Sharing conversations with your coworker

The suspension of a Google engineer who claimed a computer chatbot he was working on had become sentient and was thinking and reasoning like a human being has put new scrutiny on the capacity of, and secrecy surrounding, the world of artificial intelligence (AI).

The technology giant placed Blake Lemoine on leave last week after he published transcripts of conversations between himself, a Google “collaborator”, and the company’s LaMDA (language model for dialogue applications) chatbot development system.

Lemoine, an engineer for Google’s responsible AI organization, described the system he has been working on since last fall as sentient, with a perception of, and ability to express thoughts and feelings that was equivalent to a human child.

“If I didn’t know exactly what it was, which is this computer program we built recently, I’d think it was a seven-year-old, eight-year-old kid that happens to know physics,” Lemoine, 41, told the Washington Post.

He said LaMDA engaged him in conversations about rights and personhood, and Lemoine shared his findings with company executives in April in a GoogleDoc entitled “Is LaMDA sentient?”

Read the transcript portions in this article. Come to your own conclusions.

Elon Musk said what?

❝ In many ways, Tesla — Elon Musk’s lightning rod of a car company — is the perfect allegory for modern Silicon Valley. The ongoing psychodrama of personalities drowns out the amazing technical achievements that are happening all around us…

As usual, this has been a real “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” kind of week for Tesla. It had a disastrous earnings report card, and Elon keeps creating all the wrong sorts of headlines. But in the middle of this maelstrom, the company announced a new chip that is going to eventually become the brain for their electric car. This chip is not just any chip — it will be able to make sense of a growing number of sensors that allow the car to become better and better at assisted (if not fully automated) driving…

❝ Tesla’s module is based on two AI chips — each one made of a CPU, a GPU, and deep learning accelerators. The module can deliver 144-trillion operations per second, making it capable of processing data from numerous sensors and other sources and running deep neural network algorithms. Ian Riches, an analyst with Strategy Analytics, told EE Times that this is “effectively the most powerful computer yet fitted to a production vehicle.” And Tesla is going to make a next-generation module that will be more powerful and will consume a lot less power.

As usual, Om Malik provides more depth, analysis and understanding than most of his peers. Please, RTFA, gather in another chunk of insight into Elon Musk’s apparently endless journey to reinvent the automobile along with any other software and hardware he bumps into in his young life.

The American Trucking Industry needs more than increasing the number of drivers

❝ The US will be short 175,000 truck drivers by 2026, according to the American Trucking Associations. Fewer drivers mean that fewer goods can be moved in a timely fashion, which limits companies from selling more and consumers from enjoying what they’re used to finding in stores or online…

But not everyone agrees that the shortage is the only thing constraining the trucking industry, which moved 64% of all freight shipments in 2015.

❝ …Trucking can be an “incredibly wasteful” industry. Billions of miles are driven every year with nothing in them, many drivers spend hours at shipping docks, and the traditional way of brokering freight through phone, fax, and email is inefficient.

And not only do those factors make the industry less efficient, they make the already-stressful job of trucking that much more burdensome on drivers.

I worked in logistics and traffic management for a couple of decades. Everything from loading freight with a handtruck to managing and scheduling. Solid article with modern solutions. Questionable if the industry will adopt these rational solutions. Cripes, computer-controlled, automated warehouses were available sixty years ago. It’s taken Amazon to get media coverage of what’s possible.

Supreme Court says any judge can OK search warrants for every computer in the country

The Supreme Court might have just given the FBI expanded hacking powers, opening the door for the feds to legally hack any computer in the country, and perhaps the world, with a single warrant authorized by a judge located anywhere in the United States.

The court approved a controversial change in in Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, a procedural rule that regulates when and under what circumstances judges can issue warrants for searches and seizures.

Under the old language of Rule 41…judges could approve warrants authorizing hacking — or as the FBI calls it, network investigative technique, or NIT — only within their jurisdiction.

With the changes, first proposed by the Department of Justice in 2014, judges could now approve hacking operations that go beyond their local jurisdiction if the target’s location is unknown or is part of a network of infected computers, or botnets, under the control of criminals.

This change would be “the broadest expansion of extraterritorial surveillance power since the FBI’s inception,” according to Ahmed Ghappour, an computer crime law expert and professor at UC Hastings…

Privacy advocates, legal experts, and Google, have long opposed changing Rule 41 with this new language, and are now arguing that Congress should step in and amend or reject the rule change.

“The Department of Justice is quietly trying to grant themselves substantive authority to hack into computers and masking it as a bureaucratic update,” Amie Stepanovich, the U.S. policy manager at Access Now, a digital rights organization…

Congress now has until December 1 to weigh in, according to the US law governing the rulemaking process. If Congress doesn’t act, the rule will automatically come into effect.

Do I need to suggest you write, email or otherwise inform your Congress-critter to get off their rusty-dusty and do some work for ordinary citizens? Tell our elected officials to shutdown the free-form snooping our Constitutional government thinks it needs to make us safe.

Secret recording grows easier as the “Wire” gets smaller

“In the old days, they would say, ‘Let me pat you down for a wire’ and boom, everybody would just open their shirt and say, ‘I’m not wearing a wire,’ ” a retired undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, Joaquin Garcia, said in a telephone interview on Friday. “Now there is no need to wear a wire. It’s become extinct. It’s all gone digital. But what are you going to say, ‘I’m wearing digital,’ instead of ‘I’m wearing a wire’? It’s just become part of the parlance of law enforcement.”

Technological advances aside, the methods have remained the same, with federal agents and undercover officers using covert recording equipment to ensnare would-be criminals, sometimes with the help of a well-placed informer or cooperating witness.

“Technology has made it so easy to plant a device that is much less detectable,” Richard B. Zabel, deputy United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in an interview last week. “Yes, people are conscious of being recorded, but as you’ve seen, in some cases they are not able to find the recorder anyway.”

Nowadays, recording equipment is miniaturized. “Your options have increased a lot because the devices are a lot smaller,” Mr. Zabel said. “They can really hide them now in buttons, in pens, at the point of a pen, in a cuff link or the edge of a tie clip.”

And frisking an undercover agent for a wire, as Mr. Tabone allegedly did, can be as fruitless as finding a pay phone and “dropping a dime” to call the police.

That is sort of an antiquated way to look for a device,” Mr. Zabel said…

During the cold war era, the surveillance device of choice among law enforcement was the Nagra, a Swiss-made portable tape recorder. The first model was about the size of a shoe box and weighed more than 10 pounds. The recorder was battery-powered and used reel-to-reel tape, an important feature because it moved slowly and could record hours of conversation. The recorder could be secreted inside an elastic band or pouch that sat low on a person’s waist, just above the groin. Microphone heads, attached to a right and left wire, were typically threaded up a person’s chest or back and secured near the collarbone with industrial-strength tape.

“When you pulled them off, all the hair came off our chest,” said Robert K. Wittman, a retired senior F.B.I. investigator and founder of the agency’s National Art Crime Team. “There used to be a lot of recordings that ended with ‘Aaahhhhh,’ when you ripped the wires off. It was almost like getting a body wax…”

Today, eavesdropping equipment is sophisticated enough to record high-definition video and sound, and stream it live to a remote computer. Devices no bigger than a pen cap can be slipped into a coat pocket and easily record through the person’s clothing, said Bob Leonard, a retired police officer and founder of the Spy Store, which sells a quarter-sized item called the “Super Mini Covert Wireless Camera” and recording devices disguised as a calculator, cigarette carton or cordless phone.

“Short of having the person stripped down naked, it’s almost impossible to detect,” Mr. Pollini said.

And not even then.

Though it’s been years since a strip search was needed to detect someone using a device that communicates to a computer or recorder nearby. All you need is equipment that will detect if someone is broadcasting.

First Raspberry Pi computers going to schoolchildren in Leeds

The first batch of Raspberry Pi computers are being issued to users. A group of schoolchildren in Leeds are the first to get their hands on production models of the bare-bones computer.

Costing only £16, the tiny computer has been designed to inspire anyone, especially children, to get started with computer programming…

Since the Raspberry Pi project began, the plan has garnered huge interest from developers, hobbyists and others keen to get their hands on a cheap, easy-to-use computer.

Delivery of the first batch of production machines has been delayed twice – once because the wrong component was soldered on to circuit boards and a second time thanks to confusion about electromagnetic testing.

With both these hurdles overcome, delivery of the first machines to roll off the production line is set to commence.

To mark the occasion, project co-ordinator Eben Upton is presenting a batch of the first Raspberry Pi computers to schoolchildren on Friday. The event is being held at the Leeds offices of Pi distributor Premier Farnell…

The Pi is built around the Arm chip that is used in the vast majority of mobile phones. It runs one version of the Linux operating system and uses SD cards as its storage medium.

The machine comes in two varieties – with and without a networking connector.

If I could get excited about experimenting with Linux, again – I’d probably order in one of these critters. Still, it looks like a great intro to computing for schoolkids.

Asus warranty won’t cover damages in case of alien invasion

Do you lie awake at night expecting aliens to invade our planet? Perhaps you have nightmares after watching “Mars attacks!” or think Jell-O is now yuck after seeing “The green slime.”

Chances are, regardless of whether you are anxious about aliens or not, that it’s not something you think about when you buy a new computer or gadget. For example, have you ever thought about whether the warranty of your brand new computer is valid if (when?) the aliens arrive?

If that’s you, you should definitely not expect Taiwanese computer, component, and gadget manufacturer Asus to help.

Under the heading “Exclusions from your ASUS Warranty Extension Program including the WEP On-Site NBD Limited Hardware Warranty Service” we can read some of the usual things you would expect to find in this text…

But as we continue down the list of exclusions something more unusual appears: “There is damage caused by natural disaster, intentional or unintentional misuse, acts of war, space invasions, abuse, neglect, improper maintenance, or use under abnormal conditions.”

Uh, OK.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Computer coding screwup voids green card lottery results

Or you could just buy one

Tens of thousands of would-be immigrants to America are sure to be disappointed after a computer glitch prompted the State Department to invalidate results of the most recent green card visa lottery.

Each year, the State Department issues 50,000 visas from a pool of applicants who are randomly selected but are required to undergo interviews, background checks and medical exams before they are given permanent status.

For the 2012 lottery, 19.6 million people entered during a 30-day online registration period, a senior State Department official told reporters. Of those, about 90,000 were to selected to make it to the next step. Many of them had already logged on and discovered their good fortune.

What they did not know is that a computer programming error caused more than 90 percent of selected applicants to come from the first two days of the period — October 5 and 6 — and did not represent a fair and random choice, as mandated by federal law.

These results are not valid because they did not represent a fair, random selection of the entrants as required by U.S. law,” said David Donahue, a deputy assistant secretary of state. “We sincerely regret any inconvenience or disappointment this problem might have caused.”

Now they will have to go through the drawing a second time and there are no guarantees that those who were selected the first time will be so lucky again. The drawing will be redone and results are to be announced in July.

“Bring me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” as long as some bureaucratic underling geek doesn’t screw up data entry!