Why are the data-formats in Star Wars such an awful mess? Because filmmakers make movies about filmmaking

Sarah Jeong's long, terrifyingly thorough analysis of the data-formats in the Star Wars universe is both hilarious and insightful, and illustrates the difference between the burgeoning technological realism of shows like Mr Robot and the long tradition of science fiction media to treat computers as plot devices, rather than things that audiences are familiar with. Read the rest

How much energy can dust-sized computers harvest from sun and motion, and how much work can they do with it?

Pete Warden reports in from the ARM Research Summit, where James Myers presented on "energy harvesting" by microscopic computers -- that is, using glints of sunlight and the jostling of motion from bumping into things or riding on our bodies to provide power for computation. Read the rest

Free audiobook of Car Wars, my self-driving car/crypto back-door apocalypse story

Last month, Melbourne's Deakin University published Car Wars, a short story I wrote to inspire thinking and discussion about the engineering ethics questions in self-driving car design, moving beyond the trite and largely irrelevant trolley problem. Read the rest

Interviewing for Amazon: a literal Orwellian experience

Shivan, a computer science student in Montreal, applied for a job at Amazon; the second round interview was conducted remotely by a proctor from an online service called Proctor U who insisted that Shivan install a remote-access trojan on his computer that let the proctor completely control his machine; then he was made to use the camera on his laptop to give the proctor a view of his room and all the things in it (with the proctor barking orders at him to shift his belonging around to give a better view. Read the rest

Accelerando: once you teach a computer to see, it can teach itself to hear

In SoundNet: Learning Sound Representations from Unlabeled Video, researchers from MIT's computer science department describe their success in using software image-recognition to automate sound recognition: once software can use video analysis to decide what's going on in a clip, it can then use that understanding to label the sounds in the clip, and thus accumulate a model for understanding sound, without a human having to label videos first for training purposes. Read the rest

Google and Facebook's "fake news" ban is a welcome nail in the coffin of "software objectivity"

In the wake of the Trump election -- a triumph of fake news -- both Google and Facebook have announced that they will take countermeasures to exclude "fake news" from their services, downranking them in the case of Facebook and cutting them off from ad payments in Google's case. Read the rest

A Spotify bug thrashed subscribers' drives for the past five months

The Mac/Win/Lin versions of Spotify wrote hundreds of gigabytes of bad data per day to their 40,000,000 users, thrashing their drives. Read the rest

Clinton's data-driven "ground game" sucked in exactly the same way "targeted ads" suck, for the same reason

Tom Ewing rails against the Clinton campaign's reliance on "micro-modelling preference at an individual voter level to tell [volunteers] who to turn out where with what message and where to allocate resources." Read the rest

Edward Snowden to Trump campaign: "old laptops" could vet 800,000 emails in "minutes-to-hours"

As the FBI announced that it had reviewed the emails on Anthony Weiner's laptop and determined that there was no incriminating material about Hillary Clinton on them, the Trump campaign roared with incredulity, insisting that it was inconceivable that the FBI could have vetted 800,000 emails in 8 days. Read the rest

Using machine-learning to auto-gen scary faces and hauntify buildings

The Nightmare Machine is an MIT project to use machine learning image-processing to make imagery for Hallowe'en. Read the rest

Using Machine Learning to synthesize images that look NSFW but aren't

Yahoo has released a machine-learning model called open_nsfw that is designed to distinguish not-safe-for-work images from worksafe ones. By tweaking the model and combining it with places-CNN, MIT's scene-recognition model, Gabriel Goh created a bunch of machine-generated scenes that score high for both models -- things that aren't porn, but look porny. Read the rest

Projection mapping on a moving surface with a high-speed projector

Projection mapping is one of the most profound visual effects that computers can generate; themepark fans will have seen it in effect on the revamped opening scene to the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland and in the night-time shows that involve painting the whole castle with light (projection mapping is also used to generate the rear-projected faces of the animatronic figures in the new Snow White ride). Read the rest

Wrong things that programmers believe, a curated list

Kevin Deldycke has collected a "curated list" of "awesome falsehoods programmers believe in," sorted by subject into meta, business, dates and time, emails, geography, human identity, networks, phone numbers, postal addresses and software engineering. Read the rest

AI's blind spot: garbage in, garbage out

Social scientist Kate Crawford (previously) and legal scholar Ryan Calo (previously) helped organize the interdisciplinary White House AI Now summits on how AI could increase inequality, erode accountability, and lead us into temptation and what to do about it. Read the rest

Computer-mining poetry from the New York Times's obituary headlines

The standard format for a New York Times lead obit headline goes NAME, AGE, Dies; STATEMENT OF ACCOMPLISHMENT (e.g. "Suzanne Mitchell, 73, Dies; Made Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders a Global Brand. Read the rest

Messy: When automated anti-disaster systems make things worse, and what to do about it

"Undercover Economist" Tim Harford (previously) has a new book out, Messy, which makes a fascinating and compelling case that we are in real danger from the seductive neatness of computers, which put our messes out of sight, where they grow into great catastrophes. Read the rest

The malware that's pwning the Internet of Things is terrifyingly amateurish

Following the release of the sourcecode for the Mirai botnet, which was used to harness DVRs, surveillance cameras and other Internet of Things things into one of the most powerful denial-of-service attacks the internet has ever seen, analysts have gone over its sourcecode and found that the devastatingly effective malware was strictly amateur-hour, a stark commentary on the even worse security in the millions and millions of IoT devices we've welcomed into our homes. Read the rest

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