Why I use Linux

Linux can be a pain sometimes, and it requires a bit more hands-on work by the user to make it function, but overall in the ten years since I abandoned Windows and switched to Linux (first with the Debian operating system and now with Kubuntu) I have found my work on my computer to be far more satisfying and successful. I can mostly get things done the way I like to do them, not as dictated by some software geek working at Microsoft’s headquarters.

Which is why this story interested me: “I thought my daughter clicked on ransomware – it was the damn Windows 10 installer.” It describes a number of stories where Windows 10 took control of a person’s computer and imposed an upgrade, against their will.

This story, among many others, only confirmed for me that my decision in 2006 was a wise one. I will never return to Windows, and if I was certain that computer projectors could read Linux laptops I’d switch the laptop to Linux as well.

It is just a shame however that so many people still stick with Windows, as it often makes doing their work difficult, if not impossible. When a product doesn’t work for you, you find another product. That’s how freedom and competition work.

What next for the computer Go program?

Link here.

The software uses neural networks to learn from experience. For example, to train for its Go match the computer program studied 30 million Go board positions from human games, then played itself again and again to improve its skills.

DeepMind’s founder and chief executive Demis Hassabis mentioned the possibility of training a version of AlphaGo using self-play alone, omitting the knowledge from human-expert games, at a conference last month. The firm created a program that learned to play less complex arcade games in this manner in 2015. Without a head start, AlphaGo would probably take much longer to learn, says Bengio — and might never beat the best human. But it’s an important step, he says, because humans learn with such little guidance.

DeepMind, based in London, also plans to venture beyond games. In February the company founded DeepMind Health and launched a collaboration with the UK National Health Service: its algorithms could eventually be applied to clinical data to improve diagnoses or treatment plans. Such applications pose different challenges from games, says Oren Etzioni, chief executive of the non-profit Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Seattle, Washington. “The universal thing about games is that you can collect an arbitrary amount of data,” he says — and that the program is constantly getting feedback on what’s a good or bad move by playing many games. But, in the messy real world, data — on rare diseases, say — might be scarcer, and even with common diseases, labelling the consequences of a decision as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ may not be straightforward.

Hassabis has said that DeepMind’s algorithms could give smartphone personal assistants a deeper understanding of users’ requests. And AI researchers see parallels between human dialogue and games: “Each person is making a play, and we have a sequence of turns, and each of us has an objective,” says Bengio. But they also caution that language and human interaction involve a lot more uncertainty.

It’s a sweep!

Google’s AlphaGo computer program today completed a three game sweep of Go professional champion Lee Sedol.

This might be the best quote from the article:

The algorithm seems to be holding back its power. Sometimes it plays moves that lose material because it is seeking simply to maximise its probability of reaching winning positions, rather than — as human players tend to do — maximise territorial gains. Jackson thinks that some of these odd-looking moves may have fooled Lee into underestimating the machine’s skills at the beginning of game 1 — which, I suppose, makes AlphaGo a kind of computerized hustler.

Computer program learns and then wins at Go

A computer program, dubbed AlphaGo, has successfully beaten a professional player of Go for the first time.

What is significant however is the method used by that computer program to win:

The IBM chess computer Deep Blue, which famously beat grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1997, was explicitly programmed to win at the game. But AlphaGo was not preprogrammed to play Go: rather, it learned using a general-purpose algorithm that allowed it to interpret the game’s patterns, in a similar way to how a DeepMind program learned to play 49 different arcade games2.

This means that similar techniques could be applied to other AI domains that require recognition of complex patterns, long-term planning and decision-making, says Hassabis. “A lot of the things we’re trying to do in the world come under that rubric.” Examples are using medical images to make diagnoses or treatment plans, and improving climate-change models.

If computer programs are now successfully able to learn and adapt it means that it will become increasingly difficult to distinguish between those programs and actual humans.

Hackers demonstrate they can remotely take over moving vehicle

Does this make you feel safer? In a demonstration of the vulnerability of modern cars that are linked to the internet, two hackers took over the operation of an unmodified moving Jeep Cherokee.

A pair of Missouri-based hackers have put on an extraordinary demonstration by logging into a Jeep Cherokee remotely, while it was being driven by a Wired reporter Andy Greenberg, and systematically taking over the car’s functionality. First, they hit him with cold air through the air-con system, then they blasted Kanye West through the stereo at full volume, rendering the volume knob completely useless. They flashed up a picture of themselves on the car’s console and set the windscreen wipers going full blast, squirting cleaning fluid onto the windscreen and making it difficult to see.

But these were just warmups to the main event – next, they took over the engine and shut it off completely, leaving the driver powerless and coasting on the freeway as traffic flashed past around him. Then, once he was off the highway, they showed how they could completely disable the brakes, and take over the steering of the car – only at slow speeds and in reverse, but they’re working on unlocking new abilities every day.

This suggests to me that linking any car directly to the internet is probably a very bad idea.

$4.4 billion for 2,000 IRS hard drive crashes.

After spending $4.4 billion on its computers during the Obama administration, the IRS still had over 2,000 hard drive crashes in 2014.

IRS commissioner John Koskinen used the 2,000 crashes as an argument that the crash of Lois Lerner’s hard drive was not that unusual, and that their aging equipment made backup difficult. To me, it suggests that the people at this agency are either gross incompetents, or even more corrupt than I thought.

Because you see, with that many crashes, the IRS made the one obvious decision anyone with any brains would immediately make in that situation: They canceled the contract with their email backup service.

NASA and one of its major IT contractors have both screwed up badly, according to a new Inspector General report.

It ain’t just the Obamacare website: NASA and one of its major IT contractors have both screwed up badly, according to a new inspector general report.

According to [the inspector general], NASA and HP Enterprise Services have encountered significant problems implementing the $2.5 billion Agency Consolidated End-User Services (ACES) contract, which provides desktops, laptops, computer equipment and end-user services such as help desk and data backup. Those problems include “a failed effort to replace most NASA employees’ computers within the first six months and low customer satisfaction.”

But don’t worry. NASA’s management, the same management that is building the James Webb Space Telescope and the Space Launch System, is right on the case.

Computer researchers have found that the microprocessor used by the U.S. military but made in China contains secret remote access capability.

You can’t make this stuff up: Computer researchers have found that the microprocessor used by the U.S. military but made in China contains secret remote access capability.

The unnamed chip, which the researchers claim is widely used in military and industrial applications, is “wide open to intellectual property theft, fraud and reverse engineering of the design to allow the introduction of a backdoor or Trojan”, they said. … The “bug” is in the actual chip itself, rather than the firmware installed on the devices that use it. This means there is no way to fix it than to replace the chip altogether.

How stupid can our government be to buy microprocessors from the Chinese, a country that is definitely not our friend? Pretty stupid, it appears.

The 3D printer that can build a house

The 3D printer that can build a house.

The D-Shape is potentially capable of printing a two story building – complete with stairs, partition walls, columns, domes, and piping cavities – using only ordinary sand and an inorganic binder. The resulting material is said to be indistinguishable from marble, and exhibits the same physical properties, with durability highly superior to that of masonry and reinforced concrete.

The building process is very close to what we’d expect of a huge 3D printer. A nozzle moves along a pre-programmed path, extruding a liquid adhesive compound on a bed of sand with a solid catalyst mixed in. The binding agent reacts with the catalyst, and the solidifying process begins. Meanwhile, the remaining sand serves to support the structure. Then, another layer of sand is added and the whole process is repeated. Since it’s computer assisted, no specialist knowledge is required to use the printer. All that’s needed is a CAD design file.

Two hacker attacks of American climate satellites in the past four years

A congressional report today revealed that two American climate satellites were attacked by hackers in the past four years.

In October 2007 and July 2008, a NASA-managed Landsat-7 satellite experienced 12 or more minutes of interference, and a Terra AM-1 satellite was disrupted for two minutes in June 2008 and again that October for nine minutes, according to Bloomberg Businessweek’s analysis of the annual report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The report says the hackers gained access to the satellites — both are used for Earth climate and terrain monitoring — through the Svalbard Satellite Station in Spitsbergen, Norway. It’s believed the attackers may have hijacked the Internet connection at the Norway ground station to interfere with the operation of the satellites.

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