Radar trends to watch: February 2022 – O’Reilly

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Perhaps the most interesting theme from the last month has been discussions of what can be done with NFTs and other Web3 technologies aside from selling links to bored apes. Chris Anderson points out that NFTs are a new kind of link that includes history, and that’s a fascinating idea. We’re also seeing a lot of debate around the metaverse; an increasing number of companies are lining up in opposition to Facebook/Meta’s vision.

AI

  • The Algorithmic Justice League has proposed paying “bug bounties” for algorithmic harms, similar to the way security researchers are paid bounties for finding vulnerabilities in software.
  • OpenAI has released a new version of GPT-3 that is less toxic–less prone to reproducing racist, sexual, or violent language, though it can still do so when asked. This is not the end of the story, but it’s a big step forward. The new model, InstructGPT, is also much smaller: 1.3 billion parameters, as opposed to 175 billion.
  • How do humans learn to work with AI systems?  When should a human co-worker accept an AI’s predictions? Researchers at MIT are working on training methods that help human experts to understand when an AI is, or is not, likely to be accurate.
  • It’s no surprise that AI systems can also discriminate on the basis of age, in addition to race and gender. While bias in AI is much discussed, relatively little work goes into building unbiased systems.
  • Facebook/Meta has developed a new AI algorithm that can be used for image, text, and speech processing, and that performs better than current specialized algorithms.
  • Yake! is an open source system for extracting keywords from texts.  It’s an important tool for automatically summarizing large bodies of research, developing indexes, and other research tasks.
  • GPT-J, an open source language model similar to GPT-3, now has a “playground” that is open to the public.

Programming

  • Researchers have discovered more efficient ways to model and render moving human images in real time. This could lead to 3D avatars for your metaverse, better deep fakes, or animations that are truly lifelike.
  • Blueprint is a new approach to teaching children to code.  It starts with reading (rather than writing) code; new programmers modify and build objects in a metaverse, using a stripped-down version of JavaScript and HTML.
  • Graph technologies (including graph neural networks) are becoming increasingly important to AI research.
  • The title pretty much says it: is Rust the future of JavaScript infrastructure? It’s a faster, safer, and more memory-efficient language for building the tools in the JavaScript ecosystem. Whether Rust will replace JavaScript for web development is anyone’s guess, but it is a better tool for creating software like transpilers and other elements of the JavaScript toolchain.
  • Memory-efficient parallelism for functional programs: Parallelism has been a difficult problem for functional programming, in part because of memory requirements. But as we approach the end to Moore’s Law, parallelism may be the only possible way to improve software performance. This paper suggests a memory management strategy that may solve this problem.
  • The return of Y2K: January 1, 2022 (represented as 2022010001) overflows a signed 32-bit integer. This caused many Microsoft Exchange servers to crash on New Year’s Day. Are more 32-bit overflow bugs hiding?
  • Computer-generated code from systems like Copilot also generates bugs and vulnerabilities. This isn’t surprising; Copilot is essentially just copying and pasting code from sources like GitHub, with all of that code’s features and failures.

Security

  • Democratizing cybersecurity with low-code tools that enable non-professionals to detect and fix vulnerabilities? This is a great goal; it remains to be seen whether it can be done.
  • Access management is the key to zero-trust security. Zero trust means little without proper authentication and access control. Many organizations are starting to get on board with stronger authentication, like 2FA, but managing access control is a new challenge.
  • The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has warned US organizations to prepare themselves for the kind of data-wiping attacks that have been used against the government of Ukraine.
  • Open Source is a national security issue; all software is, and open source is no better or worse. We knew that all along. But the vulnerabilities in the widely used Log4J library have brought it into the public eye. Google is proposing a marketplace for open source maintainers to match volunteers to projects.
  • Detecting viruses without installing software: This Raspberry Pi-based system detects viruses on other computers by analyzing RF signals emitted by the processor. Typical obfuscation techniques used by virus creators aren’t effective against it, because it is not examining code.
  • The developer of the open source color.js and faker.js libraries intentionally pushed broken versions of the libraries to GitHub, apparently in a protest against corporate use of the libraries without compensation.
  • Norton Antivirus installs a cryptocurrency miner on your computer that mines Ethereum when you’re not using the computer. Antivirus? Or a new cryptojacking scheme?  It’s opt-in, but difficult to uninstall. And, in addition to other fees, Norton takes a significant commission. Norton has done the same thing with Avira, another AV product they own.
  • Confidential Computing could become a breakout technology as corporations struggle with privacy legislation and security. It encompasses many different technologies, including homomorphic encryption, differential privacy, and trusted execution environments.

Web

Crypto, NFTs, and Web3

  • Aleph.im is an attempt to implement a service like AWS Lambda that is decentralized. It uses “blockchain-related” technologies (though not a blockchain itself), and is tied to the Aleph token (a cryptocurrency).
  • What’s important about NFTs isn’t the “artwork” that they reference; it’s that they’re a new kind of link, a link that contains history.  This history makes possible a new kind of community value.
  • A stack for getting started with Web3: This is a far cry from LAMP, but it’s a way to start experimenting. The IPFS protocol plays a key role, along with Agoric (a smart contract framework) and the Cosmos network (blockchain interoperability).

Metaverse

  • SecondLife’s creator has returned to Linden Labs, and wants to build a metaverse that “doesn’t harm people.”  That metaverse won’t have surveillance advertising or VR goggles.
  • NVidia talks about their plans for the metaverse; it’s less of a walled garden, more like the Web. Companies are increasingly wary of a metaverse that is essentially Facebook’s property.

Infrastructure

  • Autonomous battery-powered freight cars could travel by themselves, eliminating long freight trains.  However, the outdated US rail safety infrastructure, which requires trains to maintain large distances between themselves, presents a problem.
  • Open Infrastructure Map: All the world’s infrastructure (just about) in one map: the power lines, generation plants, telecom, and oil, gas, and water pipelines. (It doesn’t have reservoirs.) Fascinating.
  • Entrepreneurs like Elon Musk have tried to develop solar cells that can be used as shingles, rather than being installed over them. GAF, a company that really knows roofing, now has a solar shingles product on the market. They can be installed similarly to regular shingles, and have similar warranties.

Quantum Computing

  • Researchers have developed a new way of building qubits that is a factor of 100 smaller than current technologies allow, and that appear to have less interference between qubits. While this doesn’t mean we’ll have personal quantum computers, it will make it easier to build quantum computers large enough to do reasonable work.
  • Twist is a new language for programming quantum computers. It has a type system that helps programmers reason about entanglement as a means to improve correctness and accuracy.
  • Microsoft Azure is expanding its quantum computing offerings by adding hardware from Rigetti, one of the leading Quantum startups.

Work

  • James Governor talks about the transition from distributed systems to distributed work.

Automation

  • Automating the farm: tractors that can be controlled by smartphone, robots that can weed fields, and many other technologies at the intersection of GPS, AI, and computer vision are now commercially available.


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