Behind the scenes, "plain" text editing is unbelievably complex and weird

One of the most interesting things about programming is that it forces you to decompose seemingly simple ideas into a set of orderly steps, and when you do that, you often realize that the "simplicity" of things you deal with all day, every day, is purely illusory and that these are actually incredibly complex, nuanced, fuzzy and contradictory: everything from peoples' names to calendars to music, art, email addresses, families, phone numbers, and really, every single idea and concept. Read the rest

Procedural one-page dungeon generator

Oleg Dolya (last seen here for his amazing procedural medieval city-map generator) is back with a wonderful procedural one-page dungeon generator that produces detailed, surprisingly coherent quickie dungeons for your RPG runs (it's an entry in the monthly challenge from /r/procedural generation). Read the rest

SQL Murder Mystery: teaching SQL concepts with a mystery game

SQL Murder Mystery is a free/open game from Northwestern University's Knight Lab that teaches the player SQL database query structures and related concepts while they solve imaginary crimes. Read the rest

The Hippocratic License: A new software license that prohibits uses that contravene the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Coraline Ada Ehmke's Hippocratic License is a software license that permits the broad swathe of activities enabled by traditional free/open licenses, with one exception it bars use by: "individuals, corporations, governments, or other groups for systems or activities that actively and knowingly endanger, harm, or otherwise threaten the physical, mental, economic, or general well-being of individuals or groups in violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Read the rest

Researchers think that adversarial examples could help us maintain privacy from machine learning systems

Machine learning systems are pretty good at finding hidden correlations in data and using them to infer potentially compromising information about the people who generate that data: for example, researchers fed an ML system a bunch of Google Play reviews by reviewers whose locations were explicitly given in their Google Plus reviews; based on this, the model was able to predict the locations of other Google Play reviewers with about 44% accuracy. Read the rest

Regular expression crossword puzzles!

I'm on record as being a big supporter of learning regular expressions (AKA "regexp") -- handy ways to search through text with very complex criteria. It's notoriously opaque to beginners, but it's such a massively effective automation tool and drudgery reliever! Regex Crosswords help you hone your regexp skills with fiendishly clever regular expressions that ascend a smooth complexity gradient from beginner to expert. (via Kottke) Read the rest

Rage Inside the Machine: an insightful, brilliant critique of AI's computer science, sociology, philosophy and economics

[I ran a review of this in June when the UK edition came out -- this review coincides with the US edition's publication]

Rob Smith is an eminent computer scientist and machine learning pioneer whose work on genetic algorithms has been influential in both industry and the academy; now, in his first book for a general audience, Rage Inside the Machine: The Prejudice of Algorithms, and How to Stop the Internet Making Bigots of Us All, Smith expertly draws connections between AI, neoliberalism, human bias, eugenics and far-right populism, and shows how the biases of computer science and the corporate paymasters have distorted our whole society. Read the rest

Training bias in AI "hate speech detector" means that tweets by Black people are far more likely to be censored

More bad news for Google's beleaguered spinoff Jigsaw, whose flagship project is "Perspective," a machine-learning system designed to catch and interdict harassment, hate-speech and other undesirable online speech. Read the rest

Open archive of 240,000 hours' worth of talk radio, including 2.8 billion words of machine-transcription

A group of MIT Media Lab researchers have published Radiotalk, a massive corpus of talk radio audio with machine-generated transcriptions, with a total of 240,000 hours' worth of speech, marked up with machine-readable metadata. Read the rest

Fascinating, accessible guide to cryptographic attacks, from brute-force to POODLE and beyond

Ben Herzog's Cryptographic Attacks: A Guide for the Perplexed from Check Point Research is one of the clearest, most useful guides to how cryptography fails that I've ever read. Read the rest

"Intellectual Debt": It's bad enough when AI gets its predictions wrong, but it's potentially WORSE when AI gets it right

Jonathan Zittrain (previously) is consistently a source of interesting insights that often arrive years ahead of their wider acceptance in tech, law, ethics and culture (2008's The Future of the Internet (and how to stop it) is surprisingly relevant 11 years later); in a new long essay on Medium (shorter version in the New Yorker), Zittrain examines the perils of the "intellectual debt" that we incur when we allow machine learning systems that make predictions whose rationale we don't understand, because without an underlying theory of those predictions, we can't know their limitations. Read the rest

A generalized method for re-identifying people in "anonymized" data-sets

"Anonymized data" is one of those holy grails, like "healthy ice-cream" or "selectively breakable crypto" -- if "anonymized data" is a thing, then companies can monetize their surveillance dossiers on us by selling them to all comers, without putting us at risk or putting themselves in legal jeopardy (to say nothing of the benefits to science and research of being able to do large-scale data analyses and then publish them along with the underlying data for peer review without posing a risk to the people in the data-set, AKA "release and forget"). Read the rest

Many of the key Googler Uprising organizers have quit, citing retaliation from senior management

The Googler Uprising was a string of employee actions within Google over a series of issues related to ethics and business practices, starting with the company's AI project for US military drones, then its secretive work on a censored/surveilling search tool for use in China; then the $80m payout to Android founder Andy Rubin after he was accused of multiple sexual assaults. Read the rest

The new £50 notes will feature Alan Turing (whilst HMG proposes bans on Turing complete computers AND working crypto)

The Bank of England has unveiled its new £50 notes, which had been earmarked to honour a distinguished British scientist, and which will feature Alan Turing, the WWII hero who discovered many of the foundational insights to both modern computing and cryptography, and whose work with the codebreakers of Bletchley Park are widely believed to have shortened WWII by many years and saved millions of lives. Read the rest

AI is like a magic trick: amazing until it goes wrong, then revealed as a cheap and brittle effect

I used to be on the program committee for the O'Reilly Emerging Technology conferences; one year we decided to make the theme "magic" -- all the ways that new technologies were doing things that baffled us and blew us away. Read the rest

Using machine learning to pull Krazy Kat comics out of giant public domain newspaper archives

Joël Franusic became obsessed with Krazy Kat, but was frustrated by the limited availability and high cost of the books anthologizing the strip (some of which were going for $600 or more on Amazon); so he wrote a scraper that would pull down thumbnails from massive archives of pre-1923 newspapers and then identified 100 pages containing Krazy Kat strips to use as training data for a machine-learning model. Read the rest

Rage Inside the Machine: an insightful, brilliant critique of AI's computer science, sociology, philosophy and economics

Rob Smith is an eminent computer scientist and machine learning pioneer whose work on genetic algorithms has been influential in both industry and the academy; now, in his first book for a general audience, Rage Inside the Machine: The Prejudice of Algorithms, and How to Stop the Internet Making Bigots of Us All, Smith expertly draws connections between AI, neoliberalism, human bias, eugenics and far-right populism, and shows how the biases of computer science and the corporate paymasters have distorted our whole society. Read the rest

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