pose and discuss in order to sway your thoughts in their preferred direction.

In the week or more since the article, Google has begun working with various companies to weed out auto-completions that directly promote lies and hate. But Google has very long way to go yet. See for example this Guardian article from December 11. I urge you to read it.

In essence, the smart and industrious people only had to register lots of links with search engines, tens or hundreds of thousands of links to their own sites, maybe millions. The engines’ “artificial intelligence” algorithms then automatically promoted “popular” linked-to content high up into auto-completed search suggestions (I’m probably overly simplistic here, but close enough for the discussion).

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Troubles in virtual currencies = troubles producing error-free code

Wayne,

I read this alarming account, A Hacking of More Than $50 Million Dashes Hopes in the World of Virtual Currency, in the New York Times, published on June 17, 2016. Here are three excerpts from the longer article that is well worth reading:

A hacker on Friday siphoned more than $50 million of digital money away from an experimental virtual currency project that had been billed as the most successful crowdfunding venture ever — taking with him not just a third of the venture’s money but also the hopes and dreams of thousands of participants who wanted to prove the safety and security of digital currency. …

But just before the project stopped raising money in late May, computer scientists pointed out several vulnerabilities in its underlying code — effectively warning that what happened to the experimental consortium would be possible or even likely. 

The specific mechanism the hackers used is known as a recursive call vulnerability, — essentially a malicious transaction that moves money away from the D.A.O. into a side fund in an endlessly repeating loop.

I followed a link in the New York Times account, Flaws in Venture Fund Based On Virtual Money, which is also worth reading.

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Way to go, Trudeau! Quantum computing and the observable universe

Wayne,

This Slate posting recounts Justin Trudeau’s off-the-cuff description of quantum computing during a press conference. Not just a handsome face, and not just a prime minister! (of Canada) His words:

“Normal computers work, either there’s power going through a wire or not, it’s one or a zero. They’re binary systems. What quantum systems allow for is much more complex information to be encoded into a single bit. A regular computer bit is either a one or zero, on or off; a quantum state could be much more complex than that because as we know things can be both particles and waves at the same time and the uncertainty around quantum states allows us to encode more information into a much smaller computer. That’s what’s exciting about quantum computing…”

Bernard


Following links from the splendid piece on Trudeau, I was very much struck by this article by Dennis Overbye. From it:

“So where is the center of the universe? Right here. Yes, you are the center of the universe.

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More on the VW software and scandal

No one seems to be talking about why the EPA didn’t notice, or didn’t act on, VW’s shenanigans for years and years, despite numerous past instances of car manufacturers having cheated in similar ways.

I still see a lot of gray here. It’s a bit like Deflategate: why didn’t the people who are hired, trained and paid to observe and regulate football players’ behavior, the referees, ever notice problems on the field with under/overinflated balls? Maybe there were no problems. Or maybe the referees knew but winked and looked aside, for whatever reason; among possible reasons payoffs would rank high.

Animal nature including human nature is to camouflage, deceive, lie, kill, whatever it takes to gain an edge, stay alive, flourish. Civilization reins in the worst excesses of deceit and violence so all can prosper, not just the remorseless ones. Human nature is to cook the books for financial advantage. Laws and audits and punishments seek to hold those malefactions in check.

The EPA is supposed to prevent car makers from getting away with emissions-driven murder. The EPA failed to do so. It apparently took collegiate researchers almost no time and effort to reveal VW’s deception, definitively, so vividly and clearly that VW caved in within hours of the revelation, having reportedly battled in private with the government for a year. The proof was right there for the EPA to have. The EPA people in charge either never thought to look and were incompetent, or chose not to look and were criminally negligent, or did look and did see but winked and turned aside – maybe for money?

US and European governments that let VW cheat for years are culpable too in the deaths of thousands due to unnecessary pollution.

Those people who should have found and pursued the evidence years ago deserve firing if not prosecution.

Wayne

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The VW emissions scandal and software

Bernard,

VW software scandal: chief apologises for breaking public trust

Martin Winterkorn orders external investigation after US regulators found cars gave inaccurate data on toxic emissions

Above are the headline and sub-head from this Guardian article.

Seems to me this could be a bug, not a deliberate evasion. If it’s a bug then VW’s engineering processes are broken and the penalties should be even harsher than if VW lied and falsified knowingly. Burden of proof should remain on accuser, who should not impute or assume ill intent on VW’s side.

Wayne

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The OPM break in, and secure correct code

Wayne,

From a report about the recent major break in to the computer systems at the federal Office of Personnel Management:

To hear Office of Personnel Management director Katherine Archuleta tell it, no one could have anticipated or prevented the devastating hack that released sensitive personal data about millions of US government employees.

“I don’t believe anyone is personally responsible,” Archuleta said at a Senate hearing on Tuesday. “We have legacy systems that are very old.”

Archuleta is wrong — she can and should have done more to prevent the attacks. OPM’s inspector general has been warning for years that OPM’s security was inadequate.

Pretty clearly, Ms Archuleta is mistaken. Indeed the exact matter she mentioned, that the systems were antiquated is the reason the attack could have been anticipated and even prevented. You wonder that the data was not encrypted, for example.

My question for you, however, has to do with the general problem that these attacks on commercial, private, and government systems are not some new problem. They’ve been going on for years.

I get the fact that the designers of the Internet didn’t anticipate this, and appropriate security wasn’t built into the design from the start. But why hasn’t this problem been dealt with by now?

What role might your sophisticated formal methods, and other methods, for designing, proofing, and coding play in creating accurate secure systems?

Bernard

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