s2e09: The Puppyslugs; Car Phishing; 24th Century Procurement 

by danhon

0.0 Sitrep

I slept for like 13 hours yesterday. And my neck still aches.

1.0 The Puppyslugs

Boris Anthony (ex-Nokia HERE, ex Dopplr) recently wrote a piece called Puppyslugs ‘R Us: Part 0[1], a story about how he got a stupid (as in: not very clever) email from Xing, a European clone of LinkedIn and turning it into reminding us that a) algorithms aren’t smart – they’re just a set of instructions – and b) that if you’re going to try to do something smart, or even more simplistically, if you’re going to try to do something that might be perceived as smart, you should probably try to be at least as smart as a puppy[1, 2, 3]. *Especially* if there are other things out there that *are* at least as smart as a puppy – or recognisable as “smart” which would, in comparison, make your thing look stupid.

If I’m reading Anthony right (and I’m waiting on tenterhooks for Part 1 of this continuing Puppyslugs universe), he’s calling us to account for a) the dumb-as-sack-of-nails puppies that we’re designing and unleashing into the world while at the same time recognizing – maybe? – the slugs that our deep dreaming convolutional/recurrent neural nets are busy producing for us.

Anthony talks about three things: situational awareness, perfect memory and contextual relevance. My understanding of what Anthony’s talking about is, depending on where you sit on those three axes, you really need to figure out what it is you want your algorithmic puppy to be doing, and whether that puppy is going to go out into the world and have a clearly discernable goal that others will be able to figure out from its behaviour, and then, that it won’t be, well, dumb-as-a-sack-of-nails when or if it fails to achieve that goal. But actually, I don’t know. Hopefully this will just make it more likely he’ll have written the next piece of the Puppyslug Manifesto by the time you read this.

(Meanwhile, I am reading about how to seed a recurrent neural network with my entire newsletter writing output so I can go off and live a life of leisure while my laptop writes for me[4].)

[0] Puppyslugs ‘R Us: Part 0 — Medium – Boris Anthony
[1] Gardens and Zoos – Blog – BERG – Matt Jones
[2] B.A.S.A.A.P. – Blog – BERG – Still Jones
[3] Artificial Empathy – Blog – BERG – All Hail Jones
[4] The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Recurrent Neural Networks – Andrej Karpathy

2.0 Car Phishing

Tom Cross quipped on Twitter[0] that:

If you receive a USB key in the mail from your automaker, its totally legit. Plug it into your car right away.

Which is the observation that now that software has invaded our cars to a sufficient degree, we now have a brand new way to social engineer people into plugging random USB sticks into things. OK, so for this one, you probably need a signed file on the USB stick from Fiat/Chrysler for the car to, er, execute it, but there’s nothing from stopping someone from *in principle* figuring out a whole bunch of people who have use the applicable Chrysler cars and sending a keylogger or backdoor to them on a USB stick and asking them to plug it into their computer first. Because that’s a thing that will just happen now.

[0] Tom Cross on Twitter: “If you receive a USB key in the mail from your automaker, its totally legit. Plug it into your car right away. https://t.co/ytjfAOrIBg”

3.0 24th Century Procurement

Two things, one a bit silly and the second one a bit less silly. The first: I’m re-reading the Star Trek: Next Generation Technical Manual[0, 1], and there were a couple of things that jumped out at me:

a) the Galaxy-class NCC-1701 Enterprise-D was designed using a waterfall method (ie: someone at Star Fleet wrote down a bunch of requirements and transmitted them over subspace to Utopia Planitia or the Bureau of Space Ship Design) and it took YEARS for it/them to get built;

b) Star Fleet Procurement – which DOES exist and IS a thing *because it’s in the manual and I don’t care what you say about canon* – made an initial order for 6 Galaxy Class wessels with an OPTION for 6 more and I don’t even.

So: let’s just stop pretending that TNG is some sort of post-money socialist utopia because it really, really isn’t and there really is an Admiral somewhere over in Starfleet who’s like: hm, how many ships should we order this year, can we afford that?

The second thing: I continue to be thinking about how governments buy technology and the plan is to have something to show for it sometime soon. Needless to say that there are little bits and pieces that teams can do to improve how they use technology in general, but when you get people asking why the US Federal government can’t build websites[2] (it demonstrably can, in places, and it is, in the words of the Pythons, “getting better”), but some of the big bits are that government needs to give a shit about it (ie: make digital by default a priority) and the rest of the points are fine but they don’t really say what might be impolitic to say, which is that: people who know how to deliver technology should probably be put in charge of how technology is delivered and what it’s used for.

[0] Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[1] Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual – Amazon
[2] Why can’t Washington build a website?

That’s enough for today.