12 September 2017

Co.Design: “A Simple Design Flaw makes it Astoundingly Easy to Hack Siri and Alexa”

Using a technique called the DolphinAttack, a team from Zhejiang University translated typical vocal commands into ultrasonic frequencies that are too high for the human ear to hear, but perfectly decipherable by the microphones and software powering our always-on voice assistants. This relatively simple translation process lets them take control of gadgets with just a few words uttered in frequencies none of us can hear.


In some cases, these attacks could only be made from inches away, though gadgets like the Apple Watch were vulnerable from within several feet. In that sense, it’s hard to imagine an Amazon Echo being hacked with DolphinAttack. An intruder who wanted to “open the backdoor” would already need to be inside your home, close to your Echo. But hacking an iPhone seems like no problem at all. A hacker would nearly need to walk by you in a crowd. They’d have their phone out, playing a command in frequencies you wouldn’t hear, and you’d have your own phone dangling in your hand. So maybe you wouldn’t see as Safari or Chrome loaded a site, the site ran code to install malware, and the contents and communications of your phone were open season for them to explore.

Mark Wilson

This ‘Voice UI’ just keeps getting better and better! Shouldn't voice assistants recognize the voice of their owner and respond only to commands coming from that specific person?

11 September 2017

The New York Times: “Silicon Valley’s Politics: Liberal, with One Big Exception”

The survey suggests a novel but paradoxical vision of the future of American politics: Technologists could help push lawmakers, especially Democrats, further to the left on many social and economic issues. But they may also undermine the influence of some of the Democrats’ most stalwart supporters, including labor unions. And they may strive to push Democrats away from regulation on business — including the growing calls for greater rules around the tech industry.

Over all, the study showed that tech entrepreneurs are very liberal — among some of the most left-leaning Democrats you can find. They are overwhelmingly in favor of economic policies that redistribute wealth, including higher taxes on rich people and lots of social services for the poor, including universal health care. Their outlook is cosmopolitan and globalist — they support free trade and more open immigration, and they score low on measures of “racial resentment”.


Now for the twist. The study found one area where tech entrepreneurs strongly deviate from Democratic orthodoxy and are closer to most Republicans: They are deeply suspicious of the government’s efforts to regulate business, especially when it comes to labor. They said that it was too difficult for companies to fire people, and that the government should make it easier to do so. They also hope to see the influence of both private and public-sector unions decline.

Farhad Manjoo

Hardly surprising, considering how the wealth and influence of most tech giants depend on massive scaling effects, which would be hindered by tighter government regulations – like for example the increased anticompetitive scrutiny in the EU.

AVC: “Store of Value vs Payment System”

I share these three transactions with all of you to make a point.

And that point is that you can’t keep spending something that goes up as much as Bitcoin has.

So I don’t spend Bitcoin anymore.

I hold it.

It’s a store of value now.

That much is clear.

Fred Wilson

If it doesn’t circulate anymore, then Bitcoin is failing as a payment system.

Not that it ever worked like a proper currency anyway.

10 September 2017

Walter Jon Williams – Hardwired

in Bucharest, Romania
Walter Jon Williams - Hardwired

În viitorul apropiat, marile corporații s‑au mutat în spațiu, declarându‑și apoi violent independența față de vechile structuri politice bombardând marile orașe cu fragmente de asteroizi. Și‑au asigurat astfel atât supremația economică, odată ce majoritatea producției fusese relocată în fabrici orbitale, cât și cea politică în vidul de putere de la suprafață. Pe Pământ, comunitățile rămase trăiesc în sărăcie, dependente de livrările de produse orbitale, sufocate de efectele încălzirii globale și suprapopulate cu refugiați. Sarah e una din acești refugiați, trăind împreună cu fratele ei Daud de pe o zi pe alta în Miami, făcând bani din prostituție, ca bodyguard sau asasin de ocazie. După ce finalizează cu succes o misiune foarte bănoasă propusă de un tip misterios, cel mai probabil pe ștatul de plată al Orbitalilor, se trezește brusc pe lista neagră a corporațiilor, și se vede nevoită să se ascundă, în speranța că va fi uitată odată ce vor apărea probleme mai presante pe agenda lor.

In the black night alleys of the war of all against all, Sarah’s cybersnake is only logical, a piece of cyborg cunning that can kill only those trusting enough to come close. They’re the only ones she can reach. The others fly too high, out of her sight. That she is desperate enough to have such a thing marks her as a victim before it marks her as anything else.

De cealaltă parte a unei Americi fragmentate și sărăcite, în munții din Colorado, o rezistență fragilă organizează transporturi clandestine de bunuri către Coasta de Est. Printre ei și‑a găsit locul un fost pilot de vânătoare din ultima luptă împotriva Orbitalilor. După ce a devenit prea periculos să străbată continentul în zbor, Cowboy își folosește acum implanturile cibernetice pentru a conduce tancuri pe sub nasul milițiilor statelor din Midwest. Viața lui relativ bună însă nu‑l împiedică să‑și pună întrebări incomode despre sursa bunurilor care alimentează rețelele de contrabandă: oare provin într‑adevăr de la producători locali, sau sunt furnizate pe ascuns de Orbitali ca parte a jocurilor lor obscure de putere? Dorința de a afla adevărul îl aduce în vizorul acestor puteri și spre o întâlnire cu fugara Sarah.

He lived free in the air, once, on the last free road. It’s a tunnel now, growing ever narrower and blacker, and he never saw the walls rise till he was deep inside. Moving faster than light down this narrowing, echoing, darkening pathway. He’ll have to watch Sarah carefully. She knows how to survive in this place.

09 September 2017

Hollywood Reporter: “Apple, Amazon join Race for James Bond Film Rights”

The tech giants are willing to spend in the same ballpark as Warner, if not much more, for the rights, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter. MGM has been looking for a deal for more than two years, and Sony, Universal and Fox also had been pursuing the property, with Warner and Sony the most aggressive.

But the emergence of Apple — which is considered such a viable competitor that Warner is now pressing MGM hard to close a deal — and Amazon shows that the digital giants consider Bond one of the last untapped brands (like a Marvel, Pixar or Lucasfilm) that could act as a game-changer in the content space. Apple’s and Amazon’s inclusion in the chase would indicate that more is on the table than film rights, including the future of the franchise if MGM will sell or license out for the right price.

Tatiana Siegel & Borys Kit

Expect yearly releases with titles such as James Bond Strikes Back, The Last James Bond and James Bond: Civil War.

I love Typography: “Endangered Alphabets”

Non-Latin-based writing systems are in many ways much more conscientious in phonetically representing the spoken word but that also makes them less suitable for certain word games. The northern Thai script called Lanna faithfully represents a far wider range of vowel sounds than we hear and use, but to do so it uses a cluster of glyphs to represent every sound. Consequently, it is far less flexible for the gamer, and the game designer. Imagine yourself playing Scrabble in Lanna: you’d need a tray of maybe 20 tiles to have a hope of creating a single word, and you’d have to stack tiles on top of each other to represent sound combinations. It could be all kinds of fun, but it certainly wouldn’t be easy.

Yet another challenge arises when you consider a word game in Mongolian. Not simply because Mongolian is a vertical script — that’s just a ninety-degree change of alignment. No, one of the delightful features of Mongolian is that it is inherently calligraphic. Every word begins with a certain set of flourishes and ends with another set of flourishes, and to achieve this graphic embellishment individual letters have different shapes depending on whether they are at the beginning or end of the word (in which case they are distinctly elaborate) or in the middle (in which case they are simple, straightforward and efficient). Perhaps this accounts for the fact that there is currently a resurgence of Mongolian calligraphy, but not of Mongolian Boggle!

Tim Brookes

Wonderful initiative to preserve writing systems from across the world and the unique cultures they enable. That Mongolian calligraphy especially looks exquisite!

04 September 2017

Backreaction: “Outraged about the Google diversity memo? I want you to think about it”

I also have to spell out that I am writing this as a European who now works in Europe again. For me, the most relevant contribution to equal opportunity is affordable higher education and health insurance, as well as governmentally paid maternity and parental leave. Without that, socially disadvantaged groups remain underrepresented, and companies continue to fear for revenue when hiring women in their fertile age. That, in all fairness, is an American problem not even Google can solve.

But one also doesn’t solve a problem by yelling “harassment” each time someone asks to discuss whether a diversity effort is indeed effective. I know from my own experience, and a poll conducted at Google confirms, that Damore’s skepticism about current practices is widespread.

It’s something we should discuss. It’s something Google should discuss. Because, for better or worse, this case has attracted much attention. Google’s handling of the situation will set an example for others.

Damore was fired, basically, for making a well-meant, if amateurish, attempt at institutional design, based on woefully incomplete information he picked from published research studies. But however imperfect his attempt, he was fired, in short, for thinking on his own. And what example does that set?

Sabine Hossenfelder

I have stayed away from this controversy because I’ve been on vacation as it happened and I haven’t personally read the so-called manifesto. But my opinion on the case largely agrees with the paragraphs above. The memo should be seen as an opportunity for discussion, not an excuse to silence opinions. Damore should have been put through an internal program to better understand the company culture, the need for diversity and the points of view of other employees. Instead his firing managed to create the adverse effect, polarizing the issue even further – he was quickly turned into an inadvertent figurehead for alt-right ideas. And people wonder how Trump managed to get elected.