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Friday, September 17, 2021

HBR IdeaCast on AI and Marketing

Brought to my attention, the podcast below, and ongoing ...

HBR IdeaCast

A weekly podcast featuring the leading thinkers in business and management.... 

What We Still Need to Learn about AI in Marketing — and Beyond

Eva Ascarza, professor at Harvard Business School, studies customer analytics and finds that many companies investing in artificial intelligence fail to improve their marketing decisions. Why is AI falling flat when it comes to this key lever for profit? She says the main reasons are that organizations neglect to ask the right questions, weigh the value of being right with the cost of being wrong, and leverage the improving abilities of AI to change how companies make decisions overall. With London Business School’s Bruce G.S. Hardie and Michael Ross, Ascarza wrote the HBR article "Why You Aren’t Getting More from Your Marketing AI."   ... 

Hybrid Smart Contracts

 Uses and considerations:

5 Ways Hybrid Smart Contracts Are Changing the Blockchain Industry  by 7wData

For years, the blockchain industry has been defined by the excitement around smart contracts, or tamper-proof digital agreements that automatically execute when a certain condition is met. Typically associated with blockchains like Ethereum, smart contracts allow developers to build decentralized applications or “dApps” that recreate all sorts of products without the need for a rent-seeking middleman. However, over the last year, smart contracts have begun to evolve.

While developers are still building smart contracts on top of blockchains like Ethereum, they’ve also begun to combine them with an entirely new piece of technology: oracles. Oracles are entities that enable blockchains to interact with data and systems from the traditional world. 

As a result, “hybrid smart contracts”, or smart contracts that combine on-chain code with off-chain oracles, have taken the world by storm due to the enhanced functionality they enable for dApps. Today, hybrid smart contracts power several new use cases across dozens of industries, and the combination of blockchains like Ethereum and popular oracle networks like Chainlink are now securing digital agreements that handle tens of billions of dollars in user funds.

Here are five exciting ways in which the hybrid smart contract model is transforming the blockchain industry. 

Today, the hybrid smart contract model forms the backbone of much of the decentralized finance (DeFi) industry, which seeks to recreate traditional financial products using decentralized architecture to honor financial terms. Hundreds of popular DeFi applications that let users borrow, lend, trade, save, and create assets now rely on an oracle network to fetch, validate, and deliver aggregated data from the real world. This data then determines how smart contracts execute and settle on blockchains. 

For DeFi giants like lending apps Aave and Compound, oracle networks can crowdsource accurate price data in a highly reliable and tamper-proof manner. Price data is the lifeblood of DeFi and is used to execute liquidations, determine lending rates, and verify limit orders by providing the fair market valuation of cryptocurrency, commodities, and more.

Hackers know this and often try to manipulate price data as a way of breaking a smart contract, causing great harm to DeFi apps that rely on low-quality data or insecure oracle mechanisms. To avoid this problem, many DeFi apps have turned to oracle networks that fetch data from premium data providers and that consist of nodes that are operated by professional DevOps teams.

The rise of the hybrid smart contract model has also been a boon for DeFi developers; instead of trying to figure out how to build infrastructure to securely source price data for their smart contracts, they can focus on their products and simply plug into an existing decentralized oracle network for their data when ready. In the same way that apps like Uber combine services like Twilio for messaging, Stripe for payments, and Google Maps for location, DeFi apps are being built by combining on-chain smart contract code with oracles for off-chain price data. 

Beyond DeFi, the hybrid smart contract model is being used to build all sorts of interesting applications that can change people’s lives for the better. Decentralized oracle networks now have the ability to deliver data onto blockchains about the weather from sources like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via Google Cloud or Accuweather, meaning projects like Arbol can build parametric insurance contracts that automatically pay out when a certain weather condition is hit. ... ' 

AI Driven Video to Enhance Work Environment?

Seen hints of this in my increased use of  Youtube for keeping connected with tech changes.    Of course it is Google that is controlling the details of the AI driving what I  see.  Not always ideal, but if I could train it to optimize my needs?

How AI in Video Will Enhance Work in the Modern-Day Work Environment  by 7wData

Shaking off the dust from what could be described as the longest year known to man — remote work is a hot topic in the world of employment. By establishing both its benefits, as well as its challenges, remote work has people talking about its permanence. What is more, employees have become accustomed to remote working, in fact, many of them actually prefer it to the office. According to a FlexJobs survey, 65% of employee respondents reported wanting to be full-time remote post-pandemic, and 31% want a hybrid remote work environment — that’s 96% who desire some form of remote work.

These numbers inevitably mean that the methods in which we worked during the pandemic, primarily via the screen and through video calls, will have some longevity.

In the past year, there has been a daunting amount of “incidental” or unintentional content creation via the many different digital platforms we now operate on. With massive amounts of data, however, there are large sums of insight to be had.  ... '

Quantum Computer Race in China

 Why and in what direction?

Competing Visions Underpin China’s Quantum Computer Race 

Alibaba builds their own qubits, Baidu remains quantum hardware-agnostic 

By  Craig S. Smith in Spectrum IEEE

China and the US are in a race to conquer quantum computing, which promises to unleash the potential of artificial intelligence and give the owner all-seeing, code-breaking powers.

But there is a race within China itself among companies trying to dominate the space, led by tech giants Alibaba and Baidu.

Like their competitors IBM, Google, Honeywell, and D-Wave, both Chinese companies profess to be developing "full stack" quantum businesses, offering access to quantum computing through the cloud coupled with their own suite of algorithms, software, and consulting services.

Alibaba is building solutions for specific kinds of hardware, as IBM, Google, and Honeywell are doing. (IBM's software stack will also support trapped ion hardware, but the company's focus is on supporting its superconducting quantum computers. Honeywell's software partner, Cambridge Quantum, is hardware agnostic, but the two companies' cooperation is focused on Honeyell's trapped ion computer.)

Baidu is different in that it is building a hardware-agnostic software stack that can plug into any quantum hardware, whether that hardware uses a superconducting substrate, nuclear magnetic resonance, or ion traps to control its qubits.

"Currently we don't do hardware directly, but develop the hardware interface," Runyao Duan, Baidu's head of quantum computing, told the 24th Annual Conference on Quantum Information Processing earlier this year. "This is a very flexible strategy and ensures that we will be open for all hardware providers."

Quantum computers calculate using the probability that an array of entangled quantum particles is in a particular state at any point in time. Maintaining and manipulating the fragile particles is itself a difficult problem that has yet to be solved at scale. Quantum computers today consist of fewer than 100 qubits, though hardware leader IBM has a goal of reaching 1,000 qubits by 2023.

But an equally thorny problem is how to use those qubits once they exist. "We can build a qubit. We can manipulate a qubit and we can read a qubit," said Mattia Fiorentini, head of machine learning and quantum algorithms at Cambridge Quantum in London. "The question is, how do you build software that can really benefit from all that information processing power?"

Scientists around the world are working on ways to program quantum computers that are useful and generalized and that engineers can use pretty much straight out of the box.

Of course, real large-scale quantum computing remains a relatively distant dream—currently quantum cloud services are primarily used for simulations of quantum computing using classical computers, although some are using small quantum systems—and so it's too early to say whether Baidu's strategy will pay off.

“We can build a qubit. We can read a qubit. But how do you build software that can really benefit from all that information processing power?"

In the past, Alibaba worked with the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, the capital of central China's Anhui province, which currently has the world's most advanced quantum computer, dubbed the Zuchongzhi 2.1, after China's famous fifth century astronomer who first calculated pi to six decimal places. The company is also building quantum computing hardware of its own.  ... ' 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Better Fusion Power with AI

More moves towards fusion.

Can AI Make a Better Fusion Reactor? Nuclear physics may be one of machine learning's newest frontiers  Rebecca Sohn

Since the 1940s, physicists have tried, but no one has yet created an efficient nuclear fusion reaction. Meanwhile, AI and machine learning (ML) have, across many industries and applications, proved themselves quite capable at detecting subtle patterns in data that humans can't recognize. So could neural nets and the GPUs that power them help in nuclear fusion? The challenge, and it's a big one, would be to accelerate the worldwide quest to tame instabilities in hot plasmas and ultimately provide a source of sustainable, and carbon-free power.

"Physicists, they develop theoretical models, they write equations, they manipulate things mathematically," said Diogo Ferreira, a professor of information systems at the University of Lisbon's Instituto Superior T├ęcnico in Portugal. "But there is a limit to that." AI, he says, can help.

Ferreira recently collaborated with colleagues working on the Joint European Torus (JET) in the UK in a study that detailed three different uses for AI, machine learning, and deep learning models for fusion research. Ferreira trained his models using diagnostic data from 48 sensors connected to the JET reactor, called bolometers, which collect power and radiation data.

One of Ferreira's models predicts disruptions in a super-hot plasma. In the study, he explains that depending on how it is trained, the model can either predict the likelihood of disruption—which can result in a plasma escaping confinement, jolting equipment, drastically reducing the plasma's temperature, and ending the reaction— or estimate the time at which that disruption will occur.

A second model detects anomalies in the plasma. Trained only on reactions where disruptions did not occur, the model can reproduce these "good" experiments. If the data originates in an experiment that ended in a disruption, the model can identify when and how the data diverges from that of a successful reaction. Scientists could use this process to better understand what ultimately leads to disruptions and eventually to run reactions in which disruptions are less likely.  ... 

McKinsey On Autonomous Plants

The autonomous plant: Entering a new digital era  

September 10, 2021 | Article  McKinsey

By Gopal Chakrabarti, Dominik Don, Micah Smith, and Premal Vora

The autonomous plant: Entering a new digital era

The requirements of the energy transition present significant industry challenges. Energy companies must embrace new technologies, transform management systems, and expand workforce capabilities.

Energy companies are operating in uncertain times. They face societal pressure and increased regulation to significantly reduce fossil-fuel dependency, primarily characterized by reliance on transport fuels, plastics, and other refining and petrochemical products. Under these conditions, companies are looking to maximize the health and resilience of downstream operations—particularly in oil and gas and chemicals—by adopting new automation and digital technologies, enabling increased levels of data usage and performance transparency, as well as faster decision loops.

Many of these changes were already occurring and have only accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a newfound sense of urgency. Yet digital strategies remain challenging for the energy sector for several reasons, namely keeping up with increased decarbonization efforts, workforce changes, and accelerated technological innovations. Many companies have responded with short-term solutions but remain indecisive about how to identify priorities in the years to come.  ... ' 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Detecting Computer Generated Faces

Schneier points us to this effort, detecting artificial human faces.  Technical details interesting. 

A way to spot computer-generated faces   by Bob Yirka , Tech Xplore

Anatomy structures of a human eye. Bottom: Examples of pupils of real human (left) and GAN-generated (right). Note that the pupils for the real eyes have a strong circular or elliptical shapes (yellow) while those for the GANgenerated pupils are with irregular shapes (red). And also the shapes of both pupils are very different from each other in the GAN-generated face image. Credit: arXiv:2109.00162v1 [cs.CV]

A small team of researchers from The State University of New York at Albany, the State University of New York at Buffalo and Keya Medical has found a common flaw in computer-generated faces by which they can be identified. The group has written a paper describing their findings and have uploaded them to the arXiv preprint server.

Italian Data Protection Authority Queries Smart Glasses

 I thought there might be some regulatory push back on Facebook smart glasses that gather and store data and images, here perhaps the first case.    

Italy Data Authority Asks Facebook for Clarifications on Smart Glasses

Reuters, Elvira Pollina, September 10, 2021

Italian data protection authority Garante has asked Facebook to provide it with clarifications related to its newly launched smart glasses, to determine the product's compliance with that nation’s privacy laws. Developed with Ray-Ban manufacturer EssilorLuxottica, the Ray-Ban Stories glasses allow users to hear music, take calls, or shoot photos and videos and share them across Facebook's services via a companion application. Garante made its request via the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), which oversees Facebook because the social-media giant's European headquarters are based in Ireland. The regulator said it wanted clarification on measures Facebook has deployed to shield people occasionally filmed, especially children, and on systems adopted to anonymize collected data, and features of the smartglasses' voice assistant.  ... ' 

Whats Foundational AI?

We worked with Stanford in the early days of AI.  Can't we all get along?  I like the idea of using foundational definitions to decide what to emphasize on next.  

A Stanford Proposal Over AI's 'Foundations' Ignites Debate  By Wired, September 15, 2021

Last month, Stanford researchers declared that a new era of artificial intelligence had arrived, one built atop colossal neural networks and oceans of data. They said a new research center at Stanford would build—and study—these "foundational models" of AI.  

Critics of the idea surfaced quickly—including at the workshop organized to mark the launch of the new center. Some object to the limited capabilities and sometimes freakish behavior of these models; others warn of focusing too heavily on one way of making machines smarter.

"I think the term 'foundation' is horribly wrong," Jitendra Malik, a professor at UC Berkeley who studies AI, told workshop attendees in a video discussion.

Malik acknowledged that one type of model identified by the Stanford researchers—large language models that can answer questions or generate text from a prompt—has great practical use. But he said evolutionary biology suggests that language builds on other aspects of intelligence like interaction with the physical world.

In Wired.

Study on Aging Workforce and Robotics

Makes sense. How do we make such uses most efficient?   Teach both to collaborate well. Have my own ideas on that, lets collaborate. 

Robots Readily Adopted In the Aging Workplace, Study Finds   By MIT News  in CACM

Robots are more widely adopted in places with notably older workers, filling gaps created by a shortage of middle-aged workers in manual production tasks, according a study on robot adoption.

"Demographic change — aging — is one of the most important factors leading to the adoption of robotics and other automation technologies," says Daron Acemoglu, an MIT economist and co-author, along with Pascual Restrepo at Boston University, of "Demographics and Automation,"   published in The Review of Economic Studies.

The researchers' model predicts that the effects of demographic change should be more pronounced in industries that rely more on middle-aged workers and in those that present greater technological opportunities for automation.

Acemoglu and Restrepo found a strong relationship between an aging work force — defined by the ratio of workers 56 and older to those ages 21 to 55 — and robot deployment in 60 countries. "Our findings suggest that quite a bit of investment in robotics is not driven by the fact that this is the next 'amazing frontier,' but because some countries have shortages of labor, especially middle-aged labor that would be necessary for blue-collar work," Acemoglu says.

From MIT News   View Full Article 

Autonomous Robotic Excavator


Autonomous Walking Excavator Can Build Walls, Dig Trenches  By New Scientist

A construction vehicle can operate autonomously on rough terrain, thanks to a team of Swiss-German engineers that adapted a walking excavator to perform various tasks.

Researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland made the prototype Hydraulic Excavator for an Autonomous Purpose (HEAP) autonomous through the use of algorithms, control mechanisms, and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR).

The 12-ton HEAP was programmed to use an excavator bucket and a two-finger gripper, and was able to construct a four-meter (13-foot)-high stone wall, grab trees for mock forestry work, and dig out a trench containing live ammunition from World War II.

ETH Zurich's Dominic Jud said one of the biggest challenges in switching the excavator from human operation to a computer running open source Ubuntu software was reengineering the cabin controls to drive the hydraulic pumps.

Jud said HEAP is roughly as accurate as human operators in executing tasks, although not yet as quick.

Microsoft Passwordless Accounts

 With the introduction of Microsoft 11 in October.   How secure is this, looking further?  MS has not had a good record of security lately. Will be challenged.  If so quite a coup.  Following up.

Microsoft accounts no longer need a password   in Engadget   K. Holt  @krisholt September 15th, 2021

You'll be able to log in with the Authenticator app, Windows Hello or SMS codes.

Passwordless Microsoft account 

Microsoft says everyone can remove the password from their Microsoft account and use other methods to sign in starting today. The company rolled out the option to enterprise users earlier this year.

Rather than having to remember a password or using a password manager, you'll be able to use the Microsoft Authenticator app, Windows Hello, a security key or SMS or emailed codes. You'll be able to sign in to services such as Outlook, OneDrive, Microsoft Family Safety, and even Xbox Series X/S without a password. Microsoft is rolling out the option to everyone over the next few weeks as it gears up for the launch of Windows 11 on October 5th.   ...'

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Amazon Marketplace Sellers

 Was unaware of the growth of these.

Amazon marketplace sellers are becoming retail giants

Plus additional expert comments ...

Amazon marketplace sellers are becoming retail giants

Sep 13, 2021,  by Tom Ryan

Thrasio, the largest aggregator of third-party Amazon.com marketplace sellers, last week announced its three largest acquisitions ever and more deals in the works.

“We take beloved products, invest the resources to solidify their category leadership on Amazon, and then we increase their sales footprint through international expansion and other channels,” said Carlos Cashman, co-CEO, in a statement.

In February, Thrasio earned a $3 billion valuation in a funding round as money keeps pouring into the space. A total of 38 Amazon aggregators have raised nearly $9 billion in capital since April 2020, according to Marketplace Pulse.  ... '

Seeing the way we do

New ways of perceptive seeing, now with Texture and Shape

GLOM: Teaching Computers to See the Way(s) We Do  By John Delaney,  Commissioned by CACM Staff   September 14, 2021

At the virtual Collision technology  earlier this year deep learning pioneer Geoffrey Hinton explained how he conceived of a new type of neural network that, he said, would be able to perceive things the way people do.

Hinton, an emeritus distinguished professor in the department of computer science of the Faculty of Arts & Science at Canada's University of Toronto, and also an Engineering Fellow at Google, is responsible for some of the biggest breakthroughs in deep learning and neural networks. He was honored as co-recipient of the 2018 ACM A.M. Turing Award, along with Yoshua Bengio and Yann LeCun, for conceptual and engineering breakthroughs that have made deep neural networks a critical component of modern computing.

In Hinton's Collision talk, he pointed out that the representations used by most neural networks performing object classification are produced by convolutional neural networks, which work well at classifying objects such as images or words, even winning competitions such as the ImageNet Large Scale Visual Recognition Challenge, but they perceive images in a very different way than people do, which can sometimes lead to "crazy errors."

"They use lots of texture information, which people are insensitive to," Hinton said, "but they fail to use a lot of shape information, which people are very sensitive to."  .... '

Prepare for your Quantum Future

To understand it, certainly.

Now Is the Time to Prepare for the Quantum Computing Revolution

By TechRepublic, August 27, 2020  in CACM

Christopher Savoie is CEO and co-founder of Zapata Computing, a quantum application company.

In an interview, Christopher Savoie discusses the state of quantum computing, predicts when supporting hardware will likely be ready, and warns against organizations not being prepared.

Organizations that wait, Savoie says, will most likely not have the workforce or the infrastructure in place to be able to leverage quantum's benefits. "And meanwhile, all of your competitors and their vendors have acquired a portfolio of patents on these methodologies that are good for 20 years."

From TechRepublic  

Amazon Palm Scanning Moves outside Retail

 Palm scanning  is apparently a successful means of quick secure ID outside retail: 

Amazon One’s palm-scanning tech makes first move into entertainment venues in TheVerge

Launching at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre   By James Vincent  Sep 14, 2021, 5:49am EDT

" ... It’s the first time the technology has been deployed outside Amazon and Whole Food stores, and Amazon says it expects the tech will be added “to more AXS ticketed venues in the future.” People can enroll into the scheme at dedicated stations in the Red Rocks venue, with these booths analyzing the unique patterns of veins and lines in their palms to register and then later verify identities. ... " 

On Dimensions

 Better handling of dimensions has let us to test out machine learning and dabble with AI.  Here is a not too deep look at the math.  Can we better define away complexity?   See the images at the link. 

The Journey to Define Dimension  in QuantaMagazine

The concept of dimension seems simple enough, but mathematicians struggled for centuries to precisely define and understand it.

David S. Richeson  Contributing Columnist

he notion of dimension at first seems intuitive. Glancing out the window we might see a crow sitting atop a cramped flagpole experiencing zero dimensions, a robin on a telephone wire constrained to one, a pigeon on the ground free to move in two and an eagle in the air enjoying three.

But as we’ll see, finding an explicit definition for the concept of dimension and pushing its boundaries has proved exceptionally difficult for mathematicians. It’s taken hundreds of years of thought experiments and imaginative comparisons to arrive at our current rigorous understanding of the concept.

The ancients knew that we live in three dimensions. Aristotle wrote, “Of magnitude that which (extends) one way is a line, that which (extends) two ways is a plane, and that which (extends) three ways a body. And there is no magnitude besides these, because the dimensions are all that there are.”

Quantized Columns

A regular column in which top researchers explore the process of discovery. This month’s columnist, David S. Richeson, is a professor of mathematics at Dickinson College.

Yet mathematicians, among others, have enjoyed the mental exercise of imagining more dimensions. What would a fourth dimension — somehow perpendicular to our three — look like?

One popular approach: Suppose our knowable universe is a two-dimensional plane in three-dimensional space. A solid ball hovering above the plane is invisible to us. But if it falls and contacts the plane, a dot appears. As it continues through the plane, a circular disk grows until it reaches its maximum size. It then shrinks and disappears. It is through these cross sections that we see three dimensional shapes. ... '

Google Supply Chain Twin

 Google seems to be playing this direction actively.

Google launches ‘digital twin’ tool for logistics and manufacturing

Kyle Wiggers @Kyle_L_Wiggers  in Venturebeat

September 14, 2021 1:30 A

Google today announced Supply Chain Twin, a new Google Cloud solution that lets companies build a digital twin — a representation of their physical supply chain — by organizing data to get a more complete view of suppliers, inventories, and events like weather. Arriving alongside Supply Chain Twin is the Supply Chain Pulse module, which can be used with Supply Chain Twin to provide dashboards, analytics, alerts, and collaboration in Google Workspace.

The majority of companies don’t have visibility of their supply chains, resulting in “stock outs” at retailers and aging inventory at manufacturers. In 2020, out-of-stock items alone cost an estimated $1.14 trillion. The past year and a half of supply chain disruptions has further shown the need for insights into operations to dynamically adjust fleet routes and inventory levels.

With Supply Chain Twin, companies can bring together data from multiple sources by enabling views of the datasets to be shared with suppliers and partners. The solution supports enterprise business systems that contain an organization’s locations, products, orders, and inventory operations data as well as data from suppliers and partners such as stock and inventory levels and material transportation status. Supply Chain Twin also draws from public sources of contextual data such as weather, risk, and sustainability.

Everyday Habits That Make You Look Older

“Digital twin” approaches to simulation have gained currency in other domains. For instance, London-based SenSat helps clients in construction, mining, energy, and other industries create models of locations for projects they’re working on. GE offers technology that allows companies to model digital twins of actual machines and closely track performance. And Microsoft provides Azure Digital Twins and Project Bonsai, which model the relationships and interactions between people, places, and devices in simulated environments. ....  ' 

Threats to Experimental Design

A method for Analyzing Experimental Design of models.   Below an intro, then more.  Worth examining. 

PlanAlyzer: Assessing Threats to the Validity of Online Experiments

By Emma Tosch, Eytan Bakshy, Emery D. Berger, David D. Jensen, J. Eliot B. Moss

Communications of the ACM, September 2021, Vol. 64 No. 9, Pages 108-11610.1145/3474385

Online experiments are an integral part of the design and evaluation of software infrastructure at Internet firms. To handle the growing scale and complexity of these experiments, firms have developed software frameworks for their design and deployment. Ensuring that the results of experiments in these frameworks are trustworthy—referred to as internal validity—can be difficult. Currently, verifying internal validity requires manual inspection by someone with substantial expertise in experimental design.

We present the first approach for checking the internal validity of online experiments statically, that is, from code alone. We identify well-known problems that arise in experimental design and causal inference, which can take on unusual forms when expressed as computer programs: failures of randomization and treatment assignment, and causal sufficiency errors. Our analyses target PLANOUT, a popular framework that features a domain-specific language (DSL) to specify and run complex experiments. We have built PLANALYZER, a tool that checks PLANOUT programs for threats to internal validity, before automatically generating important data for the statistical analyses of a large class of experimental designs. We demonstrate PLANALYZER'S utility on a corpus of PLANOUT scripts deployed in production at Facebook, and we evaluate its ability to identify threats on a mutated subset of this corpus. PLANALYZER has both precision and recall of 92% on the mutated corpus, and 82% of the contrasts it generates match hand-specified data.

1. Introduction

Many organizations conduct online experiments to assist decision-making.3,13,21,22 These organizations often develop software components that make designing experiments easier, or that automatically monitor experimental results. Such systems may integrate with existing infrastructure that perform such tasks as recording metrics of interest or specializing software configurations according to features of users, devices, or other experimental subjects. One popular example is Facebook's PLANOUT: a domain-specific language for experimental design.2

A script written in PLANOUT is a procedure for assigning a treatment (e.g., a piece of software under test) to a unit (e.g., users or devices whose behavior—or outcomes—is being assessed). Treatments could be anything from software-defined bit rates for data transmission to the layout of a Web page. Outcomes are typically metrics of interest to the firm, which may include click-through rates, time spent on a page, or the proportion of videos watched to completion. Critically, treatments and outcomes must be recorded in order to estimate the effect of treatment on an outcome. By abstracting over the details of how units are assigned treatment, PLANOUT has the potential to lower the barrier to entry for those without a background in experimental design to try their hand at experimentation-driven development.  ... '  (more at link) 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Augmented Reality Innovation

 Had not heard of this use of extended reality to promote innovation, consider the breadth of possibilities.

Researchers Develop First-of-Its-Kind Extended Reality Testbed to Speed Virtual, Augmented Reality Innovation    By University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign,   April 28, 2021  

A user experiencing extended reality. 

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign researchers have launched an open-source testbed for extended reality (XR) and, with key industry partners, a new consortium for the XR community.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) researchers have launched an open source extended reality (XR) testbed to democratize XR systems research, development, and benchmarking.

XR is an umbrella term for virtual, augmented, and mixed reality, and UIUC's Sarita Adve cited an orders of magnitude gap between the performance, power, and usability of current and desirable XR systems.

The Illinois Extended Reality (ILLIXR) testbed is an end-to-end XR system that all types of XR scientists can use to research, develop, and benchmark concepts in the context of a complete XR system, and observe the effect on end-user experience.

Facebook's Rod Hooker said, "ILLIXR's open source modular architecture enables the XR research community to address challenging problems in the areas of optimizing algorithms, system performance/power optimizations, scheduler development, and quality-of-service degradation."

From University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign  

Soft Robot Worms

 Consider applications with tight fitting spatial sensors and manipulaton. 

Stretchy Robot Worms Could Inch Their Way into Tech Applications

University of Glasgow (U.K.),  September 6, 2021

Engineers at the U.K.'s University of Glasgow have designed soft robots that can move like inchworms and earthworms. The roboworms can stretch up to nine times their own length and use a form of proprioception—the ability of organisms like worms to perceive their spatial position—to squeeze into tight spaces. Magnets attached at either end of the robots' bodies help them to locomote along a metal surface, while intrinsic strain sensors measure electrical resistance caused by a graphite-impregnated skin to sense their movements in relation to their bodies. The university’s Ravinder Dahiya said, “The ability of soft robots like these to adapt to their surroundings through seamlessly embedded stretchable sensors could help autonomous robots more effectively navigate through even the most challenging environments.”  ... '

Podcast: Portrait of the Post-Pandemic Grocery Shopper

 I still shop in store, not sure I have noticed a real difference.  Worth a listen.

Podcast | A Portrait of the Post-Pandemic Grocery Shopper

In SupplyChainBrain  

What is this creature whom we call “the post-pandemic grocery shopper”? ... 

COVID-19 has upended the entire retail sector, including grocery. The latter’s transformation by e-commerce and the internet was well underway by the time the virus struck in 2020, but the pandemic has wrought permanent changes in consumer behavior that either weren’t expected to happen for a number of years, or happen at all. Specifically, many shoppers who wouldn’t have dreamed of ordering their groceries online before they were forced to shelter at home now swear by the method. But they’re also still committed to shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. On this episode, we talk with Barbara Connors, vice president of commercial insights with the data-science firm 84.51°, about the profile of the newly minted “hybrid” shopper and that individual’s future, as retailers puzzle out how to provide a “customer-centric shopping journey.” Hosted by Bob Bowman, Editor-in-Chief of SupplyChainBrain. .... ' 

Robotic Remote Cafe

New approaches for remote work. 

 At Japanese Robot Cafe, Staff Serve Customers While Working From Home

South China Morning Post, August 20, 2021

The Dawn Cafe in Tokyo's Nihonbashi district is staffed by robot waiters serving diners under the remote direction of physically and mentally impaired staff based in Japan and overseas. The cafe is part of an experiment in inclusive employment, with the remote-controlled robots offering job opportunities to people who find working outside the home difficult. The establishment features about 20 OriHime robots built by the Ory Laboratory company equipped with cameras, microphones, and speakers so operators can communicate with customers. Three larger, humanoid robots serve drinks or greet customers, while a barista robot prepares coffee. Ory Laboratory co-founder Kentaro Yoshifuji said, "Customers here are not exactly coming to this location just to meet OriHime. There are people operating OriHime behind the scenes, and customers will come back to see them again."

Sunday, September 12, 2021

GRAND Decodes Data Universally?

Implications for general cryptography?      Trying to get a reading. 

Universal System Decodes Any Type of Data Sent Across a Network By MIT News,  September 10, 2021  in CACM

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston University, and Ireland's Maynooth University have programmed a universal algorithm to enable a silicon chip to decode any data transmitted across a network, irrespective of structure.

The Guessing Random Additive Noise Decoding (GRAND) algorithm removes the need for multiple computationally complex decoders.

GRAND guesses the noise or energy affecting the encoded data en route, and uses this pattern to infer the original information.

The algorithm produces noise sequences in the order they are likely to occur, eliminates them from the received data, and confirms that the resulting codeword is in a codebook.

The researchers say the GRAND chip could decode any moderate redundancy code up to 128 bits long, with approximately 1-microsecond latency.

From MIT News   View Full Article    

Fusion Energy Closer

 Followed the basic concepts for years,  are we closer? 

Fusion energy nears reality thanks to an ultra-powerful magnet

The technology could be key to practical fusion power plants.

By J. Fingas @jonfingas

Fusion energy just had its second breakthrough in as many months. Motherboard notes an MIT- and Commonwealth Fusion Systems-led research team has successfully demonstrated a high-temperature superconducting electromagnet producing a field strength of 20 tesla — the most powerful field of its kind on Earth. The technology could be the key to SPARC, a fusion device due in 2025 that could foster a plasma field producing more energy than it consumes.  ... ' 

AI Writing its own Code: Codex

 More on the Codex approach. How long until such methods take over most coding?   Sooner than we think I believe    Most useful to make sure coding approaches are as safe as possible.   Is that better than human coding?   Ultimately it will be. 

A.I. Can Now Write Its Own Computer Code. That's Good News for Humans   By The New York Times,  September 10, 2021

As soon as Tom Smith got his hands on Codex — a new artificial intelligence technology that writes its own computer programs — he gave it a job interview.

He asked if it could tackle the "coding challenges" that programmers often face when interviewing for big-money jobs at Silicon Valley companies like Google and Facebook. Could it write a program that replaces all the spaces in a sentence with dashes? Even better, could it write one that identifies invalid ZIP codes?

It did both instantly, before completing several other tasks. "These are problems that would be tough for a lot of humans to solve, myself included, and it would type out the response in two seconds," said Mr. Smith, a seasoned programmer who oversees an A.I. start-up called Gado Images. "It was spooky to watch."

Codex seemed like a technology that would soon replace human workers. As Mr. Smith continued testing the system, he realized that its skills extended well beyond a knack for answering canned interview questions. It could even translate from one programming language to another.

From The New York Times    View Full Article  

UK Regulator says Yes to Drones

 Broadening use of drones for delivery. 

U.K. Regulator Gives Green Light to Delivery Drone Trials

Financial Times, Philip Georgiadis, April 19, 2021

The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has authorized a trial in which drone company Sees.ai will operate regular drone flights beyond the pilot's line of sight at three remote industrial sites. Remote pilots will fly the drones using only cameras and sensors. If they are successful, the trials could enable drone flights to be rolled out at scale throughout the logistics sector. Sees.ai's John McKenna believes autonomous drones likely will be used initially in industrial settings to monitor rail and road infrastructure or nuclear power plants. He said drone delivery of Amazon packages or pizzas is "still a long way off."  ... ' 

Recorded Future Quote on Russian State Connections

Recorded Future Writes

Insikt Group

Editor’s Note: The following post is an excerpt of a full report. To read the entire analysis, click here to download the report as a PDF.

This report examines the unspoken connections between the Russian Federation (in the form of Russian intelligence services or the Kremlin) and cybercriminals in Russia and Eastern Europe. Sources include the Recorded Future® Platform as well as other dark web and open sources. The report will be of interest to threat researchers, as well as law enforcement, government, and defense organizations. 

Executive Summary

​The intersection of individuals in the Russian cybercriminal world and officials in the Russian government, typically from the domestic law enforcement or intelligence services, is well established yet highly diffuse. The relationships in this ecosystem are based on spoken and unspoken agreements and comprise fluid associations.

Recorded Future identified 3 types of links between the Russian intelligence services and the Russian criminal underground based on historical activity and associations, as well as recent ransomware attacks: direct links, indirect affiliations, and tacit agreement.      

Even in cases with discernible, direct links between cybercriminal threat actors and the Russian state, indirect affiliations suggest collaboration, and a lack of meaningful punitive actions shows either a tolerance for, or tacit approval of, these efforts. This assessment takes into account that the Russian government possesses a robust surveillance apparatus and interfaces with cybercriminal elements and therefore has visibility into, if not control over, many of the resources used by these threat actors and can shut them down if they so desire.

Key Judgments

Based on historical activity, it is highly likely that Russian intelligence services and law enforcement have a longstanding, tacit understanding with criminal threat actors; in some cases, it is almost certain that the intelligence services maintain an established and systematic relationship with criminal threat actors, either through association or recruitment. 

Precedent suggests that such activities and associations will almost certainly continue for the foreseeable future; however, these associations will likely adapt to provide greater plausible deniability and fewer overt, direct links between both groups. 

The open assertion made by US President Joe Biden that Russian cybercriminals are protected by the Russian government has placed Russian President Vladimir Putin on the defensive, forcing Russian domestic law enforcement to demonstrate that they are cracking down on ransomware operators. 

Following the disappearance of ransomware operators like REvil, we see other groups emerging in their stead and publicly committing to reforming their operations, including the refusal to attack critical infrastructure targets, which may be seen as a preliminary sign that the Biden administration’s ultimatum to Russia has been successful, but it is still too early to gauge how great its long-term effect will be.   

If the Biden administration can persuade the Kremlin that bringing cybercriminal activity under some form of control is in their best interest — by granting sanctions relief, increased collaboration, or economic agreements — these immediate reforms may be substantive and long-lasting.

Editor’s Note: This post was an excerpt of a full report. To read the entire analysis, click here to download the report as a PDF.    ... 

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Mining Financial Data Without Actually Seeing It Can Detect Fraud

Quite interesting.  

 Mining Financial Data Without Actually Seeing It Can Detect Fraud  By Arnout Jaspers, Commissioned by CACM Staff, September 9, 2021

Large-scale data sharing is a potential goldmine for research, health, and security, but until recently this goldmine was largely inaccessible, due to privacy considerations. Now, banks are starting to use secure Multiparty Computation (MPC) to detect potentially fraudulent transactions while protecting the privacy of their customers.

MPC distributes computations on data between several parties in such a way that none of the parties can see the raw data, but the desired result can still be computed. Software to achieve this has been developed over the past years. A similar concept is homomorphic encryption, which guarantees that certain classes of computations performed on encrypted data give the same result as computations on the raw data.          

TNO, the Netherlands organization for applied scientific research, is working closely with two large Dutch banks, ABNAmro and Rabobank, on a pilot project to detect suspicious financial transactions using MPC and an algorithm inspired by Google's page-rank algorithm. The basic idea is that networks of financial transactions can be analyzed in similar fashion to how a search engine determines the importance, or rank, of a website. A website is 'important' if other 'important' websites link to it; although this is a self-referential definition, the page-rank algorithm can, after a number of iterations, produce a consistent ranking of websites. 

In this case, bank accounts are the nodes in the network, and two accounts are linked if a money transfer between them has taken place. Other than in the Internet page ranking, a link can have a weight, depending on how often and how much money was transferred. An account gets a high risk score, for instance for money laundering, if another high-risk account transferred money to it.

Each bank can create such a 'risk propagation network' for the accounts of its own clients because it has their financial transaction data, but many transactions happen between different banks. Risk scoring would improve significantly if the algorithm could add those external accounts to the network, but banks are hesitant to share these data because of their potential impact on privacy. Said Tjebbe Tauber, business developer for innovation and design at ABN AMRO's Detect Financial Crime unit, "We are carefully looking at what is, and what is not possible under the European privacy law."  .... ' 

Triple Qubit Entanglement

Enticing piece ... implications?   Had only heard of two bit entanglements.   examining. 

 Quantum Computing: Triple Qubit Entanglement Achieved in Research Breakthrough

By Francisco Pires 3 days ago

Another step on the road towards quantum scalability

Researchers with the Riken Center for Emergent Matter Science in Japan have demonstrated a triple-qubit, silicon-based quantum computing mechanism - opening up the road for increased scalability beyond a mere increment in total qubits on a given system. Previously, qubits had only been shown working in entangled pairs -- and this research demonstrates that entanglement (and thus computation) can actually be divided between three qubits.

Quantum computing rests atop qubits - the quantum equivalent of the modern transistor. But while typical transistors can only represent one value at any point in time (with that value being either zero or one), qubits benefit from the superposition mechanic of quantum physics, meaning that they can represent both states at the same time.   ... ' 

Container Shipping as an IOT

 A look at container shipping.   Not too different than we did a decade ago, except in the specific use of the data generated and logged. 

Container shipping goes digital—4 ways port authorities and terminal operators boost throughput and security

By Wei Zou in Cisco.com  (overview then more) 

As I write this, 31 vessels are anchored and waiting for berths at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. It’s a sign of increasing congestion around the world, caused by a surge in imports, worker shortages, and shutdowns at Chinese ports due to COVID-19. Congestion plus a 900% increase in cyberattacks on maritime systems add up to an urgent problem for the world’s supply chains.

There is good news, however. Innovative port authorities and terminal operators are increasing efficiency, throughput, safety, and security by connecting people, equipment, and applications over Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul. Below, we are providing four top ways IIoT (industrial internet of things) is transforming terminal operations.

1 – Terminal automation with terminal operating systems

To accommodate mega-ships and increase throughput, terminal operators are automating certain manual processes. The engine for automation is a terminal operating system (TOS) that controls container movement around the port or terminal. For example, automating berth planning, yard operations, and gate operations helps improve utilization of assets, labor, and equipment.

Here’s how it works: Information flows between the TOS in the server room to moving assets over Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul. Those assets can include vessels, trains, trucks, and container-handling equipment (CHE) like quay cranes, rubber-tired gantries (RTGs), auto straddle carriers, rail-mounted gantries (RMG), etc.

Leading the way, Malta Freeport connects its TOS to 250 quayside cranes and RTGs moving up to 25 miles per hour over our ultra-reliable wireless backhaul. The TOS sends job orders to crane operators via a monitor on the crane. When operators finish the job, they update their status and continue on to the next job. This eliminates idle time between jobs and increases productivity and throughput .... ' 

LIDAR and Digital Twins

Good thoughts on this aspect of constructing a model.

Using Drone LiDAR and Photogrammetry to Create a Digital Twin   (And an IOT for testing) 

Thompson Engineering used the mdLiDAR1000HR and mdMapper1000DG to survey the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park and create a digital twin.

Cody Floyd, Surveyor PIC at Thompson Engineering, pilots the mdMapper1000DG to collect photogrammetric data.

Rome, NY- In these 4 exciting new episodes of Down to Earth, Thompson Engineering, a proven leader in planning design, construction, and response solutions, utilizes drone Photogrammetry and LiDAR technology to survey, map, and create a digital twin of the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park to help with preservation and maintenance efforts. 

To see how they collected and processed the data to create both a digital twin and complete orthophoto of the park, CLICK HERE to watch NOW On-Demand.

“Down to Earth” is a reality series that shows how real surveyors collect data and turn it into real deliverables, despite challenging terrain, rough weather, and hidden dangers.   In this latest series, the crew journeys into Mobile, Alabama, where the USS Alabama Battleship is the anchor attraction at the Memorial Park which has welcomed generations of family members, veterans, and tourists. However, large structures, an active tourist site, and other challenges face the team at Thompson Engineering as they set out to survey the Mighty A. 

On these episodes of Down to Earth, Robert Chrismon, PLS and Marketing Manager at Microdrones, joins the Thompson Engineering team to observe these challenges, provide drone surveying expertise, and offer data processing support. Brad Busby, the Survey Team Lead at Thompson says, “Having Robert out there is great support since he’s a licensed surveyor. He can relate to us and understand what we’re talking about.”

Ross Kenney, NEI UAS Sales and Support Lead, pilots the mdLiDAR1000HR while Adam McCullough, Survey Technology Lead at Thompson Engineering observes at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

In episode 1, Robert and the team from Thompson Engineering meet up with Ross Kenney, the UAS Sales and Support Lead from Navigation Electronics, Inc. (NEI), a distributor of Microdrones integrated systems, who’s excited to demonstrate the capabilities of the all new mdLiDAR1000HR. According to Kenney, “We’re going to be able to scan every nook and cranny of that ship.” That’s because the new mdLiDAR1000HR creates high resolution point clouds and provides increased coverage.

Episode 2 introduces Cody Floyd, Surveyor PIC at Thompson, who pilots the mdMapper1000DG to perform the photogrammetry mission. This will collect the data to create an orthophoto of the entire site and provide colorization for the LiDAR point cloud. Floyd, who also interned at the Park, explains the deliverables. “We’re here to do a survey of the Battleship Memorial Park to provide them with something they can use for future improvements and additions.” 

The third episode occurs at the Mobile office of Thompson Engineering where the team works through the process and visualize portion of the workflow. Jason Gibson, PLS for Thompson Engineering reviews the trajectory processing while working towards a final orthomosaic and then Robert Chrismon displays the digital twin of the USS Alabama in a LiDAR point cloud created in mdInfinity. Adam Mccullough, Survey Technology Lead at Thompson was excited to see the data. “To me the data speaks for itself. Just looking at the point cloud, you can see how dense and crisp it is around the buildings, the planes and all the cars in the parking lot.”

The final episode is a new segment featuring a round table discussion where the team reviews the project, shares their final thoughts and insights all while enjoying a cold beverage. Watch the entire series now and see how to create a digital twin with drone LiDAR.  .... '