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Friday Morning: It’s Five Somewhere

This week has been really long. Painfully dragged out. Mid-week snowstorm probably didn’t help. But here we are, survivors with another week and yet another Presidential campaign debate under our belts.

I’ll keep it short and snappy given how much ugly we’ve been through.

Your information security is only as good as the stupidest person on staff
“Hello, FBI? I’m new here and I don’t have my code. Can you help a girl out?” No joke, that’s about all it took for one unnamed hacktivist to get inside the FBI. And yet the FBI demands backdoors into all mobile devices. I can’t even…

Meet your new immortal overlord: Your self-driving car
This first graf scares the crap out of me:

The computer algorithms that pilot self-driving cars may soon be considered the functional equivalents of human drivers. That’s the early opinion of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration—and so begins our slow-burn acquiescence in the battle of man versus machine.

And not even for the reasons that PC World’s editor-in-chief Jon Phillips outlines in his editorial. If a governmental agency recognizes an algorithm as equal to a human, how long before humans are actually subordinate to artificial intelligence?  It’s bad enough corporations — legal constructs — have nearly the same rights as humans and can live forever. This needs to die on the vine right now — especially since Google is ramping up hiring for its line of self-driving cars.

Speaking of Google…

Busy week on Zika front

Media commentator Douglas Rushkoff interviewed on digital society

You left Facebook in 2013. How is that working out for you?

Professionally, I’m thinking it may be good for one’s career and business to be off social media altogether. Chris Anderson was wrong. “Free” doesn’t lead to anything but more free. Working for free isn’t leverage to do a talk for loads of money; now they even want you to talk for free. What am I supposed to do? Join YouTube and get three cents for every 100,000 views of my video? That is crap; that is insane! …

A worthwhile read, give it a whirl when the dust begins to settle.

Here’s hoping the weekend moves as slowly as this week did. Huli pau!

Tuesday Morning: Wow, You Survived Business Day 1

The post-holiday season debris field continues to thin out, making its way by the truckful to the landfill. I wonder how much oil the season’s plastic wrappings consumed.

Here’s what the trash man left behind this morning.

Hackers caused power outage — the first of its kind?
Marcy’s already posted about the electrical power disruption in Ukraine this past week, labeled by some as the first known hacker-caused outage. I find the location of this malware-based outage disturbing due to its location in western Ukraine. Given the level of tensions with Russia along the eastern portion of the country, particularly near Donetsk over the past couple of years, an outage in the west seems counterintuitive if the hackers were motivated by Ukraine-Russian conflict.

And hey, look, the hackers may have used backdoors! Hoocudanode hackers would use backdoors?!

Fortunately, one government is clued in: the Dutch grok the risks inherent in government-mandated backdoors and are willing to support better encryption.

‘Netflix and chill’ in a new Volvo
I’ve never been offered a compelling case for self-driving cars. Every excuse offered — like greater fuel efficiency and reduced traffic jams — only make greater arguments for more and better public transportation.

The latest excuse: watching streaming video while not-driving is Volvo’s rationalization for developing automotive artificial intelligence.

I’m not alone in my skepticism. I suspect Isaac Asimov is rolling in his grave.

US Govt sues pollution-cheater VW — while GOP Congress seeks bailout for VW
WHAT?! Is this nuts or what? A foreign car company deliberately broke U.S. laws, damaging the environment while lying to consumers and eating into U.S.-made automotive market share. The Environmental Protection Agency filed suit against Volkswagen for its use of illegal emissions control defeat systems. The violation of consumers’ trust has yet to be addressed.

Thank goodness for the GOP-led House, which stands ready to offer a freaking bailout to a lying, cheating foreign carmaker which screwed the American public. Yeah, that’ll fix everything.

Remember conservatives whining about bailing out General Motors during 2008’s financial crisis? All of them really need a job working for VW.

Massive data breach affecting 191 million voters — and nobody wants to own up to the database problem
An infosec researcher disclosed last week a database containing records on 191 million voters was exposed. You probably heard about this already and shrugged, because data breaches happen almost daily now. No big deal, right?

Except that 191 million voters is more than the number of people who cast a vote in 2012 or even 2008 presidential elections. This database must represent more than a couple election cycles of voter data because of its size — and nobody’s responding appropriately to the magnitude of the problem.

Nobody’s owning up to the database or the problem, either.

Here’s a novel idea: perhaps Congress, instead of bailing out lying, cheating foreign automakers, ought to spend their time investigating violations of voters’ data — those folks that put them in office?

Any member of Congress not concerned about this breach should also avoid bitching about voter fraud, because hypocrisy. Ditto the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Whew, there it is, another mark on the 2016 resolution checklist. Have you checked anything off your list yet? Fess up.

Should David Petraeus Be Replaced With a Computer?

Today’s Washington Post brings an update on the work being done by the Pentagon to develop artificial intelligence to the point that a drone can be automated in its decision on whether to kill.  The article points out that currently, when the CIA is making kill decisions on drone missions, that decision falls to the director, a position recently taken over by retired General David Petraeus.  In other words, then, the project appears to be an effort to develop a computer that can replace David Petraeus in decision-making.

Of course, this prospect raises many issues:

The prospect of machines able to perceive, reason and act in unscripted environments presents a challenge to the current understanding of international humanitarian law. The Geneva Conventions require belligerents to use discrimination and proportionality, standards that would demand that machines distinguish among enemy combatants, surrendering troops and civilians.

More potential problems:

Some experts also worry that hostile states or terrorist organizations could hack robotic systems and redirect them. Malfunctions also are a problem: In South Africa in 2007, a semiautonomous cannon fatally shot nine friendly soldiers.

The article notes that in response to issues surrounding the development of autonomy for weapons systems, a group calling itself the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) has been formed.  On the ICRAC website, we see this mission statement:

Given the rapid pace of development of military robotics and the pressing dangers that these pose to peace and international security and to civilians in war, we call upon the international community to urgently commence a discussion about an arms control regime to reduce the threat posed by these systems.

We propose that this discussion should consider the following:

  • Their potential to lower the threshold of armed conflict;
  • The prohibition of the development, deployment and use of armed autonomous unmanned systems; machines should not be allowed to make the decision to kill people;
  • Limitations on the range and weapons carried by “man in the loop” unmanned systems and on their deployment in postures threatening to other states;
  • A ban on arming unmanned systems with nuclear weapons;
  • The prohibition of the development, deployment and use of robot space weapons.

 

In the end, the argument comes down to whether one believes that computer technology can be developed to the point at which it can operate in the war theater with autonomy.  The article cites experts on both sides of the issue.  On the positive side is Ronald C. Arkin, whose work is funded by the Army Research Office.  Believing the issues can all be addressed, Arkin is quoted as saying “Lethal autonomy is inevitable.”

 

On the negative side of the argument is Johann Borenstein, head of the Mobile Robotics Lab at the University of Michigan.  Borenstein notes that commercial and university laboratories have been working on the issue for over 20 years, and yet no autonomy is possible yet in the field.  He ascribes this deficiency as due to the inability to put common sense into computers: “Robots don’t have common sense and won’t have common sense in the next 50 years, or however long one might want to guess.”

 

As HAL said in 2001: A Space Odyssey: “Dave, I’m scared.”