A.I. Researchers’ Joke: Whenever You Ask, Real A.I. Is 30 Years in Future

On February 1, 2019, at a conference at Texas A&M, I saw a demonstration of prototypes of A.I. driverless car technology. One of the lead researchers told us that it would be 30 years before we saw real driverless cars on the road.

(p. B3) While the A.C.L.U. is ringing alarm bells about the use of video analytics now, it’s anyone’s guess how quickly the technology will advance.

“The joke in A.I. is that you ask a bunch of A.I. researchers, ‘When are we going to achieve A.I.?’ and the answer always has been, ‘In 30 years,’” Mr. Vondrick said.

For the full story, see:

Niraj Chokshi. “Intelligent ‘Robot Surveillance’ Poses Threats, A.C.L.U. Warns.” The New York Times (Friday, July 14, 2019): B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 13, 2019, and has the title “How Surveillance Cameras Could Be Weaponized With A.I.”)

To Be Dangerous with Crispr Takes a Lot of Genetics Knowledge

(p. A11) “I frankly have been flabbergasted at the pace of the field,” says Jennifer Doudna, a Crispr pioneer who runs a lab at the University of California, Berkeley. “We’re barely five years out, and it’s already in early clinical trials for cancer. It’s unbelievable.”

. . .

Scientists have fiddled with genes for decades, but in clumsy ways.

. . .

Crispr is much more precise, as Ms. Doudna explains in her new book, “A Crack in Creation.” It works like this: An enzyme called Cas9 can be programmed to latch onto any 20-letter sequence of DNA. Once there, the enzyme cuts the double helix, splitting the DNA strand in two. Scientists supply a snippet of genetic material they want to insert, making sure its ends match up with the cut strands. When the cell’s repair mechanism kicks in to fix the cut, it pastes in the new DNA.

. . .

A . . . Crispr worry is that it makes DNA editing so easy anybody can do it. Simple hobby kits sell online for $150, and a community biotech lab in Brooklyn offers a class for $400. Jennifer Lopez is reportedly working on a TV drama called “C.R.I.S.P.R.” that, according to the Hollywood Reporter, “explores the next generation of terror: DNA hacking.”

Ms. Doudna provides a bit of assurance. “Genetics is complicated. You have to have quite a bit of knowledge, I think, to be able to do anything that’s truly dangerous,” she says. “There’s been a little bit of hype, in my opinion, about DIY kits and are we going to have rogue scientists—or even nonscientists—randomly doing crazy stuff. I think that’s not too likely.”

For the full interview, see:

Peterson, Kyle, interviewer. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; The Gene Editors Are Only Getting Started; Would you eradicate malaria-carrying insects? Change your baby’s DNA? Scientists soon may have the power to do both.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 8, 2017): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date July 7, 2017, and the same title as the print versio.)

Doudna’s book, mentioned above, is:

Doudna, Jennifer A., and Samuel H. Sternberg. A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

iPhone Made Internet “Almost Ubiquitous”

(p. B3) By essentially compressing a powerful, networked computer into a pocket-size device and making it easy to use, Steve Jobs made the internet almost ubiquitous and fundamentally altered decades-old consumer habits in areas like music and books. What’s more, the functionality packed into the iPhone made it a digital Swiss Army knife, supplanting existing tools from email to calendar to maps to calculators.

. . .

Along the way, smartphones disrupted communication. By offering faster, easier ways to communicate—text, photo, video and social networks—“the iPhone destroyed the phone call,” says Joshua Gans, professor at the University of Toronto and author of the book, “The Disruption Dilemma.” “It’s funny we even call it a phone.”

For the full story, see:

Betsy Morris. “What the iPhone Wrought.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 24, 2017): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 23, 2017, and the title “From Music to Maps, How Apple’s iPhone Changed Business.”)

The Gans book mentioned above, is:

Gans, Joshua. The Disruption Dilemma. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2016.

Huawei “Spent All Their Resources Stealing Technology”

(p. B1) On a summer evening in 2004, as the Supercomm tech conference in Chicago wound down, a middle-aged Chinese visitor began wending his way through the nearly abandoned booths, popping open million-dollar networking equipment to photograph the circuit boards inside, according to people who were there.

A security guard stopped him and confiscated memory sticks with the photos, a notebook with diagrams and data belonging to AT&T Corp. , and a list of six companies including Fujitsu Network Communications Inc. and Nortel Networks Corp.

The man identified himself to conference staff as Zhu Yibin, an engineer. The word on his lanyard read “Weihua”—an accidental scramble, he said, of his employer’s name: Huawei Technologies Co.

. . .

(p. B6) A review of 10 cases in U.S. federal courts, and dozens of interviews with U.S. officials, former employees, competitors, and collaborators suggest Huawei had a corporate culture that blurred the boundary between competitive achievement and ethically dubious methods of pursuing it. Continue reading “Huawei “Spent All Their Resources Stealing Technology””

Amish Embrace Smartphones and Internet, at Least for Entrepreneurship

(p. 6) A young woman, wearing a traditional full-length Amish dress and white bonnet, stepped away from a farmer’s market, opened her palm and revealed a smartphone. She began to scroll through screens, seemingly oblivious to the activity around her.

Not far away, a man in his late 60s with a silvery beard, wide-brimmed straw hat and suspenders adjusted the settings on a computer-driven crosscut saw. He was soon cutting pieces for gazebos that are sold online and delivered around the country.

The Amish have not given up on horse-drawn buggies. Their rigid abstinence from many kinds of technology has left parts of their lifestyle frozen since the 19th century: no cars, TVs or connections to electric utilities, for example.

But computers and cellphones are making their way into some Amish communities, pushing them — sometimes willingly, often not — into the 21st century.

New technology has created fresh opportunities for prosperity among the Amish, just as it has for people in the rest of the world. A contractor can call a customer from a job site. A store owner’s software can make quick work of payroll and inventory tasks. A bakery can take credit cards.

But for people bound by a separation from much of the outside world, new tech devices have brought fears about the consequence of internet access. There are worries about pornography; about whether social networks will lead sons and daughters to date non-Amish friends; and about connecting to a world of seemingly limitless possibilities.

“Amish life is about recognizing the value of agreed-upon limits,” said Erik Wesner, an author who runs a blog, Amish America, “and the spirit of the internet cuts against the idea of limits.”

. . .

Referring to technology, Mr. Smucker said, “You have to do what you have to do to stay in business. People are starting to understand that.”

There are probably 2,000 successful Amish businesses in the Lancaster area, many of them multimillion-dollar enterprises, said Donald B. Kraybill, a retired professor at Elizabethtown’s Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies.

This “very entrepreneurial, very capitalistic” tendency, he said, was all the more remarkable because it was channeled through a “culture of restraint.”

Many Amish people draw a bright line between what is allowed at work — smartphones, internet access — and what remains forbidden at home.

For the full story, see:

Kevin Granville and Ashley Gilbertson. “In Amish Country, the Future Is Calling.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017): 6-7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 15, 2017, and has the same title as the print version.)

Drones Bringing Vaccine May Be Interpreted by Some as Cargo Cult Vindication

(p. A10) In the village of Cook’s Bay, on the remote side of the remote island of Erromango, in the remote South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, 1-month-old Joy Nowai was given shots for hepatitis and tuberculosis that were delivered by a flying drone on Monday.
It may not have been the first vial of vaccine ever delivered that way, but it was the first in Vanuatu, which is the only country in the world to make its childhood vaccine program officially drone-dependent.
“I am so happy the drone brought the stick medicine to Cook’s Bay as I don’t have to walk several hours to Port Narvin for her vaccines,” her mother, Julie Nowai told a Unicef representative. “It is only 15 minutes’ walk from my home.”
.. . .
. . . , about 20 percent of Vanuatu’s 35,000 children under age 5 do not get all their shots, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
So the country, with support from Unicef, the Australian government and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, began its drone program on Monday. It will initially serve three islands but may be expanded to many more.
In the future, that expansion may run into some unusual turbulence — Vanuatu is one of the few places where “cargo cults” are still active, and the drones match their central religious dogma: that believers will receive valuable goods delivered by airplane.
That will have to be handled carefully, a Unicef representative said.
. . .
. . . : Vanuatu still has adherents of the John Frum movement, one of the South Pacific cargo cults whose adherents pray for valuables arriving from the sky.
The cults date back more than 100 years, but reached their zenith during and after World War II.
Islanders whose ancestors had been kidnapped by whites to work on plantations in Australia and Fiji watched “silver birds” flown in by the Japanese and American militaries disgorge vast amounts of “cargo” — food, medicines, tools and weapons — which was sometimes shared with them.
The legend spread that the cargo was gifts from the ancestors, but that it had been intercepted and stolen by the foreigners. After the war ended, the cults built airstrips and model planes to lure the “birds” back.

For the full story, see:
Donald G. McNeil Jr. “‘A Buzzing Thing in the Sky’ Delivers Vaccines to Vanuatu.” The New York Times (Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018): A10.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 17, 2018, and has the title “An Island Nation’s Health Experiment: Vaccines Delivered by Drone.”)

Libertarian Peter Thiel Predicts Communist China’s Tech Success (What?)

(p. B1) The Trump administration gave ZTE, which employs 75,000 people and is the world’s No. 4 maker of telecom gear, a stay of execution on Thursday. ZTE, which had violated American sanctions, agreed to pay a $1 billion fine and to allow monitors to set up shop in its headquarters. In return, the company — once a symbol of China’s progress and engineering know-how — will be allowed to buy the American-made microchips, software and other tools it needs to survive.
China’s technology boom, it turns out, has been largely built on top of Western technology.
The ZTE incident, as it is called in China, may be the country’s Sputnik moment. Like the United States in 1957, watching helplessly as the Soviet Union launched the first human-made satellite, many people in China now see how far the country still has to go.
“We realized,” said Dong Jielin, an adjunct professor at the Research Center for Technological Innovation at Tsinghua University in Beijing, “that China’s prosperity was built on sand.”
. . .
(p. B3) . . . many in China — and many cheerleaders of the Chinese tech scene — . . . found themselves in a feedback loop of their own making. The powerful propaganda machine flooded out rational voices, said Ms. Dong of Tsinghua University. The tech boom fits perfectly into Beijing’s grand narrative of a national rejuvenation. Innovation and entrepreneurship are top national policies, with enormous financial backing from the government. Even now, some articles critical of China’s lagging semiconductor industry have disappeared from the internet there.
And it wasn’t just Chinese people. Michael Moritz, the American venture capital investor, warned that China “is leaving Donald Trump’s America behind.” Peter Thiel, a PayPal co-founder, wondered how long it would take for China to overtake the United States. Three to four years, he concluded.
The boom kept many from asking hard questions. They promoted China’s surge in patent filings without looking at whether the patents were any good. They didn’t ask why China still imports 90 percent of its semiconductor components even though the industry became a national priority in 2000.

For the full commentary, see:
Li Yuan. “China’s Sputnik Moment.” The New York Times (Monday, June 11, 2018): B1 & B3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 10, 2018, and has the title “THE NEW NEW WORLD; ZTE’s Near-Collapse May Be China’s Sputnik Moment.”)