Programmer ethics, AI in MS Word, household robots, the uncanny valley, women in tech, cheap flights to Mars, Internet privacy, Polish innovation accelerators, and a brilliant new podcast.
🌞 IThe amount of solar energy generated in the US increased by 40 percent in 2016. Photovoltaics currently supply 1.4 percent of the energy consumed in the US.If the solar power generation continues to grow at this rate, it will satisfy America's entire demand for electricity in 13 years’ time. Unfortunately, solar panels cannot work at night, and storing energy in batteries is costly (because batteries are expensive). That said, there are many alternatives to conventional batteries, and even more alternative energy storage solutions are in the pipeline.
👩⚕️Volkswagen programmers wrote an application that could fool CO2 emission tests. Uber programmers created a system that prevented the police and other authorities from hailing an Uber, in order to make it harder for those authorities to fine Uber's drivers. Zenefits programmers made software that allowed its users to circumvent the regulations regarding the licensing of insurance sales. What it all says is that programmers shape our reality more and more often. They don't take the Hippocratic Oath...Maybe they should, though?
📱Samsung Galaxy S8 serves to confirm that the screen-to-body ratio will be the most important feature in modern smartphones in the coming years.In Galaxy S8, the screen takes up 86.3 percent of the overall front panel, whereas for the iPhone 7, the screen-to-body ratio is only 65.6 percent.
🤖 Microsoft Word now includes a new feature, Editor, which is essentially a machine-learning-powered editor helping you write better texts.MS Word Editor's capabilities go beyond mere spellchecking – it can spot informal language and unnecessary or weak words. I think that other popular apps are bound to introduce such features soon. Specialised AI will help us do our work faster and better – at least until many tasks that we do become entirely automated. My dream for the future is that when we feed AI with a brief and a few links and quotes, it will return a decent press article or a newsletter similar to the one you're reading at the moment.
🔥 WikiLeaks have published a lot of materials about how CIA can hack into mobile phones, television sets and computers. Cyber warfare is no longer a thing of the future – it is happening now. Whenever you use any software, you make yourself vulnerable to attacks. We can do nothing to defend ourselves against government-funded hackers. The WikiLeaks leaks have probably tarnished the image of CIA much more than Snowden's revelations.
🐦 Fifteen percent of all Twitter accounts are bots. Twitter's managers claim that bots often serve specialist functions and thus are very useful. It's quite difficult to believe, though, that there are 48 million useful bots on Twitter. Bots are great for circulating misleading or false information, phishing, and spam, which I think is the true purpose of most bots on Twitter.
🗣 Computers have become really good at voice recognition. In most cases, voice recognition works quite quickly, and the number of errors is acceptable. Natural language processing seems to be much more complicated than voice recognition, though. Even the state-of-the-art NLP algorithms can handle a limited number of contexts and commands they can feed into the operating system. This can potentially frustrate users of solutions based on NLP because they can never know whether the system will recognise the command they want it to execute. The entire phenomenon is a variation on the uncanny valley problem, which we know from robotics. If a robot looks very much like a human being but still isn't 100-percent human, the people who see the robot will experience the feelings of repulsion and anxiety. The same applies to the voice assistants of today – on the one hand, they can do a lot, but they still can't really compare to a flesh-and-bone human assistant. This is why we are so reluctant to use and trust voice assistants.
⚫️ Roomba is the coolest household robot currently available on the market. With the latest update, Roomba became capable of displaying a map of your house, and it can now show you which parts of your house it has already cleaned. It also got an integration with Amazon's Alexa. The most amazing new features, however, are the fact that Roomba can now clean really thick carpets, and when it senses that some spots are dirtier than others, it will make a few more passes over them until they are squeaky clean. Autonomous robots connected to the Internet are so cool.
👩🏽 A survey, "The Elephant in the Valley", was conducted among women in tech. Ninety percent of respondents say that they have experienced sexism at conferences and company away days, 60 percent were forced to defend themselves against unwanted sexual advances, and "1 in 3 felt afraid of their personal safety because of work-related circumstances."
🚀 The Indian Space Research Organisation has just launched their first Mars-bound rocket. It set them back $74m, which is almost ten times cheaper than the NASA's mission to Mars and $30m cheaper than The Martian.
👻 The Internet giants can trace every click we make on the World Wide Web – it's pretty obvious in 2017. The real question is: "Do we care?". People farming will never come to an end, unless adequate political or technological decisions are made. Those decisions won't be made as long as the only people who care are a handful of Internet privacy rights activists. Recently, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, spoke about this issue in an open letter for the 28th anniversary of the WWW and suggested that the industry need to start discussing imposing internal regulatory measures. I don't think that the industry wants to regulate itself, though. The governments would still rather have a number of trusted companies collect data about their citizens. The citizens themselves don't really care – you can't win an election under the banner of Internet privacy. The only entities capable of causing a true ripple throughout the industry are big governmental bodies, such as the European Commission, or a big market player which would offer an alternative to Facebook and Google based on a different business model. As of now, there are none in sight.
🌳 Spending time in the nature has a beneficial impact on your mental and physical health. Long walks in the park highly recommended.
⚙️ There would have been no software but for the classical logic. Chris Dixon wrote a piece about the history of programming from Aristotle to Alan Turing.
🇵🇱 Some of Polish innovation accelerators require that its clients sign a blank promissory note. This defeats the purpose, because limited liability companies were designed precisely to allow businesspeople to avoid being personally responsible for the actions of their companies. By signing a blank promissory note, both parties effectively sabotage their business relationship. Nothing innovative will ever be created if investors keep seeking this sort of protection, making the startup owners live in constant fear.
🎙 S-Town is a new podcast from the creators of This American Life and Serial. With seven one-hour-long episodes (which you can listen to at one go), S-Town feels more like an audiobook than a radio feature. The story of Alabama's John McLemore is a great example of how creative and open a podcast can be.