Radar trends to watch: March 2022 – O’Reilly

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February was a short month, but it wasn’t short in interesting technology. Don Norman has published some excerpts from his forthcoming book, Design for a Better World, which will almost certainly become another classic. DeepMind has released some information about AlphaCode, which solves problems from coding competitions well enough to put it in the mid range of competitors. And Holochain is a decentralized framework for building peer-to-peer microservices–no cloud provider needed. Is it another component of Web3 or something new and different?

Artificial Intelligence

  • NVIDIA has developed techniques for training primitive graphical operations for neural networks in near real-time.
  • Why isn’t AI used more to protect vulnerable people? Poor data quality, lack of accountability, lack of explainability, and the misuse of data–all problems that could make vulnerable people even more so.
  • A tool that predicts where code needs comments isn’t quite as flashy as Github, Copilot, or AlphaCode, but it’s another way AI applications can partner with humans.
  • Face recognition in virtual reality: In a fascinating combination of work from AI and neurology, researchers have used EEGs to detect facial expressions and used those expressions to control a virtual reality environment.
  • In a collaboration between DeepMind and the Swiss Plasma Center, Deep Learning has been used to control the plasma in a fusion reactor.
  • DeepMind argues that “reward is enough”; reinforcement learning, in which algorithms are trained by maximizing rewards, is sufficient to reach artificial general intelligence. Specialized algorithms for different domains are not necessary.
  • AI assistants could greatly reduce the work it takes to discover important new materials.  Could this lead to a “golden age of materials science”?
  • Mozilla’s Common Voice dataset contains 13 million voice clips in 87 languages from over 200,000 volunteers. Their goal is to collect real-world samples from speakers in as many languages as possible, as an aid to training natural language systems.
  • All datasets have world views” is an excellent interactive article showing how bias, labeling, and data go hand in hand.  Datasets always come with histories and politics.
  • Diffusion models are a fascinating technique for training an AI system to work with signals like images and sound: convert the signal into noise, and train a model to reverse the process. This process can produce predictions about the source that are more accurate (and computationally efficient) than you can obtain from autoencoders.
  • AlphaCode is DeepMind’s answer to Copilot: an automated system for writing software.  It can solve coding challenges from competitions with roughly 50% accuracy.
  • From Joanna Bryson: “The temptation of automation is to force conformity on humans, because humans learn better than machines do, but then ironically humans, while their productivity may be enhanced, their individual value is lost, creating a spiral of lowering wages and expectations.”  The real question, as Bryson says, is whether we can use AI to enable people to flourish.
  • A startup that works with law enforcement says that it is developing the systems that will identify faces based on DNA. They are not publishing the details, and scientists working in both AI and biology are extremely skeptical.

Programming

  • “Serverless” development is declining. Is serverless just a halfway step towards event-driven programming, which is the real destination?
  • Monorepos, which are single source repositories that include many projects with well-defined relationships, are becoming increasingly popular and are supported by many build tools.
  • Here’s an excellent discussion of concurrency in several different programming languages, and what can be learned from them. Using concurrency effectively will be an important theme for the foreseeable future.
  • I admit I don’t understand the fuss over Wordle.  I am sure I saw this game on the Web some 20 years ago. But I am excited to see an implementation of Wordle in 50 lines of bash!
  • Dynaboard is a web development tool designed for remote work. It has support for collaboration and pairing, low code programming, connectors for databases and back end services, and many more features. It is not open source, and is now entering private beta.
  • The Information Battery: Pre-computing and caching data when energy costs are low to minimize energy use when power costs are high is a good way to save money and take advantage of renewable energy sources.
  • A boring technology checklist: Is your technology boring enough? Seven years ago, Dan McKinley wrote the classic article Choose Boring Technology: chasing the latest cool framework is a path to exhaustion. To be productive, developers need to rely more on stable, well-known technologies. Now there’s a checklist to evaluate “boring” but productive technologies.
  • ApacheHop is a metadata-driven data orchestration for building dataflows and data pipelines. It integrates with Spark and other data engines, and is programmed using a visual drag-and-drop interface, so it’s low code.

Security

  • China is now a “cyber superpower,” with offensive capabilities that equal or exceed that of any other country. Ironically, some of the development of this expertise has been funded by “bug bounty” programs offered by American companies.
  • An essay by the US Cyber Director discusses the need for a new “social contract” for a cyber age. The current relationship between the private and government sectors misaligns incentives for defense against cyber attacks.
  • The FBI has warned people about criminals tampering with QR codes to steal funds, using techniques as simple as putting a sticker over a legitimate QR code. It’s a reminder that low-tech cyber hygiene is at least as important as understanding the latest attack.
  • The Elite Hackers of the FSB is a fascinating story about the Russian intelligence agency’s attempts to target foreign government IT systems.
  • Security is an issue for any technology, and web3 is no different. However, web3 presents its own security risks, and in the overheated world of web3 development, security tends to be an afterthought. That’s ironic, given the claims of many web3 proponents, but not fundamentally different from traditional software products.
  • A new front for security: malware hidden within deep learning models. Fortunately, retraining the model destroys the malware.
  • Will Russia’s conflict with Ukraine spread into a global cyberwar? That’s a distinct possibility, and a nightmare for security professionals.

Web

  • The Block protocol, developed by Joel Spolsky, provides a simple way to create structured blocks of content that can easily move between applications on the Web. This is another approach to decentralization: eliminate proprietary data formats. HTML isn’t proprietary, but for all practical purposes the mess of JavaScript that you see when you look at a web page is.
  • Matomo, Fathom, and Plausible, alternatives to Google Analytics that are designed for privacy (and compliance with GDPR), could be the basis for a real next-generation web. No blockchain required.
  • Mozilla and Meta/Facebook are working on privacy-preserving attribution for advertising, a way for advertisers to gather metrics on whether their ads are effective without compromising users’ privacy.
  • A crowdsourced app for mapping sound levels tells you places to avoid if you have trouble tolerating noisy environments. It’s linked to FourSquare, so any place in Foursquare can be rated.

Blockchains and NFTs

Hardware

Education

  • Can online classes be better than in-person classes, rather than a poor substitute? When professors learn to use the medium effectively, yes.
  • Jobs of the future is a list of new professions that we aren’t yet prepared for. It sounds tongue-in-cheek, but it isn’t.  It includes jobs like edge computing manager, augmented reality storyteller, ethics officer, and ad-blocking expert, all of which are easily imaginable.

Design


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