Twitter Changes with the Times

Twitter Changes with the Times

Last Tuesday, Twitter announced that it would be changing its protocol to allow users more room in what they want to include in their messages. Twitter Senior Product Manager Todd Sherman revealed that names tagged during a reply to a tweet will no longer be counted as against the character limit and that Tweets that begin with a username will be delivered to all followers of that user. The old system required that a period be inserted before the username, otherwise the tweet only be seen by the followers of the writer and any other usernames tagged. Users would also be able to retweet and quote tweet themselves.

convThese changes may toe the line between the improvements that Twitter needs to make in order to rebound from a two-year stock-value descent and the defining features that Twitter must uphold to avoid pissing off its current users. John Carroll, mass communications professor at Boston University, stated that while most of the changes would likely go over well, self-retweeting might get really annoying.

“There are a lot of people who will look on retweeting yourself with dismay,” he claimed, using an SAT word to maintain an air of professionalism despite the fact that a change in Twitter’s format has been categorized as within his academic expertise.

Others claim that the changes speak to the development of a general flexibility that has been unattainable for Twitter in the past.

“Twitter held firm too long on a very stringent format,” said Andreas Scherer, managing partner at Salto Partners, whatever that is. “This announcement is a sign that the company is willing to rethink the experience users have with its service.”

Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, made a safe wager when he guessed that the changes to Twitter will only be interesting to people obsessed with Twitter: “They don’t do anything at all drive user growth,” he told an online tech magazine whose content I generally rewrite. He added that the changes will also do nothing to affect him having a girls’ name.

chichErna Alfred Liousas, an analyst with Forrester Research, has what barely constitute’s a girl’s name and welcomes the changes: “They’re addressing things that didn’t make sense to all of us who use the platform on a regular basis…The changes will re-enforce why we’re on the platform. We’ll actually be able to have conversations without being penalized for including a person or link or photo.”

Another great platform that enables such conversation is the internet. Perhaps this is why Erna doesn’t expect the Twitter changes to attract any new users.

“The changes won’t bring new users to the platform [Twitter], but they’ll make the experience overall a lot smoother,” she posited.

In that regard, Twitter may be treading water more so than it is swimming upstream (?). The company needs to prove its ability to attract more users if it wants to compete with the likes of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. The monthly active Twitter users worldwide rose by only 2.6 percent from the first quarter of 2015 to the first quarter of 2016, and like pubescent breasts, investors see the rate of growth as much more important than the occurrence of growth in the first place.

 

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The Inspiring Story of AlphaGo

The Inspiring Story of AlphaGo

There have been multiple incidents when a human and a machine have faced off in a competition of wits vs. coding; in Jeopardy and in Chess, computers have finally, and famously, bested their human opponents. More recently, Western Go professional Lee Sedol lost a game of Go to a computer using an advanced artificial intelligence algorithm.

alpha go2Some feel a sense of panic at these displays of computational dominance and worry that they’re a sign that computers will rise to power over lesser minds. Others see a bright future indicated by the computer’s victory; they believe that computers and humans will commence to evolve together, and be the cause of each other’s evolution due to a kind of brain-computer link.

Perhaps in no other field of computing is this more true than that of artificial intelligence. AI developers have found inspiration for computing progress in the human brain, and organizations like DeepMind are walking at the razor’s edge of neural and computational understanding.

DeepMind was responsible for the creation of the Go machine that finally became the world champion at the ancient game invented in China 3,000 years ago. DeepMind created what’s called a deep neural network, which is comprised of a network of hardware and software engineered to loosely mimic the web of neurons in the human brain. Neural networks aren’t a singular creation by DeepMind’s development team; tech moguls like Facebook and Google use them to identify faces in photos and to understand human speech.

Neural networks allow engineers to feed a computer information and allow it to create abstractions and understandings on its own based on the loads of information it is fed. This was famously demonstrated when a computer was fed image after image of cats, and eventually learned to recognize cats on its own and differentiate them from similar mammals like dogs, foxes, and the like. Again, this was done not through creating an algorithm that allowed a computer to look for certain attributes that prove that a cat is a cat and examine a picture for those attributes (a code which would be extremely difficult to make work accurately) but instead through simply giving the computer huge amounts of information and allowing it to figure things out for itself.

agIn the case of AlphaGo, the victorious Go machine, its win against the reining human champion was chalked up to a strange and unexpected move on its 37th turn. According to David Silver, the researcher who led the creation of AlphaGo, AlphaGo “knew that this was a move that professionals would not choose, and yet, as it started to search deeper and deeper, it was able to override that initial guide.”

Although there’s no way of really understanding how the computer understands anything when it’s using a neural network, the team behind AlphaGo’s creation believes that in a certain sense, AlphaGo had to start “thinking on its own” to win the game. In other words, it was not making decisions based on a set of rules that its creator had encoded in its digital DNA but instead making decisions based on algorithms that it taught itself:

“It really discovered this for itself, through its won process of introspection and analysis.”

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Society and Technology

Society and Technology

The relationship between society and technology has always been one of interwoven feedback loops so complicated that it can seem ultimately pointless to attempt to differentiate the two terms in the first place. However, using the terms as two different, mutually-effecting entities can offer interesting thought experiments to the thinker hoping to reflect on the strange and amazing aspects of our time that have been foregrounded to the point of accruing a false sense of validation and normalcy. Let’s proceed accordingly.

virtSociety will always transition based on technological change; technology affects the jobs available at a certain time, the quality of life expected by the average member of the middle class, the information available to the average person, and many other crucial and definitive features of a society at a given place and a given time. There are a number of technological advances that have been accredited with responsibility for major societal change; the invention of the printing press, for example, enabled more works of writing to be made for less money and energy than ever before. This in turn caused the rate of literacy to sky rocket across Europe, as did the widespread knowledge of global and continent-wide events.

Another pertinent example can be made out of the invention of the internet. The internet’s effect on global society (indeed, it is held responsible for making global societies possible) is so immense and has happened so quickly that it remains difficult to analyze and therefore predict future consequences. What can be said for certain is that the opening of a new virtual space where people can educate themselves and assemble based on common interests makes this time unparalleled in terms of the potential to pursue one’s own chosen path for personal growth. That said, it’s important to acknowledge that the internet also has the potential to be a horrifying cesspool.

Technology impacts society so much that it may seem at this point very clear that it is the true catalyst to societal change, and perhaps is stationed at the steering wheel of global cultures. However, it’s important to realize that the technological advancements that have occurred over time have all been posited by members of the society of a particular age and culture; societal mores largely determine the values which, once taken for granted, determine what kind of inventions would be found useful and attractive.

virt2For example, consider the technology behind the invention of the plethora of medieval torture devices that can now be seen in museums across Europe. Those devices owe their existence to the brutality normalized in the penal systems of those times.  It’s also important to realize that the environmentally detrimental aspects of most technology, and the less environmentally detrimental technology borne out of the unfolding green revolution owe their technological differences to a shift in societal consciousness and values.

In that regard, technology and society will always be defined based on the lens of the story teller; they function as a veritable before and after, a cause and effect that can always be switched based on perspective.

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Google, Amnesia, and Virtual Space

Google, Amnesia, and Virtual Space

Last week, Google was reported to be expanding the right of Europeans to be forgotten on the Internet to domains outside their countries.

Google will have a list of people for whom Google has granted “the right to be forgotten.” These people, when searched from European IP addresses, will turn up zero links, regardless of which version of Google is used for the search.

ecjThis final detail is of significance because previously such links could easily be found despite their being blocked in European versions of Google. A European user could simply go to a site like google.com instead of google.de or google.fr, perform the same search of someone who had been granted right-to-be-forgotten privileges, and see the results that were blocked from the Google of their home countries.

This process all began when the European Court of Justice ordered Google to honor right-to-be-forgotten requests back in 2014.

Internet users whose IP addresses imply that they are outside of Europe will continue to have access to whatever results may be floating around the internet, despite the right-to-be-forgotten.

European regulators aren’t necessarily satisfied with this decision, but most think it’s a step in the right direction.

“It seems to be right in line with their demands,” French Caldwell, chief evangelist at MetricStream commented.

Adam Holland is the project coordinator for the Lumen Project at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University; he also believes that the decision will benefit our world of young and chaotic internet law: “It’s a good step forward…. They’ve been asking Google to take this step for quite some time, so at least on its face, Google is moving closer to what the European regulators have been asking for. As to whether it will satisfy them, I couldn’t say because it isn’t always clear what they see the endgame as being.”

ecj2Of course, it’s not as if those with the right-to-be-forgotten actually shield themselves against more than the most casual and disinterested of efforts to find links regarding them; the rest of the world still has access to search engines in full, and even in Europe a citizen must only go to the trouble of using a virtual private network (which masks the user’s IP address) to regain access to normal Google.

In fact, accessing right-to-be-forgotten links could be as easy as using another search engine.

“Since EU citizens must petition each search engine separately, it’s possible to use other search engines to find the information,” stated Caldwell. “That’s one of the bizarre characteristics of the ECJ’s decision to put the burden on the search engine comp any rather than at the source with the content owner… The content is still out there on the Web, and the Web never forgets.”

The debate bring to light various questions regarding internet censorship that remain to be sorted out.

“What I see generally happening is the desire of specific jurisdictions to impose their laws on search engines within their territory,” claimed attorney with Morris, Polich & Purdy Timothy J. Toohey. “That is a general trend and one that those who believe in the internet as a free form of communication across boundaries are distressed about.”

 

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DARPA Seeks Brain-Computer Link

DARPA Seeks Brain-Computer Link

DARPA (The United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) announced last week that it hopes to create a way to build a direct connection between the human brain and a computer.

brain computer linkThe program has been titled the Neural Engineering System Design program and its leaders have invited researchers to submit proposals for how best to design, build, demonstrate and validate a human-computer link that would record the activity of over 1 million neurons and stimulate more than 100 thousand neurons in the brain.

The NESD hopes to engineer an interface that can perform continuous, simultaneous full-duplex interaction with at least 1,000 neurons. This project would initially focus on regions in the human auditory, visual and somatosensory cortex.

DARPA has stated that devices that yield from NESD would likely be used to compensate for sight or hearing deficits. However, considering there is a very hushed race towards the advancement of killer robots controlled at a distance by soldiers, one can only imagine where any successfully developed neuro-computer interface would sprout up within the defense sector.

The NESD project also brings to mind the notorious 2045 Initiative, a transhumanist aspiration that refers to the attempt to make it possible for human beings to upload their consciousness to the cloud by 2045. Integral to this success would be the in-depth mapping of the brain and its neural activities, which would then need to be recreated digitally. The $60 million that DARPA is offering for multiple quality NESD proposals will likely make that initiative more sought after than ever, though that doesn’t mean that it is more likely.

brain compute rlink2Several technologists and philosophers have stated their doubts about the ability to fully map and digitize the human brain to the point that there could be a fluid connection between a brain and a computer. The successful creation of this connection would necessitate that the indecipherable code of non-linear movements of billions of neurons be accurately mapped and recreated.

DARPA has stated that the proposals it will choose will be innovative as opposed to incremental, and that the device created should measure one cubic centimeter and perform the read, write and full-duplex functions stated earlier. They must also be secure from spoofing, tampering, and attacks from hackers. They must be able to work without external links or connectors for powering of facilitating communications with computers, and their hardware components must be modular.

So what’s the rationale behind asking for such an insane and potentially impossible task to be performed?

“The brain is probably the last medical threshold we haven’t been able to cross with medical devices,” explained the global director of visionary healthcare at Frost & Sullivan, Venkat Rajan. “Treating a lot of degenerative disorders- whether related to pain, Parkinson’s disease, mental health, or vision problems- with drugs hasn’t necessarily always worked… The brain is just a circuit, and if you can interfere with it with microelectronics and address issues, that can be a significant improvement in the quality of life.”

The “brain is just a circuit” philosophy certainly does imply that such technology is just a research assignment from being deciphered, but believers that consciousness may just be a little more complicated than that will likely not hold their breath for DARPA’s project to come through.

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Security Flaw Surfaces in Blackphone

Security Flaw Surfaces in Blackphone

Sentinel One security researchers recently uncovered a major security flaw in the Blackphone, a member of Android’s supposedly highly secure Silent Circle smartphone line. The line was developed and marketed in response to the growing news of increased government surveillance of consumers’ private communications. The phones have been taking preorders since 2014.

The flaw involved a socket which allowed attackers to potentially take over and control communications on the device. “Despite best attempts, a severe zero day remained undetected for nearly a year before we uncovered it,” explained Tim Strazzere.

Silent Circle logo. (PRNewsFoto/Silent Circle)

Despite the irony of the device’s vulnerability, there is little to no evidence that any exploitation of the zero day had occurred before the researchers discovered it. This is in part due to the fact that the open socket is accessible on the Nvidia Icera modem, which is a “fairly obscure” device used only by the Nvidia Shield tablet and some devices in India. Hackers would have to know about not only the new phone but the obscure modem, limiting the amount of people with the technological know-how likely to discover the issue on their own.

Sentinel One discovered the vulnerability during a reverse engineering exercise it uses to prepare training groups for a Red Naga training session.

That said, attackers that know what they’re looking for could create an application that exploits the vulnerability, allowing them to send and receive texts, dial or connect calls, and change settings without the user’s knowledge.

Upon being notified of the vulnerability by SentinelOne, Silent Circle confirmed and the issue and patched it up.

But how did this issue slip past Silent Circle manufacturers?

“It’s possible the socket was led open for debugging purposes in preproduction and was mistakenly left that way in production devices,” speculated Strazzere.

sentinal oneAlmost all mobile makers use third-party technology, and their hardware and software components “are part of the supply chain for mobile device manufacturers and represent a significant risk,” according to Tripwire director of IT security and risk strategy Tim Erlin. Erlin claims that providing security assurance for both hardware and software “has really been limited to high-level government equipment, so there are few assurance operations [for] the consumer goods market.”

In other words, because third-party providers have to be granted access to privileged information regarding internal infrastructure and sensitive data, mass-producing highly secure devices becomes a lot harder; it’s much easier for information regarding how the devices are kept secure and what vulnerabilities the devices might have to be leaked.

One potential solution was offered by Istvan Svabo, the product manager at BalaBit. He believes that if all activities that occur when third parties access internal systems are monitored, security issues could be avoided.

The monitoring “gives the movie device producer the ability to detect and immediately terminate sessions if something suspicious occurs… and provides important evidence to help investigations should an incident occur,” he explained.

Another option could involve utilizing a behavioral-based technology used to detect, prevent, and remediate against attacks. SentinelOne uses the technology already and recommends it to device manufacturers concerned with maintaining security.

 

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