Increasing Understanding of Technology and Communication

AI: We’re Children Playing with a Bomb (1 of 4)

Playing-with-a-Bomb-1

You’ll find the Future of Humanity Institute down a medieval backstreet in the center of Oxford. It is beside St Ebbe’s church, which has stood on this site since 1005, and above a Pure Gym, which opened in April. The institute, a research faculty of Oxford University, was established a decade ago to ask the very biggest questions on our behalf. Notably: what exactly are the “existential risks” that threaten the future of our species; how do we measure them; and what can we do to prevent them? Or to put it another way: in a world of multiple fears, what precisely should we be most terrified of?

When I arrive to meet the director of the institute, Professor Nick Bostrom, a bed is being delivered to the second-floor office. Existential risk is a round-the-clock kind of operation; it sleeps fitfully, if at all.

Bostrom, a 43-year-old Swedish-born philosopher, has lately acquired something of the status of prophet of doom among those currently doing most to shape our civilization: the tech billionaires of Silicon Valley. His reputation rests primarily on his book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, which was a surprise New York Times bestseller last year and now arrives in paperback, trailing must-read recommendations from Bill Gates and Tesla’s Elon Musk. (In the best kind of literary review, Musk also gave Bostrom’s institute £1m to continue to pursue its inquiries.)

The book is a lively, speculative examination of the singular threat that Bostrom believes – after years of calculation and argument – to be the one most likely to wipe us out. This threat is not climate change, nor pandemic, nor nuclear winter; it is the possibly imminent creation of a general machine intelligence greater than our own.

The cover of Bostrom’s book is dominated by a mad-eyed, pen-and-ink picture of an owl, drawn by the philosopher himself. The owl is the subject of the book’s opening parable. A group of sparrows are building their nests. “We are all so small and weak,” tweets one, feebly. “Imagine how easy life would be if we had an owl who could help us build our nests!” There is general twittering agreement among sparrows everywhere; an owl could defend the sparrows! It could look after their old and their young! It could allow them to live a life of leisure and prosperity! With these fantasies in mind, the sparrows can hardly contain their excitement and fly off in search of the swivel-headed savior who will transform their existence.

There is only one voice of dissent: “Scronkfinkle, a one-eyed sparrow with a fretful temperament, was unconvinced of the wisdom of the endeavor. Quote he: ‘This will surely be our undoing. Should we not give some thought to the art of owl-domestication and owl-taming first, before we bring such a creature into our midst?’” His warnings, inevitably, fall on deaf sparrow ears. Owl-taming would be complicated; why not get the owl first and work out the fine details later? Bostrom’s book, which is a shrill alarm call about the darker implications of artificial intelligence, is dedicated to Scronkfinkle.

Bostrom articulates his own warnings in a suitably fretful manner. He has a reputation for obsessiveness and for workaholism; he is slim, pale and semi-nocturnal, often staying in the office into the early hours. Not surprisingly, perhaps, for a man whose days are dominated by whiteboards filled with formulae expressing the relative merits of 57 varieties of apocalypse, he appears to leave as little as possible to chance. In place of meals he favors a green-smoothie elixir involving vegetables, fruit, oat milk and whey powder. Other interviewers have remarked on his avoidance of handshakes to guard against infection. He does proffer a hand to me, but I have the sense he is subsequently isolating it to disinfect when I have gone. There is, perhaps as a result, a slight impatience about him, which he tries hard to resist.

In his book he talks about the “intelligence explosion” that will occur when machines much cleverer than us begin to design machines of their own. “Before the prospect of an intelligence explosion, we humans are like small children playing with a bomb,” he writes. “We have little idea when the detonation will occur, though if we hold the device to our ear we can hear a faint ticking sound.” Talking to Bostrom, you have a feeling that for him that faint ticking never completely goes away.

“Machine learning and deep learning [the pioneering ‘neural’ computer algorithms that most closely mimic human brain function] have over the last few years moved much faster than people anticipated,” he says. “That is certainly one of the reasons why this has become such a big topic just now. People can see things moving forward in the technical field, and they become concerned about what next.”

Read Article (Tim Adams | theguardian.com | 06/12/2016)

Since the evolution Artificial Intelligence is being driven by business interests the public must be vigilant and inquisitive about its progress. This process requires the public to monitor these activities, just in case we need to intervene.

But Technology, in all its wonder, will continue to evolve, with or without you. Which is to say, everyone should also evolve their tech skills. If for no other reason, just so you are aware of the world around you and how to take advantage of Technologies benefits.

Some of these benefits are quickly becoming standards and if you’re not in the know you could be at a disadvantage, such as jobs. Please support our efforts so we can assist in improving your tech skills.

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Why Smart Homes Are Still a Dumb Idea

Smart-Homes

In the wake of the resignation of Tony Faddell, the founder of smart thermostat maker Nest, the future is looking cloudy not only for the smart thermostat maker, but the broader smart home business as well.

Nest, after all, was supposed to be the trailblazer that led us to the smart home revolution. When Google put down $3.2 billion to buy it in 2014, it appeared to make sense -- Google was already running much of our online lives, and this would give the company a way to run our offline lives as well. (Or, I suppose more accurately, make our offline lives become part of our online lives.) The charismatic Fadell seemed to be the right pioneer, given his product experience at Apple, which he could apply to Google’s more open computing vision.

But Nest proved to be a less-than-ideal poster child.

It was slow to put out products. When it did, it wasn’t always a success. The company’s Nest Protect smoke alarm hit early problems that required the company to disable its most innovative feature -- the ability to wave your hand under the detector to stop the alarm. (It was a particularly attractive feature for bad or at least smoke-heavy cooks.)

The company also fielded very public complaints about faulty software that, as the New York Times reported, literally left people in the cold. Then, earlier this year, Nest announced that it would stop supporting the Revolv, a smart home hub that it acquired along with a smart appliance firm of the same name in 2014.

All of these developments served, in some capacity, to highlight problems consumers are having with the smart home market. It sounds pretty great to have thermostats, light bulbs, ovens and security systems that anticipate our every move. The reality has been something less wonderful -- a fractured market of occasionally buggy appliances that work with some, but not all, of the systems out there.

And, perhaps most tellingly, despite the public problems Nest was facing, no single company has positioned itself as an alternative.

So beyond the early adopters, consumers right now are having some trouble getting aboard the smart home express. For people who don’t have the time to sort out whether their light bulb will talk to their smart speaker -- and to come up with passwords for all those accounts -- the smart home still seems to be part of a fictional "Jetsons"-esque future.

A survey from the consulting firm Accenture found early this year that some people had actually abandoned their smart home appliances. Many said they were worried about what implications having smart devices held for their privacy and security. They added they were particularly worried about getting hacked -- an understandable concern if you’re trusting, say, a smart security camera with your safety.

Others had a much more prosaic, but no less troubling concern: they found the set-up process too complicated. For most people, having to find out if your lightbulb will work when you hit your digital switch is too much of a hassle -- particularly when you have a reliable low-tech alternative. Add in the worry that any device you bought could become a paperweight two years later because the company’s no longer supporting it? That makes it seem hardly worth it to invest in the system at all.

The smart home market is certainly still promising -- but that, by definition, means it’s an area with its fullest potential ahead of it. Amazon’s Echo, the forthcoming Google Home, and the rumored “Siri-in-a-box” are all appealing because of what they could do down the line -- act as the personal concierge that can follow you from your home to your car to your workplace.

But right now, these home hubs feel like a novelty rather than an essential part of our lives. And without firms such as Nest pushing those developments, hubs lose a great deal of appeal. Even the greatest hub needs spokes.

That’s particularly true if the intelligent voice assistants that power those hubs make their way into our smartphones. If Siri-in-a-box can do everything Siri-in-my-smartphone can do, there’s no real reason to buy it. Sure, maybe Google Home can buy me movie tickets, but I’m not going to buy a separate appliance if my smartphone -- which is also sitting on my kitchen counter -- can do the same. The added appeal of the home hub, at least for me, is as a way to set up and control my appliances and not have to clutter my phone up with an app for every single appliance.

Nest and Google had a shared vision of making not just an innovative product, but an innovative network that could support a number of appliances to make our lives better. That’s an appealing vision. But, right now, it’s one in need of a new banner carrier.

Read Article (Hayley Tsukayama | domain | 06/06/2016)

Unfortunately, visions of the Smart Home that media has shown us seems to be great in theory but not so much in reality. At least not for the near future.

But that does not mean society shouldn’t prepare for it. Less than half our population is tech savvy enough to benefit from such a home. But that time is coming and we should help one-another gain the skills to benefit from new technology. Please support our efforts to do just that.

Our instructional webinars are the long-term solution for addressing device usage, and we need your support.

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Facebook & Google Battle Latest FBI Challenge

Latest-FBI-Attempt

Now the FBI wants access to your web browsing history as they continue efforts to expand surveillance. The FBI and Silicon Valley are in a fight over whether web browsing records are the same as telephone bill records.

The latest surveillance battle gripping the technology industry is focused on a rewrite of US surveillance law that would mean the justice department would be able to access a citizen’s web browsing history, location data and some email records without approval from a judge using a so-called “national security letters” (NSLs).

The FBI contends that such data is covered implicitly under current statute, which was written years ago and only explicitly covers data normally associated with telephone records.

Director James Comey now is lobbying Congress to make clear it also applies to the digital equivalent.

Late on Monday, major technology companies including Google, Facebook and Yahoo sent a letter warning Congress that they would oppose any efforts to rewrite law in the FBI’s favor.

“This expansion of the NSL statute has been characterized by some government officials as merely fixing a ‘typo’ in the law,” the companies wrote. “In reality, however, it would dramatically expand the ability of the FBI to get sensitive information about users’ online activities without court oversight.”

It marks another battle over a small clause in federal law that could dramatically affect how the US conducts terrorism investigations. For years, the bureau has relied on the controversial national security letters to obtain certain types of data quickly from technology companies. These letters don’t require a warrant and often come with a gag order prohibiting the recipients from discussing them. Technology companies complain the FBI has become too reliant on them, but the FBI complains that cases are getting slowed down because some companies have stopped cooperating.

It’s not so much that technology companies don’t want to give any user data to the government. Rather, their legal teams have problems with the growth of national security letters because the accompanying gag orders prevent companies from telling users much about how they help the government. This can create mistrust and, as happened after the Edward Snowden leaks, eventual embarrassment if the details are disclosed.

Companies also argue NSLs are problematic because of the lack of judicial oversight. They give too much power to one branch of government, they argue, and make it hard to predict what the government may ask for next.

Comey has said expanding NSL rules is one of his agencies top legislative priorities. US senators are exploring multiple ways to pass the law tweak this year.

Technology and legal experts also dispute Comey’s argument that he effectively is asking Congress to correct a typo. In 2008, the justice department’s office of legal counsel said explicitly that the agency can only issue national security letters for “name, address, length of service, and local and long distance toll billing records”.

At the time, the government had asked DoJ’s lawyer if those four types of data are “exhaustive or merely illustrative of the information that the FBI may request and a provider may turn over”.

To which the office of legal counsel responded: “We conclude that the list ... is exhaustive.”

Read Article (Danny Yadron | theguardian.com | 06/07/2016)

How important is your browsing history to the law? Federal Prosecutors have Claimed that Clearing Browser History is an Obstruction of Justice. Negligent Mom’s Browser History Admissible in court.

Knowing how to fully utilize the constantly evolving devices that connect to it and the Internet itself, is an issue just as important as Internet access if not more.  Our instructional webinars are the long-term solution for addressing device usage, and we need your support.

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Is Our Existence Someone Else’s Video Game?

Our-Existence

Elon Musk Thinks That Our Existence Is Someone Else’s Video Game, “There’s a one in billions chance that this is base reality.”

Obviously, Elon Musk must have taken the red pill.

The eccentric tech mogul made plenty of bold claims during Recode’s annual Code Conference on Wednesday — including that we’ll put humans on Mars by 2025 — but this one takes the cake: Musk believes that our very existence is quite possibly an elaborate computer simulation with great graphics.

Essentially, he thinks that our technology is evolving at such a rate that the line between virtual and base reality will soon cease to exist. Fair. Given our already blurry reality, Musk says, who’s to say humanity hasn’t already reached that level of tech, and is now running simulations of past civilizations that are indistinguishable from base reality?

Who’s to say we aren’t one of those simulations?

“There’s a one in billions chance that this is base reality,” Musk said.

Vox relayed his argument:

The strongest argument for us being in a simulation probably is the following. Forty years ago we had pong. Like, two rectangles and a dot. That was what games were.

Now, 40 years later, we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously, and it’s getting better every year. Soon we’ll have virtual reality, augmented reality.

If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, even if that rate of advancement drops by a thousand from what it is now. Then you just say, okay, let’s imagine it’s 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale.

So given that we’re clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set-top box or on a PC or whatever, and there would probably be billions of such computers or set-top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds that we’re in base reality is one in billions.

As outlandish as that might sound, Musk is really only continuing a conversation that we’re all having as tech brings us closer to alternate realities that are indistinguishable from “real life.”

Experts believe our technology is changing who we are, and soon we won’t know whether we’re talking to robots or humans. Plus, scientists have already hinted that our universe is one big ol’ hologram.

The simulation argument is nothing new, but Musk is good at making nerdy thought experiments go mainstream. But if we’re really just simulations, I’d rather be a dragon. Or Lara Croft. I wonder if the sweaty child running our simulation will make me famous? Make me a famous, child overlord!

Watch the discussion.

Read Article (Andy Campbell | huffingtonpost.com | 06/02/2016)

Is the Universe a simulation? Internet availability and access is important without a doubt, but knowing how to fully utilize the constantly evolving devices that connect to it and the Internet itself, is an issue just as important if not more.  Our instructional webinars are the long-term solution for addressing device usage, and we need your support.

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Windows 10 Tablets Just Don’t Cut It, 3 Reasons

Windows-10-Tablets

Microsoft needs to fix battery life, screen and app issues if Windows 10 tablets are to successfully compete on the same footing as Android or the iPad. Broadly speaking, if you’re after a tablet in 2016 you have three choices: Android, Apple’s iPad or Microsoft’s Windows 10 tablets.

While the first two are mobile born and bred, spawned from smartphone operating systems, Windows 10 comes from the other side of computing - the traditional desktop.

So-called two-in-one PCs, which are half tablet, half laptop, with the ability to transform in some fashion between the two, are about the only sector of PCs and tablets that’s growing. They seem like the perfect combination between a tablet and a computer without having to buy two devices.

Manufacturers such as Microsoft, Samsung and Huawei have started to make hardware that’s up to scratch with the best of Google and Apple. The Samsung TabPro S, which triggered this article, is a well built, snappy and attractive tablet. As a PC it is a great thin and light laptop replacement, but while Microsoft has made huge leaps with Windows 10’s look and feel there are still some big things holding its tablets back.

Some problems Microsoft can and should do something about, others aren’t that easy to fix.

The app gap

People talk about the “app gap” between Android and iOS – there are more tablet-specific apps for Apple’s iPad than there are for Android tablets – but Windows 10 is miles behind both of them.

I’m not talking about the sheer number of apps. Having the right apps available is much better than having many shoddy ones. I’m also not talking about the availability of Windows desktop apps, which is Microsoft’s ace in the hole compared to machines running Android or iOS.

It’s the third-party apps that make using a tablet fun and enjoyable that Windows 10 lacks. The classic example is video consumption apps. Netflix is available in the Windows Store, as is All 4 and Demand 5, which is good, but the BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and Amazon Prime video are not. To access those services, you’re forced back into the browser and a desktop-like experience.

The same hit-and-miss selection extends to almost all other app areas. There’s a Facebook app, but no Instagram one, a Kindle app, but no ComiXology or Marvel Unlimited. When it comes to music apps you’re forced to use Windows desktop apps from Spotify, iTunes and others in the browser.

When there are apps they aren’t updated in line with apps on other platforms - for example the Twitter app still hasn’t gotten built-in Giphy support. And while desktop apps are great when using a Windows device as a laptop, they’re just not a good experience on a touchscreen tablet.

Blurry mess

The desktop app situation is made worse by Microsoft’s poor handling of high-resolution screens. Five years ago a high resolution display provided increased screen real estate by making everything tiny. Today the density of screens has increased so that text, images and icons look pin-sharp, not microscopic in size.

Windows Store apps scale fine with crisp text on the good-looking screens tablets such as the Samsung TabPro S have. But Windows desktop apps often look like a blurry mess, simply magnified without increasing the pixel density. It’s a very poor experience, particularly on a tablet. It makes me actively avoid using desktop Windows apps, but it’s almost impossible to exclude them all in favor of Windows Store apps because of the app gap.

Apps and resolutions aside, the real big flaw for Windows 10 tablets is battery life. I’m not talking about active use battery life - I got a full day of work without plugging in the TabPro S - but standby time.

When you hit the power button to put an iPad or Android tablet running Marshmallow to sleep you can be sure when you come back a day later that it’ll still have charge. Time and time again I’ve put Windows 10 tablets to sleep over night only to find them dead by the morning.

Microsoft’s built-in battery saver mode helps, but Windows 10 needs much tighter control over the power state of the device when asleep, particularly when users expect an instant-on response when coming back to their tablets.

Both Android and iOS excel here. The iPad Pro lasts a week on standby, as does Google’s Pixel C. I’m lucky if I managed to get a day of standby out of the TabPro S, which has one of the longest battery lives of any Windows 10 tablet I have tested.

The tablet market is waning, 2-in-1s are rising and with them the use of Windows 10 on tablets. Microsoft has an excellent opportunity to claim back some share of the mobile market, but it needs to work hard to crush the problems and narrow the app gap. Windows 10 tablets could be amazing, and while the hardware is getting there, the software isn’t right now.

Read Article (Samuel Gibbs | theguardian.com | 05/30/2016)

I will really be glad when talk of cross platform replacement stops. A tablet can assist a laptop but never replace it, there are certain multitasking processes laptop do that tablets can’t. And keep in mind, both are evolving at the same pace. If you doubt this, ask some pro gamers.

In the 21st century, millions of people continue to struggle when using apps or operating systems while technology continues to advance at an exponential rate. Our instructional webinars are the long-term solution for addressing device usage, and we need your support.

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