Category Archives: Education

The information arms race can’t be won, but we have to keep fighting

By Cailin O’Connor -Arms races happen when two sides of a conflict escalate in a series of ever-changing moves intended to outwit the opponent. In biology, a classic example comes from cheetahs and gazelles. Over time, these species have evolved for speed, each responding to the other’s adaptations.

One hallmark of an arms race is that, at the end, the participants are often just where they started. Sometimes, the cheetah catches its prey, and sometimes the gazelle escapes. Neither wins the race because, as one gets better, so does its opponent. And, along the way, each side expends a great deal of effort. Still, at any point, the only thing that makes sense is to keep escalating.

Arms races happen in the human world too. The term arms race, of course, comes from countries at war who literally amass ever-more sophisticated and powerful weapons. But some human arms races are more subtle.

As detailed in the Mueller report – but widely known before – in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election in the United States, the Russian government (via a group called the Internet Research Agency) engaged in large-scale efforts to influence voters, and to polarize the US public. In the wake of this campaign, social-media sites and research groups have scrambled to protect the US public from misinformation on social media.

What is important to recognize about such a situation is that whatever tactics are working now won’t work for long. The other side will adapt. In particular, we cannot expect to be able to put a set of detection algorithms in place and be done with it. Whatever efforts social-media sites make to root out pernicious actors will regularly become obsolete.

The same is true for our individual attempts to identify and avoid misinformation. Since the 2016 US election, ‘fake news’ has been widely discussed and analyzed. And many social-media users have become more savvy about identifying sites mimicking traditional news sources. But the same users might not be as savvy, for example, about sleek conspiracy theory videos going viral on YouTube, or about deep fakes – expertly altered images and videos.

What makes this problem particularly thorny is that internet media changes at dizzying speed. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

A.I. is only human
By Jeff Cockrell – If you applied for a mortgage, would you be comfortable with a computer using a collection of data about you to assess how likely you are to default on the loan?

If you applied for a job, would you be comfortable with the company’s human-resources department running your information through software that will determine how likely it is that you will, say, steal from the company, or leave the job within two years?

If you were arrested for a crime, would you be comfortable with the court plugging your personal data into an algorithm-based tool, which will then advise your judge on whether you should await trial in jail or at home? If you were convicted, would you be comfortable with the same tool weighing in on your sentencing?

Much of the hand-wringing about advances in artificial intelligence has been concerned with AI’s effects on the labor market. “AI will gradually invade almost all employment sectors, requiring a shift away from human labor that computers are able to take over,” reads a report of the 2015 study panel of Stanford’s One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence. But whether AI ultimately creates massive unemployment or inspires new, as-yet-unknown professional fields, its perils and promises extend beyond the job market. By replacing human decision-making with automated processes, we can make businesses and public institutions more effective and efficient—or further entrench systemic biases, institutionalize discrimination, and exacerbate inequalities.

It’s an axiom of computing that results are dependent on inputs: garbage in, garbage out.

What if companies’ machine-learning projects come up with analyses that, while logical and algorithmically based, are premised on faulty assumptions or mismeasured data?

What if these analyses lead to bad or ethically questionable decisions—either among business leaders or among policy makers and public authorities? more>

Related>

Updates from Ciena

Latest trends in optical networks- straight from NGON & DCI World
By Helen Xenos – “If you are not sitting at the edge of your seat, you are taking up too much space.”

I heard this quote from a friend recently and thought it was interestingly appropriate in describing the optical networking industry these days. No one has time to sit back. Technology is evolving at an incredibly fast pace, new developments are occurring at a regular cadence, and network providers are regularly evaluating different architecture approaches for evolving their networks.

In attending the 21st Annual NGON & DCI World event in beautiful Nice last week, I had an opportunity to get a pulse on the latest topics and trends that are driving change in the optical networking landscape.

A popular topic at all optical events – and NGON was no exception – is the discussion of the next technology breakthrough that will bring new levels of capacity scale and cost reduction to transport networks.

If we look at coherent optical shipments, capacity and average selling price data over the past decade, what is the principal way that network providers have been able to keep up with exponentially increasing bandwidth demands while maintaining transport costs relatively flat? Through coherent technology innovations that have enabled higher throughput at less cost.

So, how will we get to the next level of cost reduction?

The consistent response to this question in multiple sessions at NGON was higher baud, which means coherent optical solutions that have a higher symbol rate and can process more data per second, resulting in more fiber capacity with less equipment. more>

Related>

Updates from ITU

AI, quantum technologies and new cyber threats – are we prepared?
ITU News – Quantum computing is on the horizon. The emerging computing architecture renders possible a form of ‘super parallel processing’ based on quantum physics that can rapidly solve problems beyond the scope of what a classical computer can achieve.

Quantum computing is fast advancing, with governments investing billions and blue-chip technology heavyweights prioritizing the technology.

With far-reaching implications for data security, advances in quantum computing risk unraveling data encryption, with far-reaching implications for security.

What this means is that quantum computers will be incredibly effective at hacking into encrypted data – rendering sensitive data and critical infrastructures, as well as Internet of Things and 5G networks, vulnerable to attack.

Although the technology is not yet commercially deployed, the security threats are already here.

The ‘download now, decrypt later’ attack vector already sees actors downloading existing encrypted data, to be cracked open once the technology arrives.

“Now, it’s not a matter of if it will happen,” said Mark Jackson of Cambridge Quantum Computing during a panel discussion on AI, quantum technologies and new cyber threats at the recent AI for Good Global Summit. more>

Related>

The Surveillance Threat Is Not What Orwell Imagined

By Shoshana Zuboff – George Orwell repeatedly delayed crucial medical care to complete 1984, the book still synonymous with our worst fears of a totalitarian future — published 70 years ago this month.

Since 1984’s publication, we have assumed with Orwell that the dangers of mass surveillance and social control could only originate in the state. We were wrong. This error has left us unprotected from an equally pernicious but profoundly different threat to freedom and democracy.

For 19 years, private companies practicing an unprecedented economic logic that I call surveillance capitalism have hijacked the Internet and its digital technologies. Invented at Google beginning in 2000, this new economics covertly claims private human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data. Some data are used to improve services, but the rest are turned into computational products that predict your behavior.

These predictions are traded in a new futures market, where surveillance capitalists sell certainty to businesses determined to know what we will do next. This logic was first applied to finding which ads online will attract our interest, but similar practices now reside in nearly every sector — insurance, retail, health, education, finance and more — where personal experience is secretly captured and computed for behavioral predictions. By now it is no exaggeration to say that the Internet is owned and operated by private surveillance capital.

In the competition for certainty, surveillance capitalists learned that the most predictive data come not just from monitoring but also from modifying and directing behavior. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

Financial contagion spreads through supply chains
By Michael Maiello – As big financial institutions such as Lehman Brothers fell into distress in 2008, a credit contagion spread through the financial industry, creating a credit drought for the economy as lenders retrenched and hoarded capital.

It has been less clear how credit contagion can spread through other industries, but research by George Washington’s Şenay Ağca, Georgetown’s Volodymyr Babich, Chicago Booth’s John R. Birge, and City University of Hong Kong’s Jing Wu suggests that credit shocks follow the supply chains of distressed companies.

Ağca, Babich, Birge, and Wu examined daily changes in credit default swap (CDS) spreads for all contracts with a five-year maturity between 2003 and 2014. A CDS is a derivative contract guaranteeing the owner a payout in the event that the borrower defaults. The contract’s price is known as the spread, which is the cost to insure against the default of $100 of the issuer’s debt. A widening spread signals that the market believes the issuer is more likely to default. Because the CDS market is deep and liquid, with information priced rapidly into the spread, the researchers argue that it is a better indicator of default expectations than laggard credit ratings or notes from bond analysts.

Take Ford Motor Company’s November 2008 earnings report, which highlighted massive losses, looming layoffs, and drastic cuts in capital spending. The CDS spreads linked to the company’s debt quickly widened, as one might expect. CDS spreads of American Axle & Manufacturing, a major Ford supplier, did the same, the researchers find. It makes sense that if Ford was slashing spending, its suppliers would have been suffering, they note.

But by contrast, CDS spreads were unchanged for companies with no relationship to either Ford or American Axle, such as semiconductor manufacturer Advanced Micro Devices. This suggests the mechanism by which contagion spreads is based on quantifiable business relationships, the researchers find. more>

Related>

Updates from Ciena

Reimagining Ethernet Service Delivery with Intelligent Automation
By Thomas DiMicelli – Communications service providers introduced Ethernet-based services almost 20 years ago as a more flexible and cost-effective alternative to TDM-based services. These services have been continuously enhanced over the years and are widely deployed today; however, traditional Ethernet service activation processes are increasingly out of alignment with market requirements.

I asked Andreas Uys, CTO at Dark Fibre Africa (DFA), an innovative open-access fibre optic company that operates in South Africa, to outline some of the issues concerning Ethernet service activation, and how CSPs can overcome them.

“The limitations of traditional Ethernet service activation processes are quite significant,” Andreas said. “Some of this is due to the way SPs are organized, and some is due to the reliance on manual operations; taken together, these issues dramatically slow the order to service process and delay time to revenue.”

Andreas continued: “Ethernet service activation naturally involves different departments… customer service reps generate work-orders, engineering designs the services, and the operations team provisions and manages the services. Each department has its own ‘siloed’ systems and rely on emails and spreadsheets to track workflow progress. This results in a time-consuming process, even to generate a simple quote.”

“Engineers design the service using stale data from multiple offline inventory systems,” Andreas added, “which results in non-optimal designs that waste network resources. Similarly, the operations team uses multiple tools to manually configure each element or domain in the service path, which adds cost and the potential for errors into the process.”

With fragmented systems and workflows, offline service design tools and error-prone manual provisioning, it is clear that the Ethernet service activation process needs to be updated. So what is the way forward? more>

Related>

How Adam Smith became a (surprising) hero to conservative economists

By Glory M Liu – People like to fight over Adam Smith. To some, the Scottish philosopher is the patron saint of capitalism who wrote that great bible of economics, The Wealth of Nations (1776). Its doctrine, his followers claim, is that unfettered markets lead to economic growth, making everyone better off. In Smith’s now-iconic phrase, it’s the ‘invisible hand’ of the market, not the heavy hand of government, that provides us with freedom, security and prosperity.

To others, such as the Nobel prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglitz, Smith is the embodiment of a ‘neoliberal fantasy’ that needs to be put to rest, or at least revised. They question whether economic growth should be the most important goal, point to the problems of inequality, and argue that Smith’s system would not have enabled massive accumulations of wealth in the first place. Whatever your political leanings, one thing is clear: Smith speaks on both sides of a longstanding debate about the fundamental values of modern market-oriented society.

But these arguments over Smith’s ideas and identity are not new. His complicated reputation today is the consequence of a long history of fighting to claim his intellectual authority.

Smith’s first biographer, Dugald Stewart, deliberately portrayed him in the 1790s as an introverted, awkward genius whose magnum opus was an apolitical handbook of sorts. Stewart downplayed Smith’s more politically subversive moments, such as his blistering criticism of merchants, his hostility towards established religion, and his contempt for ‘national prejudice’, or nationalism. Instead, Stewart shined a spotlight on what he believed was one of ‘the most important opinions in The Wealth of Nations’: that ‘Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things.’

Stewart’s biography (first delivered as an eulogy in 1793, then published in 1794 and 1795) appeared in the wake of major events that terrified British audiences: the French Revolution of 1789, the Reign of Terror that followed and the sedition trials that followed in both England and Scotland. As the British historian Emma Rothschild has shown, Stewart’s depiction of Smith’s ideas cherrypicked in order to imbue political economy with scientific authority. She writes that he wanted to portray political economy as ‘an innocuous, technical sort of subject’, to help construct a politically ‘safe’ legacy for Smith during politically dangerous times. Stewart’s effort marked the beginning of Smith’s association with ‘conservative economics’.

Smith would soon earn a reputation as the father of the science of political economy – what we now know as economics. more>

Climate change is becoming a defining issue of 2020

Democratic voters actually care about climate change. 2020 candidates are responding.
By Ella Nilsen – Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez thinks former Vice President Joe Biden’s $5 trillion climate plan — one of the first major policies his campaign has released — is a “start,” albeit one that needs to be scaled up dramatically.

“I think what that has shown is a dramatic shift in the right direction, but we need to keep pushing for a plan that is at the scale of the problem,” Ocasio-Cortez, progressive superstar and co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, told reporters on Tuesday. (For the record, she thinks the plan that gets closest is Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s, which she called the “gold standard.”)

But the very fact that Biden felt the need to release a climate plan near the start of his policy rollout shows the influence and success of Ocasio-Cortez and her allies in the climate movement.

Five candidates, including Biden, Inslee, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and former Reps. Beto O’Rourke and John Delaney have all released massive plans to combat climate change, ranging from $1.5 trillion to $3 trillion in federal investment over a decade. Candidates are factoring in the spur of private investments as well, hence the jump to $5 trillion in Biden’s plan.

“It’s a recognition of where the electorate is,” Monmouth University polling director Patrick Murray told Vox. “This popped out from the very beginning. Climate change and the environment in general was the No. 2 issue after health care for Democratic voters.

“I think it’s just becoming a zeitgeist for Democrats,” Murray added.

Over the past eight months, climate change has shot up as a core Democratic issue in polls. more>

Welcome to GAFA land—where the winner takes it all

By Susanne Wixforth – Amazon symbolizes the four platform giants, also known as GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon). The company is Europe’s largest platform retailer and its turnover is twice as high as that of its 20 largest competitors. While Amazon´s chief executive earned 2.16 million dollars per hour in 2017, its workers must be grateful if they receive the statutory minimum wage, which in the EU varies between €1.42 and €11.27 per hour.

In 2018, Amazon generated a turnover of about 210 billion euro worldwide, an increase of over 30 per cent on the previous year’s. The company has more than 600,000 employees across the globe. With a market capitalization of more than 730 billion euro, it is one of the most valuable listed companies. Its operating profit amounts to around 11 billion euro. Nevertheless, thanks to a ruling it had agreed on in advance with the tax authorities of Luxembourg, Amazon did not pay taxes on 75 per cent of its turnover between 2003 and 2014.

In the long run, the platform economy not only poses a risk to the stability and budgets of countries where the corporations earn their money but do not pay taxes—it also undermines social cohesion.

Amazon generates its turnover mainly through four channels: as one of the biggest online retailers, as the operator of by far the largest online marketplace for third-party suppliers, as one of the largest providers of online services and as the distributor of the ordered products.

Because of its large market power in some trading segments, independent traders depend on Amazon to reach their customers. There is evidence that Amazon is trying to force traders out through its sheer market power, for instance through copying products and undercutting prices. more>