Boing Boing 

Lauren Ipsum: The Phantom Tollbooth meets Young Ladies' Illustrated Primer

Lauren Ipsum is an absolutely brilliant kids’ book about computer science, and it never mentions computer science—it’s a series of witty, charming, and educational parables about the fundamentals that underpin the discipline.

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Algorithmic cruelty


With its special end-of-year message, Facebook wants to show you, over and over, what your year "looked like"; in Eric Meyer's case, the photo was of his daughter, who died this year: "For those of us who lived through the death of loved ones, or spent extended time in the hospital, or were hit by divorce or losing a job or any one of a hundred crises, we might not want another look at this past year."

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Algorithmically evolved masks that appear as faces to facial-recognition software


Sterling Crispin uses evolutionary algorithms to produce masks that satisfy facial recognition algorithms: "my goal is to show the machine what it’s looking for, to hold a mirror up to the all-seeing eye of the digital-panopticon we live in and let it stare back into its own mind."

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Tldrbot: great works of literature in seconds

Tldrbot is the latest bot from Shardcore (previously, previously, previously) that slurps up great novels, algorithmically summarizes them to 1% of their length, then spits out audio files of a synthetic Scottish woman's voice reading those summaries aloud.

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Sock-puppet- and traffic-analysis-resistant group conversation protocol

Dissent implements the Dining Cryptographers and Verifiable Shuffling algorithms to produce a group-conversation system that is resistant to traffic analysis. Feels like we're entering the second golden age of cypherpunk.

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37K sentiment-analysis words associated with emotion scores

Hosted on github, Depeche Mood is a lexicon of 37,000 emotional terms, part of the research work in DepecheMood: a Lexicon for Emotion Analysis from Crowd-Annotated News [PDF]. (via O'Reilly Radar)

(Image: rageface_sad_crying, Meme TN, CC-BY)

Extrapolating the backgrounds of famous art with machine learning


Yarin Gal's "Extrapolated Art" project uses Photomatch to expand the scenes in classic paintings beyond the boundaries of the canvas -- although it's a spookily convincing effect, it doesn't add much to the art (in most cases, anyway). (via Kottke)

Hundreds of vintage games to play in your browser


The Internet Archive's Internet Arcade resurrects over 900 classic arcade games from the 1970s to 1990s for play inside your browser, using the JSMAME emulator.

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Mercilessly pricking the bubbles of AI, Big Data, machine learning


Michael I Jordan is an extremely accomplished computer scientist who is also deeply skeptical of claims made by Big Data advocates as well as people who believe that machine intelligence, AI and machine vision are solved, or nearly so.

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If you think you've anonymized a data set, you're probably wrong

Using some clever computing, Atockar took the NYC Taxicab Dataset and not only calculated the annual income of every hack in New York, but also figured out who goes to strip clubs, what celebrities' home addresses were, and how they tipped.

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Sore losers: How casinos went after two guys who found a video poker bug


John Kane, who'd lost a fortune to Video King machines, discovered a subtle bug that let him win big -- so the casinos put him in handcuffs.

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Big Data should not be a faith-based initiative

Cory Doctorow summarizes the problem with the idea that sensitive personal information can be removed responsibly from big data: computer scientists are pretty sure that’s impossible.

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What "open learning" looks like when it's for kids who need it most

It takes more than videos on the Internet to get kids engaged in learning to code, writes Mimi Ito.

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Supercomputing center in a beautiful, deconsecrated church


Allison writes, "The Barcelona Supercomputing Center is not only gorgeous with its soaring ceilings, it also was an instrumental site for developing modern microchip technology."

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Chatbot attains milestone at annual Turing Test competition


Eugene Goostman, a program simulating a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy, has attained a 33% success rate at the annual RSA Turing Test competition, meaning that a third of the judges were fooled into thinking that the chatbot was actually a human being. Alan Turing's iconic test was meant to cut through the existentialist crisis in artificial intelligence about what was or wasn't "intelligence" by proposing that if a human being could not distinguish between a person and code in a blind test, the code was intelligent by human standards.

The Goostman bot enjoyed the advantage of simulating someone whose first language wasn't English, and whose apparent young age could explain a lack of nuanced reasoning and basic knowledge, so you could think of this as kind of a cheat, but it's still a very impressive feat.

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First-person shooter engine in 265 lines of Javascript


Hunter Loftis, who created the fractal terrain generation in 130 lines of Javascript engine, has done it again: a a full-blown first-person shooter engine in 265 lines (demo, source). He used a technique called ray casting, and goes into some detail about this choice and where this could go next.

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Kickstarting Kibo: robot-blocks for kids 4-7

Jenise sez, "When I worked for a robotics company, I complained bitterly about the lack of robotic toys for my daughter to my boss, Mitch Rosenberg. Yesterday, he sent me an email with the answer to my problem: KIBO, a robot kit specifically designed for kids age 4-7. Mitch partnered with Marina Umaschi Bers, co-creator of Scratch Jr., to found KinderLab Robotics, Inc., and they're trying to produce the toy I dreamed of for my daughter."

Looks amazing, but it ain't cheap: $219 minimum to get the actual blocks, $349 for the full set.

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Logic gates made from pulleys and weights

Alex Gorischek's Pulley Logic Gates is a brilliant and delightful demonstration of attaining a set of logic gates with pulleys, weights and string, using materials you can buy cheaply so you can try it out yourself. Watch this video: the gates build in complexity and ingenuity as they go along, and by XOR, I was actually cheering (and it gets even better than XOR!). (Via JWZ)

Design as parameterization: brute-forcing the manufacturing/ design problem-space

Here's something exciting: Autodesk's new computer-aided design software lets the designer specify the parameters of a solid (its volume, dimensions, physical strength, even the tools to be used in its manufacture and the amount of waste permissible in the process) and the software iterates through millions of potential designs that fit. The designer's job becomes tweaking the parameters and choosing from among the brute-forced problem-space of her object, rather than designing it from scratch.

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Fractal terrain generation in 130 lines of Javascript


Hunter Loftis's Javascript-based fractal terrain generator produces absolutely gorgeous landscapes (reload for more) in just 130 lines. It's accompanied by a great explanation that reveals the sweet, underlying elegance of the process.

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Kickstarting Openworm: a cellular-level-up simulated worm

Wagner James Au writes, "Openworm, the open source collaborative project to construct an artificial life form from the cellular level, now has a Kickstarter so supporters can back the project and also get a copy of the worm itself, Wormsim, to put on their browser and even tweak the code. Here's some background from the project coordinator, who I also ask if this Kickstarter is, you know, contributing to the ultimate creation of a completely artificial sentient life form that will turn against humankind and enslave our children.

They're mostly raising money for core engineering, with the balance going to administration and educational outreach. The code is all MIT-licensed free/open source software.

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Why I don't believe in robots

My new Guardian column is "Why it is not possible to regulate robots," which discusses where and how robots can be regulated, and whether there is any sensible ground for "robot law" as distinct from "computer law."

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1:1 scale model of Manhattan in Minecraft


Christopher Mitchell, a PhD candidate in NYU's Computer Science program, is building a 1:1 scale model of Manhattan in Minecraft, with faithful, handmade reproductions of each of the island's skyscrapers. He's relying on data from diverse sources, including Google Earth, and the model to date is 277m^2, with 71Bm^3 of volumetric detail, running on a 200 core cluster with 200GB of RAM. It's part of a larger project (!), called Sparseworld, through which Mitchell is combining data from diverse geographical and architectural systems to faithfully model the physical world.

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Data-compression with playing cards


Tim sends us, "A way of encoding binary numbers into playing cards that I thought up. It usually allows many more bits than there are cards. The method can also store binary encoded letters of the English alphabet at less than 2 cards per letter on average, and has a theoretical ability to do less than 1 card per letter."

Tim isn't sure if his method of data-compression is novel or not, and neither am I. If you know of related work, please add it in the comments.

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Trustycon: how to redesign NSA surveillance to catch more criminals and spy on a lot fewer people

The Trustycon folks have uploaded over seven hours' worth of talks from their event, an alternative to the RSA security conference founded by speakers who quit over RSA's collusion with the NSA. I've just watched Ed Felten's talk on "Redesigning NSA Programs to Protect Privacy" (starts at 6:32:33), an absolutely brilliant talk that blends a lucid discussion of statistics with practical computer science with crimefighting, all within a framework of respect for privacy, liberty and the US Bill of Rights.

Felten's talk lays out how the NSA's mass-collection program works, what its theoretical basis is for finding terrorists in all that data, and then explains how this is an incredibly inefficient and risky and expensive way of actually fighting crime. Then he goes on to propose an elegant alternative that gets better intelligence while massively reducing the degree of surveillance and the risk of disclosure.

I'm using Vid to MP3 to convert the whole seven hours' worth of talks to audio and plan on listening to them over the next couple of days.

Update: Here's that MP3 -- it's about 1GB. Thanks to the Internet Archive for hosting it!

TrustyCon - Live from San Francisco

Army won't answer Freedom of Information Request on its SGT STAR AI chatbot

Dave from the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes, "Seven years ago, the U.S. Army launched the SGT STAR program, which uses a virtual recruiter (an AI chatbot) to talk to potential soldiers. We put in a FOIA request for a bunch of documents related to the program, including current and historical input/output scripts. So far, the Army Research and Marketing Group--which is supposed to help with transparency--hasn't responded."

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Detailed timeline of the Bletchley Park mess

Gareth Halfacree, who has a long history with both the Bletchley Park trust and the National Museum of Computing Trust, has published a detailed timeline of the two institutions, showing how they got into the current (and disgraceful) situation. Halfacree's article includes some very sensible recommendations to both trusts.

Bletchley Park's new management chucks out long-term volunteers

Here's more bad news from historic computing site Bletchley Park, where a new, slick museum is being put together with enormous corporate and state funding. Last month, it was the fact that McAfee had apparently banned any mention of Edward Snowden in a cybersecurity exhibit.

Now there's this heartrending BBC report on how volunteers who've given decades of service to Bletchley have been summarily dismissed because they don't fit in with the new plan. The museum of Churchill memoribilia that shared the Bletchley site has been evicted.

For people like me who've donated over the years, fundraised for it, and joined the Friends of Bletchley, this is really distressing news. I've always dreamt of Bletchley getting enough funding to do the site and its collection justice, but if it comes at the expense of decency and integrity, they may as well have left it as Churchill did -- abandoned and forgotten.

Update: Bletchley Trust has clarified to me that while this volunteer was dismissed from guiding tours because he refused to conduct the tour to the new spec, he still volunteers with the Trust in its educational department.

BBC News Bletchley Park s bitter dispute over its future (via /.)

Face-substitution in-browser with Javascript

Auduno's Face substitution webtoy uses Javascript libraries to map your face using your computer's webcam and overlay it with the faces of celebrities from Bill Murray to Justin Bieber to Rihanna to the Mona Lisa. It's an impressive example of cross-platform, in-browser application development, and suggests some pretty cool stuff on the horizon for Web-native apps. The sourcecode is on Github for your forking pleasure.

Face substitution (via Waxy)

Senior execs are the biggest risk to IT security

Stroz Friedberg, a risk-management consultancy, commissioned a survey [PDF] of information handling practices in businesses that concluded that senior managers are the greatest risk to information security within companies.

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