Retirement — lingering thoughts.

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I’m setting here debugging a SQL query from one of the people here, and thinking about my last full day at work before retirement, or what will pass for my retirement. I will be reducing my Career working hours to part time, so not a full retirement. This is not that I couldn’t give it up completely, it’s just that this is a lifeline in the off chance that I might go mad. But in my past, I have been in a quiescence where the boredom has sparked enlightened productivity. My two submissions to the DECUS program Libraries were the result of slow (bored) periods at work. And I have many thought projects, that when I feel the need to perform, will lift me.

But my real thoughts are about how fast I got here. Long ago, I knew that this day would arrive. Part of me believed that I wouldn’t make it this far. But in a flash it’s here. I have done many things, some that will never be done again by others, which makes them hard to share. Other lives I’ve lived are perhaps too personal to share. And due to my upbringing I have done most of these alone. I have never been a full time group member in anyone’s circle, and probably won’t ever be.

So if you are the least bit interested, ask, perhaps I’ll share a story or two (while making new ones in the future)

Alien Life, Alien Communication

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After long thoughts about Alien Communication, SETI and movies like ‘Arrival‘. A brain fart happened when early morning I was awakened to birds outside my window. And the first thought was listening to Shortwave radio where I couldn’t quite make out the code. I could tell communications was in progress, I just wasn’t getting it.

This revelation was immediately, Oh birds, and then the inspiration that if we can’t understand Birds, or Whales or other species who communicate, how would we ever understand an alien communication, or even identify one, should we hear it. What if buried in the background noise of the universe, birds were chirping and singing away and we weren’t paying attention. Forget ‘radio’ transmission Signal/Noise rations what if the signal were the noise, the background ‘birdies’ we hear frequently on the Radio spectrum?

What constitutes the Internet

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The recent hysteria about the massive and unfortunate AWS outage in US-EAST-1 and their S2 storage issues. Has raised the discussion about the vulnerability of the Internet. First lets be clear here, the Internet is NOT services like Amazon, or Google, or Dropbox, or any one of thousands of ‘Sites’ ON the internet. The Internet did not fail during the AWS outage, Sites on the Internet were offline, as in, “not on the Internet”, or at best unavailable as a facility there on.

The internet is a web, which can be fragile, but is mostly fairly resilient to most things, including facilities being disabled, or unavailable. So when you listen to talk about ‘LOSING the INTERNET’ take it with a grain of salt. It’s probably more about loosing connectivity with someones favorite destination on the Internet, facebook, Netflix whatever and less likely about the Internet actually being down.

AI’s are coming, AI’s are here, AI’s are everywhere.

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With all the talk about AI this and AI that you would think that Artificial Intelligence was easy. What is not apparent is that these AI advances are not native AI. They are the equivalent of thin client environments that connect lesser compute hardware to the real AI’s that reside within more massive environments. These AI (Ailites?) as we can call them, consist of front end audio parser’s (for input) and text to speech programs. In between there is a communications that forwards these parsed ‘language’ requests to a real AI that does the interpretation of the request and creates the text response that will be returned and spoken by the text to speech process on the client.

This all seems pretty interesting, but not a lot different than Apple’s SIRI, Mycroft, Google’s Speak or Amazon’s Alexa. These systems all have one thing in common, and that is to collect information on everything we do. Profiling technologies that will tailor responses and requests but will also record our interests and activities just like our browser activities do.

This are not the AI’s you are looking for. (but may be a lot of fun to play with)

Mars and the nature of Terminal Stupidity

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One of my favorite Science Fiction writers Larry Niven put this into his notes in the back of a book a long time ago. And I paraphrase:

The two rules for survival are these:
1) Do not argue with a man holding a machine gun.
2) Do not stand next to a man arguing with a man holding a machine gun.

I have often applied these as “Don’t be terminally Stupid, and don’t be near anyone who is acting in a Terminally Stupid manner!

If anything could place Mars exploration in perspective it would be, Mars is mankind’s stepping away from someone who is acting in a Terminally stupid manner.

If mankind is in the midst of destroying the Earth, or making it uninhabitable, of if you have managed to observe an asteroid headed for Earth, don’t you think it might be time to stand in two places?

Time exercise plan 2; Step away from the guy arguing with the machine Gun, or climate change or asteroids?

We can do Mars!

AI ≠ Sentience (as in does not equal)

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AI ≠ Sentience. That pretty much says is all, but the dialog about AI almost always seems to really be, not about AI, but about AI’s reaching Sentience. The Killer robot syndrome.

But the future will entail more and varied AI’s than they will need Sentience AI’s. This doesn’t mean that the AI will not converse with you in a manor that most Humans do, it will just fall short of choosing to kill you, just because you cast aspersions on their parentage.

That will open the courts to trying to determine which AI’s are Sentient enough to have legal rights, and which ones merely need to be reprogrammed.  And wither the AI chooses to receive system updates or not.

Scary? Maybe, but we will be interacting with AI’s very soon, sooner than most will believe possible. And we will get get used to it, and it’s familiarity will naturally lead to Sentience being the norm.

 

The color red, for the Blind AI

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The diversity of humans and other creatures is often a cause of wonder, and this diversity is often reflected in our understanding of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Huge strides have been made in this field, but somehow the fundamental differences in Humans obscures the commonality of the ‘Human’ experience.

One of these factors is Sight, the act of seeing. While we often overlook this day to day, for an AI, or any robotic devices, intelligent or not, is the vision. This vision, our ability to see what other humans see is a basic element of language and communications. Try describing  the Color Red to a blind person, and you will quickly see the issue. No artificial ‘Eye’, sensor or camera in the AI/Robotic world ‘sees’ like we do, nor do any AI or robotic devices share the same ‘vision’ devices.

Explaining ‘Red’ to the blind is the same as two AI’s trying to explain ‘Red’ to another AI. Complex is not a big enough word to explain this.

The solution is problematic, the Technology of Seeing, needs to become a common denominator within the AI community. Current vision systems are at best a mixed bag, and require an upgrade, and a standardization that is currently lacking. And while the vision information obtained from the Human Eye and a Robotic replacement might attain equality, they may never contain the same data due to the differences in the technology. What must happen is that common robotic vision devices (eyes) need to be good enough and be interchangeable so that different AI’s can resolve the color ‘Red’ the same way. Paving the way for a common communication interchange regarding the external world.

Apple vs FBI: The unspoken Truth on Encryption

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While one can admire Apple for ‘defending’ it’s customers privacy, while also benefiting with the positive advertising. It is probably a moot, and hollow victory as the NSA and the CIA have already broken Apple security.

Not that it shouldn’t be of high importance, the resources required to do the cracking of any particular extraction of an encrypted message sent with a iPhone would most likely exceed the budget of a small country. Which is exactly the point of encryption, making it hard, and expensive to decrypt. Imagine the joviality at the NSA/CIA after the hours of decryption, that the ‘Important’ message turns out to be a high priority, top secret Cookie Recipe from you mothers cookbook.

And thereby is the unspoken truth of encryption the first one is this: you must either decrypt everything, to find what is being said, because if you can only choose strategic messages, choosing the right ones are tantamount.

During WWII monitoring enemy communication was aided by observing the frequency of communication traffic, when frequency increased, something important was being communicated. Modern military communications is continuous and unbroken, transmitting meaningless message traffic, and therefore not highlighting any particular message in the traffic stream that would be required to be decrypted. This would now be a requirement to decrypt everything, in the military traffic stream.

The second Truth is this; The assumption that you can decrypt all the messages is the hight of arrogance and ignorance. Anyone, yes anyone can create an encryption that will be impossible for a machine of any sort to decrypt, and many of these can be hidden to the point that even a human expert directly observing the message can not decipher.

Imagine hiding messages in the continuous email stream called Spam, which now constitutes more that 80% of all email traffic?

Thoughts like this keep the NSA/CIA/FBI up nights, and no matter what Bull Shit they might tell you about the need to have back doors and encryption keys it will NEVER catch all the potential secret messages that terrorists might choose to pass to each other.

Because the simplest of truths: It isn’t possible.

UPDATE: and now the E.U. politicians are talking about it. European Officials To Discuss Anti-Encryption Measures.

I.T. as street vendors

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Yesterday while talking with a colleague, I was trying to get a cross the idea the most ‘programmers’ don’t understand what goes on inside a computer. And his response was, “Does it matter any more?” and while it took me back, I had to respond, “No!”  After sleeping on it, I came to a revelation of sorts.

Current IT is equivalent to being a Hot-dog vendor on the street.

And while we IT/CS folk might try and elevate our profession to that status of demigod status we are merely vendors of what the computer can DO!‘  We don’t create the computer, we splash condiments on the hot-dog, and sell it as computing.  We don’t even make the condiments anymore, call them libraries, functions written by gnomes in dark caves.  And don’t even mention the buns, the dressing ,the cover, beyond us.

In the early days of computing, the common question was, what do I use my computer for. And the first answer often was, you could put your cooking recipes in it.  Creating the first cookbook you needed to plugin. The computer is still the same, just that the cookbook has gotten more sophisticated.

I have harped for years that the ‘hardware’ of computing has crippled real advances in computing, more and more systems are opting for generic in their selection of Hot-dog instead, choosing to dress it up with more and intriguing spices and toppings, things like AI and Neural Networks.  While these latter are more sophisticated and sexy, they are more or less toppings on the same Hot-dog.