First Kinetic Retaliation to Cyber Attack

This was inevitable, but it is worth noting the first time a country has responded to an alleged cyber attack with a kinetic attack:

The Israel Defense Force says that it stopped an attempted cyber attack launched by Hamas over the weekend, and retaliated with an airstrike against the building where it says the attack originated from in Gaza. It’s believed to be the first time that a military has retaliated with physical violence in real time against a cyberattack.

Israel launched an airstrike in response to a Hamas cyberattack

It’s also worth noting, as The Verge comments, that the physical response did not appear strictly necessary: “Given that the IDF admitted that it had halted the attack prior to the airstrike, the question is now whether or not the response was appropriate.”

It’s easy to write about this particular event. It is surely another thing to experience it:

Sludge: A Negative Sort of Nudge

Cass Sunstein wrote a new paper on “sludge,” which is the inverse of his and Richard Thaler’s concept of Nudge.

A “nudge” is a way of designing choices so that the easiest path is the healthiest or smartest or “best.” It is a form of libertarian paternalism that tries to influence behavior while also respecting freedom of choice. E.g., automatic opt-in to organ donations with the option to opt-out.

Sludge, on the other hand, is “excessive or unjustified frictions that make it more difficult for consumers, employees, . . . and many others to get what they want or to do as they wish.” For example:

To obtain benefits under a health care law, people must navigate a complicated website. Many of them do not understand the questions that they are being asked. For many people, the application takes a long time. Some of them give up. 

Sunstein argues that organizations should regularly perform “sludge audits” to remove these kinds of anti-nudges from their process:

[T]he power of simplification puts a spotlight on the large
consequences of seemingly modest sludge—on the effects of choice architecture in determining outcomes. Simplification and burden reduction do not merely reduce frustration; they can change people’s lives.

Sludge Audits at 10-11.

As the world becomes more complicated and the attention economy more competitive, choice architecture is more important than ever.

AI radiology has arrived

This has been predicted for a long time, but AI radiology is here:

A commercial artificial intelligence (AI) system matched the accuracy of over 28,000 interpretations of breast cancer screening mammograms by 101 radiologists. Although the most accurate mammographers outperformed the AI system, it achieved a higher performance than the majority of radiologists.

Artificial intelligence versus 101 radiologists

Almost anything to do with recognizing objects or features in images are going to be the first tasks mastered by convolutional neural networks. Radiology, surveillance, counting stuff, etc.

Sixth Circuit says chalking tires is an unreasonable search

In Taylor v. City of Saginaw, the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals (covering Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee) has concluded that the common – indeed, ubiquitous! – practice of tracking how long a car has been parked by chalking its tires is unconstitutional:

Alison Taylor, a frequent recipient of parking tickets, sued the City and its parking enforcement officer Tabitha Hoskins, alleging that chalking violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search. The City moved to dismiss the action. The district court granted the City’s motion, finding that, while chalking may have constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment, the search was reasonable. Because we chalk this practice up to a regulatory exercise, rather than a community-caretaking function, we REVERSE.

This is a great example of a court following individual precedent down a winding path to a conclusion that is actually very strange. Here’s how they got there:

  1. Start with the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
  2. Is it a search? Yes. But really only because the Supreme Court recently decided that attaching GPS devices to cars is a search. Attaching GPS devices is a search because it is a trespass. And chalking is also a trespass because the common law says that “acting upon a chattel as intentionally to cause it to come in contact with some other object” is a trespass. So chalking is a trespass to obtain information. And that makes it a search.
  3. Is it unreasonable? We assume so. The government bears the burden of proving that the search was not unreasonable, and this is where they fell down. First, the government said people have a reduced expectation of privacy in cars. Nope, the Court says, that analysis only applies when you have a warrant or probable cause, and the government didn’t have either. Second, the government said the parking officers weren’t operating as law enforcement; they were operating as “community caretakers” and another standard applies. Nope, the Court says, the government is actually enforcing laws so that doesn’t apply either. Hearing no other arguments, the Court concludes the search was unreasonable.
  4. And now tire chalking is an unconstitutional, unreasonable search.

I’m not sure the drafters of the Fourth Amendment would agree with this analysis. Chalking a tire doesn’t seem to be either unreasonable or a search. And of course there are a number of other ways to argue this case, including with the “administrative search exception,” which the government failed to raise. It’s possible this case gets reviewed.

On the other hand, plenty of other options are available to parking enforcement officers including video, photos, parking meters, and taking notes!

AI beats esports world champion team for first time

Some humans have gotten very good at playing the video game Dota 2. It’s a complex game with over 100 different character types, an in-game economy, and an audience of spectators on Twitch.tv. Oh, and tournaments in which professional Dota 2 players have earned over $100M. And now the championship team has been crushed by an AI:

Within the simplified bounds of the game, OpenAI Five was an astounding triumph. One thing to look for in evaluating the performance of an AI system on a strategy game is whether it’s merely winning with what gamers call “micro” — the second-to-second positioning and attack skills where a computer’s reflexes are a huge advantage. 

OpenAI Five did have good micro, but it also did well in ways that human players, now that they’ve seen it, may well choose to emulate — suggesting that it didn’t just succeed through superior reflexes. The commentators watching the game criticized OpenAI Five’s eagerness to buy back into the game when its heroes died, for example, but the tactic was borne out — maybe suggesting that human pros should be a bit more willing to pay to rejoin the field. 

And OpenAI had a deeper strategic understanding of the board than the human commentators. When the commentators were asserting that the game looked evenly matched, OpenAI would declare that it perceived a 90 percent chance of victory. (It turns out that soberly announced probability estimates make for great trash talk, and these declarations frequently rattled their opponents OG). To us, the game may have seemed open, but to the computer, it was obviously nearly over.

AI triumphs against the world’s top pro team in strategy game Dota 2

Three points to note here:

  1. Rate of improvement. AI’s are improving at an astonishing rate. Chess fell, then Go, now very complex multi-player strategic games like Dota 2. It used to be that game-playing algorithms were customized for specific games and had little applicability to other domains. This is truly a revolution.
  2. Scale of computation. The scale of computation available to the AI’s matters a lot. OpenAI, the researchers behind this AI victory, improved on their previous performance by utilizing eight times more training compute. They trained this model on 45,000 years of Dota self-play over 10 realtime months. Good luck humans.
  3. Real-world applications. Dota 2 is a very complex game with many characters making independent real-time judgments as part of teams trying to take over each other’s bases while protecting their own. It’s a complex simulation of war. The real world is of course still more complex, but this is a domain in which the AI’s appear to do well. Defense departments around the world are paying attention.

Update: The OpenAI team let their AI play against regular Dota 2 players. Out of 7,257 matches, the AI’s won 7,215 (99.4%) and lost just 42.

Quick Primer on 5G

Ron Amadeo at Ars Technica has a great piece on 5G and the challenges for roll out:

[T]he move to 5G mmWave is not a slam-dunk argument. Since mmWave runs at a significantly higher frequency than LTE, that means it comes with no shortage of tradeoffs. MmWave has worse range and worse penetration compared to LTE. A mmWave signal can be blocked by buildings, trees, and even your hand. MmWave doesn’t work well in the rain or fog, and the ~60GHz chunk of this spectrum can actually be absorbed by oxygen. That’s right—a slice of mmWave spectrum can be blocked by the air.

With so many issues to overcome, mmWave sounds like a terrible chunk of spectrum to build a mobile network in until you consider two key points: the higher-frequency means mmWave has plenty of bandwidth and low latency if you can get it, and most of all, the spectrum is available. MmWave isn’t being used for much right now because it is such a pain in the butt to work with. So if you can figure out all the implementation problems, you suddenly have a vast amount of airspace to work with. That’s actually the first thing these companies talk about when they bring up mmWave. It’s all going to be really, really hard and complicated, they say, but it’s going to be worth it.

Don’t buy a 5G smartphone—at least, not for a while

If you are an intellectual property attorney in the digital space, it’s time to read up on 5G. It’s going to be an IP licensing minefield.

U.S. facial recognition also rolling out

Jon Porter, writing for The Verge:

The Department of Homeland Security says it expects to use facial recognition technology on 97 percent of departing passengers within the next four years. The system, which involves photographing passengers before they board their flight, first started rolling out in 2017, and was operational in 15 US airports as of the end of 2018. 

The facial recognition system works by photographing passengers at their departure gate. It then cross-references this photograph against a library populated with facesimages from visa and passport applications, as well as those taken by border agents when foreigners enter the country.

US facial recognition will cover 97 percent of departing airline passengers within four years

It’s not automated racism, but it’s similar in scope to China’s rollout. Routine facial recognition for tracking is here, like it or not.

Ode to Obscurity

The recording of almost everywhere we go and everything we do has become increasingly cheap and easy. “Obscurity” is becoming rarer. Dr. Hartzog (law, computer science) and Dr. Selinger (philosophy) make the point that lack of obscurity may limit our growth as individuals:

Obscurity makes meaningful and intimate relationships possible, ones that offer solidarity, loyalty and love. It allows us to choose with whom we want to share different kinds of information. It protects us from having everyone know the different roles we play in the different parts of our lives. We need to be able to play one role with our co-workers while revealing other parts of ourselves with friends and family. . . .

Obscurity protects us from being pressured to be conventional. This buffer from a ubiquitous permanent record is especially important for the exploratory phase of youth. To develop as humans, people must be free to try things they might later regret. This is how we become better people. Without obscurity, we wouldn’t have the freedom to take risks, fail and dust ourselves off. We’d be stymied by the fear of being deemed failures by a system that never forgets.

Why You Are No Longer Safe in the Crowd

Is obscurity different than privacy? Or perhaps it is another name for a privacy concept that has a million shades of gray. Privacy is weird.

Notre Dame will be rebuilt again

Sophie Gilbert, writing for The Atlantic:

What seems hopeful, though, is that it will be rebuilt, because the history of sacred structures is defined by exactly this cycle of ruin and repair. Cathedrals in Europe are palimpsests, built and rebuilt on the same sites over thousands of years: They bear additions and repairs—and sometimes total reconstruction—by countless hands. Notre Dame, for example, is believed to have been put up on the original site of a temple to Jupiter. Four separate churches predated its consecration, and all were destroyed, or demolished, before the cornerstone for Notre Dame was laid in the springtime of 1163, 856 years ago. Notre Dame’s spire, the one that burned on Monday, was added in the 19th century, replacing the original, which had been weakened by the elements over the course of 500 years.

Notre-Dame Isn’t Lost

Notre Dame is a symbol, and a collection of old materials, and most importantly, a sacred space. It exists because generations of humans have attached meaning to its enclosure. And like all physical things, it will crumble and decay. It has before, and it will again. But we keep rebuilding. And that is its meaning.

If you want to feel what is special about Notre Dame, feel the collective pain of watching it burn, and the collective determination to make it whole again. It is not the ancient wood or stone that imbues it with meaning or emotionality. It is this determination to reflect on our collective past and strive again to preserve the sacred space for ourselves and our children. The cycle of destruction and construction is both inevitable and human.

The Onion, of course, makes this point in its own special way.

Notre Dame was built, destroyed, and rebuilt over the course of hundreds of years, and we will rebuild it again, only to watch it decay once more, for indeed that is its fate, as it is the fate of all of man’s works. Like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the mountain, we will endeavor to fix the cathedral despite all empirical evidence to the contrary, in a world which demonstrates time and time again that there is nothing real to be found in worshipping the ersatz edifices that serve as a sorry facsimile of any real human connection.

Paris Vows To Rebuild Notre Dame Despite Cosmic Absurdity Of Seeking Inherent Meaning In Fleeting Creations Of Man

Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. But Notre Dame is special because it is powerful evidence that we keep trying, and we always will. Notre Dame retains its meaning, especially now.