No Minister

Posts Tagged ‘Information Technology

A second answer to Why?

with 4 comments

Why? was the title of a post by Nick K, my co-blogger here at NM, as he grappled with the “reasoning” behind the vaccine and mask mandates here in NZ and similar approaches taken in most corners of the globe.

I came across one possible answer to that question covered in the post, One answer to Why?, which looked at the control of popular thinking via language control in the modern context of Tech companies in the Webosphere.

Here’s some background to those companies and their leaders in this article from City-Journal in 2017, The Disrupters, which is all about the new Lords of Silicon Valley:

In just ten years, Facebook built a global empire that surpassed General Electric in market value—and did it with just 4 percent of the Old Economy giant’s workforce: 12,000, compared with 300,000. Whatsapp, a recent Facebook acquisition, managed an even more impressive wealth-to-labor ratio, with a $19 billion value and just 55 employees. Combined, both companies reach roughly one-sixth of humanity. Facebook’s entertainment colleague just to the south, Netflix, crushed Blockbuster’s mammoth national network of 9,000 stores and 60,000 employees with its more nimble workforce of just 3,700 employees.

Capitalism in action. Many firms have been so destroyed in the past by new competitors. The article goes on to explore what might happen next with AI, robotics and so forth, providing examples along the way involving brilliant young people, like Michael Sayman. In doing so the writer interviewed a number of the leading lights of this IT revolution and even got an opinion poll done of them to assess where they thought it was all going.

That’s where it gets sad – and scary. For a start these founders (147 were polled) don’t like talking about inequality, probably because of this:

As far as the future of innovation and its impact on ordinary people, the most common answer I received in Silicon Valley was this: over the (very) long run, an increasingly greater share of economic wealth will be generated by a smaller slice of very talented or original people. Everyone else will increasingly subsist on some combination of part-time entrepreneurial “gig work” and government aid.

Now I’ve done pretty well out of capitalism, but to me that future sounds like it sucks ass, even with a theoretical Universal Beneficiary Income (UBI). Fully Automated Luxury Communism it is not. It’s actually Marx’s “disguised form of alms”. It’s quite clear that these “thought leaders” are very leary of what may happen when they’ve built robots that can do most things better than a human.

And what of the political and philosophical attitudes that go with all this? Well it’s not actually as obvious as you might think. First with the political:

Contrary to popular opinion, most of Silicon Valley is not a libertarian ATM. The tech industry is overwhelmingly Democratic. In 2008, 83 percent of donations from the top Internet firms went to Obama, not John McCain. Many of the Valley’s household names, including Google’s then-chairman Eric Schmidt, personally helped Obama in both presidential campaigns. Republicans rarely get much money or talent from the Valley.

Yet they’re against unions and regulations (of their industry) and big on free trade of course, which is why Bernie Sanders gets no love from these people, nor would any Democrat of the pre-1990’s. Nor Donald Trump. Bill Clinton sniffed the winds well.

Then there’s the philosophical ideas that drive their politics:

What I discovered through my survey was that Silicon Valley represents an entirely new political category: not quite liberal and not quite libertarian. They make a fascinating mix of collectivists and avid capitalists…But Silicon Valley philosophically diverges with libertarians and conservatives in a key way: they aren’t individualists. 

He gives a great example of the latter:

When the libertarian icon Rand Paul began his early run for president in 2015, in San Francisco, he expected to be greeted like a hero. During the rally that I attended, Paul got rousing applause for railing against mass government spying. But when Paul asked, “Who is a part of the leave-me-alone coalition?” expecting to hear cheers, the room went silent. “Not that many, huh?” he nervously asked.

He’s not the only one who is nervous on hearing that, and it leads straight into this:

In my survey, founders displayed a strong orientation toward collectivism. Fifty-nine percent believed in a health-care mandate, compared with just 21 percent of self-identified libertarians. They also believed that the government should coerce people into making wise personal decisions, such as whether to eat healthier foods. Sixty-two percent said that individual decisions had an impact on many other people, justifying government intervention.

That is, tech founders reject the core premise of individualism – that citizens can do whatever they want, so long as they don’t harm others.

And consider that several of these fantastically wealthy men control companies that very much can aid (or oppose) a government via their extraordinary reach into influencing the lives of hundreds of millions, probably billions, of people. This is the world of “Nudge Theory”, and it’s very applicable to the last two years of the C-19 pandemic – a period that has seen their fortunes skyrocket beyond what was even thought possible in 2017, in several cases almost doubling to $150 billion or $200 billion plus.

Hold that thought.

What has all this done to the US state that is home to almost all of this wealth and genius, California?Well, as this National Review article describes, it’s not good, The Crumbling California Model. Again it’s lengthy with a lot of links to prove its points, but basically it comes down to this:

Yet it’s time now to see what California’s “success” is all about. It reflects a new kind of economy — dominated by a few large companies, with an elite workforce, a large service class, and a population increasingly dependent on wealth redistribution. This emerging oligarchic regime, however progressive it likes to label itself, is more feudal than egalitarian, more hierarchical than competitive, financed largely by the same tech giants who help fund Newsom’s successful defeat of the recall.

Exactly what was described by that 2017 poll of those Californian tech leaders. That state was once a remarkably diverse, job-rich economy, with vibrant aerospace, oil, trade, manufacturing, business services, and agriculture sectors, as well as software and media. But aside from the IT industry those sectors have fallen away, taking with them the well-paid jobs for people who can’t program a computer. If living on wealth redistribution sounds great to you, consider this:

For most, the reality on the ground is increasingly challenging. The state is now the second-most unaffordable state for home-buyers, a particular challenge for Millennials, and it suffers the highest rate of “doubling up” — only our friend Hawaii does worse. California has the largest gap between middle and upper wage quartiles in the nation, and it has a level of inequality greater than that of Mexico and closer to that of Central American countries such as Guatemala and Honduras than to such “progressive” developed counties as Canada and Norway.

The paradox is that California Democrats, the voters as well as the politicians, adore those welfare states and wish to be more like them without recognising that there is more to “welfare” than government money.

Back to that article I linked to the other day, looking at the control of language and ideas in our modern world. It finishes with this:

During the last three decades and possibly more, Western governments working hand in glove with large corporate interests have spent enormous energy and resources on perception management techniques designed to effectively undermine citizens’ ability to oppose the policies that these same elites, in their incandescent wisdom, have decided are best for the people. 

The attacks of September 11th gave these corporate and government leaders both the additional funds and the political latitude they needed to greatly accelerate work on these culture-planning processes. The Covid crisis has put the whole game on steroids. 

We have many ways of ignoring these frightening developments, most common and intellectually lazy of these being to dismiss them without examination under the rubric of “conspiracy theories.”

The GCSB is on the case?

leave a comment »

I would think they would be for the Ministry of Health, following this news:

Websites under Brazil’s Ministry of Health (MoH) have suffered a major ransomware attack that resulted in the unavailability of COVID-19 vaccination data of millions of citizens.

Following that attack that took place at around 1 am today, all of MoH’s websites including ConecteSUS, which tracks the trajectory of citizens in the public healthcare system, became unavailable. This includes the COVID-19 digital vaccination certificate, which is available via the ConecteSUS app.

Especially since the Waikato DHB was hit with a similar cyberattack some months ago which is still causing ongoing problems, according to people I know in that system.

I had to chuckle at the Twitter site, ZeitgeistNZ, carrying this news, because it turns out to be a New Zealander and I first saw it on the huge Instapundit blog, which undoubtedly will have delivered huge numbers of visitors to ZitgeistNZ.

It’s amazing how often the people running these systems find out that their backups are not as good as they thought they were, since such things should mean attacks like this are a mere inconvenience to the owner of the system, although having personal information being published by the hackers is a problem for both parties.

It sure beats a backpack weed sprayer

with 5 comments

Very cool news on the farming weedspraying front.

Farming robot kills 100,000 weeds per hour with lasers

Carbon Robotics has unveiled the third-generation of its Autonomous Weeder, a smart farming robot that identifies weeds and then destroys them with high-power lasers.

As it drives itself down rows of crops, its 12 cameras scan the ground. An onboard computer, powered by AI, identifies weeds, and the robot’s carbon dioxide lasers then zap and kill the plants.

The Autonomous Weeder can eliminate more than 100,000 weeds per hour and weed 15 to 20 acres of crops in one day — for comparison, Myers said a laborer can weed about one acre of his onions per day.

A robot!

With lasers!

Shit, it doesn’t get any better than that and this is the 21st century after all. I’m sure it can be adapted to work the slightly more random world of the average Kiwi sheep, cattle and dairy farm.

Written by Tom Hunter

December 1, 2021 at 12:14 pm

Welcome to the Internet

“Could I interest you in everything all of the time?”

The song was only posted on YouTube in June but already has 56 million views.

Pure genius from this guy Bo Burnham.

Also scary. I can’t help thinking that when the histories of the Chinese Xi Snot pandemic are written, The Internet is going be a big part of the picture of hysteria.

Written by Tom Hunter

November 27, 2021 at 11:47 am

Subscribing to immunity

When I moved from the academic world of computers to the business world I began to learn about the business aspects of software.

Chief among those lessons was finding that the software used on mini and mainframe computers was not purchased but rented from the companies, with subscriptions based on time (typically annual), the number of users, or other factors.

The world of so-called “micro” computers was different. You bought MS-Windows and that was it. You even got a bunch of applications as part of the whole system and of course the system was typically pre-installed when you bought the hardware.

But even in that world, the model has been shifting for years now. Some software applications (apps) that used to come packaged with the OS (Operating System) have been pulled and must be purchased separately.

But the bigger shift has seen apps sold as the software on larger machines has been, with a subscription service. This has been the case for some years now with things like Adobe software (that produces the well known “.pdf” documents), but also photo editing and animation apps. Rather than buying music that sits on your computer’s disk drive, as with Apple’s iTunes system, people are paying a monthly subscription to Cloud-based services like Spotify. Same with photos, where a certain capacity is provided for “free” but more space requires a payment of a few dollars per month.

In the future it could move into the world of computer hardware as well, where you’ll rent a virtual machine in the Cloud. The software subscription model has shifted into areas you wouldn’t normally think of it applying. The latest Tesla cars have a feature where you can pay them to “unlock” high performance, but on a subscriber basis.

While I was working for an agricultural contractor I saw that the big John Deere “choppers” had two thick, heavy plastic “wands” mounted to the central prow of the header and that these could be used to drive the machines through maize fields on automatic pilot. However, when I asked one of the drivers about this feature he scoffed and said they didn’t use it because it meant paying some $US 1500 per year to JD for the related software in the computer system and “It’s not worth it”.

All this raises the issue of ownership. There used to be no question about computers, cars and such. You bought them and could then do what you wanted with them. But increasingly that’s not the case. In the USA a bit of a black market has developed with Eastern Europe where hacked tractor software has been obtained by American farmers to get their tractors going after a breakdown (shutdown might be more accurate), rather than waiting for the official JD mechanic. Tesla cars have been hacked in order to get features that require a subscription. Who owns your downloaded iTunes music after you die? What happens to all those photos you backed up for security to the Cloud service if you stop paying the monthly subscription?

All of which has had me wondering, as I watch the Big Pharma companies like Pfizer and Moderna gleefully make serious coin from their Covid-19 vaccine shots and now talk of booster shots every few months to maintain immunity, whether the drug industry has moved to the subscription model as well?

In a sense the illegal drug industry has long been doing that, hooking its “customers” on the drugs they sell, and getting regular payments guaranteed until the addiction is broken, sometimes only by death.

But with talk of vaccine passports and papers required to operate in society the legal drug companies have certainly hit the gold mine beloved of every big business by having the State on their side with regulations. Could this then become a standard feature of life, with us paying Pfizer (either directly or via government taxes) an annual subscription for the drugs needed to keep us alive or at least, “certified and legal”?

Written by Tom Hunter

October 29, 2021 at 6:31 am

Bitcoin Monday: more CO2 than New Zealand

Labour Day?


Everyday is Labour Day, which increasingly might mean a day on which to do nothing except think about what our current Labour government is doing to this nation.

No, today shall be bitcoin day, at least here on No Minister.

By now you should all have heard of bitcoin. If you haven’t you can read the detail at that link, but the following summary is good enough:

Bitcoin () is a decentralized digital currency, without a central bank or single administrator, that can be sent from user to user on the peer-to-peer bitcoin network without the need for intermediaries.[8] Transactions are verified by network nodes through cryptography and recorded in a public distributed ledger called a blockchain.

It was invented in 2008, is based on mathematics, cryptology (public and private keys), computing technology and has gone from being worth $ 0.30 to $US 44,000 at one point. In between it’s jumped around a lot in price.

The math behind it means that only 21 million bitcoins can ever be created, which goes to the heart of the original White Paper:

“The root problem with conventional currencies is all the trust that’s required to make it work. The central bank must be trusted not to debase the currency, but the history of fiat currencies is full of breaches of that trust.”[173]

Is it real money? Yes.

Of course it relies on people being willing to buy and sell stuff using it, but that can be an issue with normal currency because ordinary currency ultimately relies on trust as well. Nobody wants to use Venezuelan currency because it’s been destroyed by their communist government creating huge amounts of it. The nation now runs on US dollars. In the same way there are perfectly solid companies and nations or parts of nations that have accepted bitcoin, including the Canton of Zug, Switzerland, which started accepting tax payments in bitcoin earlier this year.

Bitcoins have three qualities useful in a currency, according to The Economist in January 2015: they are “hard to earn, limited in supply and easy to verify.”

But, just as with US dollars vs Zimbabwean currency, the ultimate success of bitcoin as a means of exchange will depend on how far such acceptance spreads.

Is it a scam? Yes.

At least in the sense of the 1637 Tulip Mania. I see that Bob Jones was hot on this the other day, although it should be noted that he’s attacking the speculation on the currency, rather than the thing itself. The cryptology and inbuilt limits on creating bitcoins means that it’s not “fake” currency.

But that creation is something else. The first bitcoins could be created using ordinary computers. But as the theoretical limit of 21 million is approached it gets harder and harder. Ever more computer power must be applied, resulting in huge banks of computers grinding away 24/7. That takes a lot of electrical power and that’s where this chart comes in:

Incredible is it not? There are other digital currencies currently being promoted, using the same, basic concepts of mathematical cryptology and computing.

Written by Tom Hunter

October 25, 2021 at 10:49 am

Big Brains.

The photo shown here is a typical CPU (Central Processing Unit) silicon chip used in desktop and laptop computers.

Specifically this is an AMD Ryzen 3 2200, a so-called “entry-level” chip for people building their own desktop gaming computers. Just a few years ago the power of such chips was still talked of in terms of the number of transistors they held, with one of the classics, the Intel 8086 of the 1980’s, having 29,000.

That AMD chip has 5 billion transistors.

As such people nowadays usually talk about other measurements of power such as clock speed and “cores”. What’s a core? Well it means a processing unit, a computer in itself. If the original silicon chips were said to be “a computer on a chip” then a 4-core chip like the Ryzen 3 2200 has four computers on a chip, and that’s pretty ordinary now. There are retailed chips with 64 cores.

Why do this? Why not just keep making a single core ever larger? Well there are scaling problems, not just in the hardware but in using a single processor to do a job. Instead, use is made of something called parallel computing, where one job is split into many, all run at the same time. It started off as something only used with the supercomputers simulating things like nuclear explosions. Parallel processing makes it possible to perform ever larger data processing jobs in human time.

The thing is that the human brain is also, basically, a parallel processor (Minsky), and a pretty massive one at that, with 100 trillion synapses (brain cells), each of which is like a transistor but with hundreds of connections to other synapses, which multiplies that 100 trillion in terms of data storage and delivers processing power beyond what should be possible given how much slower nerve impulses are compared to electronics.

The SF author Arthur C Clarke, in the book version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, actually makes reference to Minsky’s research on neural networks in explaining how the infamous computer HAL 9000 was developed, which shows you the sort of background study Clarke did for his stories. Minsky was an advisor to the movie.

For decades, most of these neural networks amounted to creating artificial “neurons” in the software, which was basically a clunking simulation, ultimately limited by the hardware it ran on. You could do interesting things, just slowly.

Which brings me to this news story, World’s Largest Chip Unlocks Brain-Sized AI Models With Cerebras CS-2.

Cores? It has 850,000 of them!

Cerebras Systems today announced that it has created what it bills as the first brain-scale AI solution – a single system that can support 120-trillion parameter AI models, beating out the 100 trillion synapses present in the human brain. In contrast, clusters of GPUs, the most commonly-used device for AI workloads, typically top out at 1 trillion parameters. Cerebras can accomplish this industry-first with a single 850,000-core system, but it can also spread workloads over up to 192 CS-2 systems with 162 million AI-optimized cores to unlock even more performance. 

Are you scared?

I am, and I’ve been in this world for most of my life.

Of course it’s going to take some time to develop the software to truly use this baby, but if we get to the point where the software-hardware configuration can start truly learning in growing itself, well…

Written by Tom Hunter

October 7, 2021 at 9:07 am

Social Media Topsy Turvy

I awoke this morning to news from Beloved Wife that she could not even access Facebook let alone get to the places she visits.

At first I thought it was just the usual FaceTwit shadow-banning or worse, but a quick check on Ye Olde Internet revealed that Facebook was actually down and out in the worst such failure they’ve had since 2008 (when they only had 80 million people in their walled garden).

My heart skipped a beat. Perhaps Putin’s outsourced cyber-crime units had finally struck a blow for freedom. As the Babylon Bee put it:

Sadly this did not turn out to be the case.

Written by Tom Hunter

October 5, 2021 at 6:58 pm

Chinese Xi Snot Risk Calculations

Here’s fun to while away the time in lockdown.

A website set up by Oxford University: QCovid Risk Assessment.

You have to scroll down the first page and hit the ACCEPT button for the license to use the software, but after that it’s a matter of punching in your age, weight, health factors and so forth.

It uses British data of course, including stuff on your location but aside from a couple of factors the rest should apply here if you’re not of Maori or Pacific Island descent (obviously Britain would not have a lot of Covid data for those demographics)

There’s also this disclaimer

PLEASE NOTE: This implementation of the QCovid risk calculator is NOT intended for use supporting or informing clinical decision-making. It is ONLY to be used for academic research, peer review and validation purposes, and it must NOT be used with data or information relating to any individual. 

I wonder how long they’ll leave this site up, since obviously individuals will do what I and other have done here.

Running my data through the system I find that my risks from Covid-19 are as follows:

1 chance in 11641 chance in 6211

In other words in a crowd of 10,000 people with the same risk factors as me, 2 are likely to catch and die from COVID-19 and 10 to be admitted to hospital during a 90 day period similar to the recent peak in Britain.

Of course the data is changing all the time as more is learned.

Still, I should probably be hiding under the bed with a mask on.

You can’t be too careful

Written by Tom Hunter

September 11, 2021 at 1:50 pm

Better living through superior management

The truly horrifying thing about the following story from US magazine, The Atlantic, is not the technology, or the tech companies undoubtedly pushing it, or the Police and Health authorities who simply see it as a way of coping with an otherwise unmanageable problem.

No, it’s the fact that political leaders buy into it so easily with seemingly not a thought for anything else.

But more horrifying still will be the likelihood that the people themselves will go for this if they’re frightened enough: the “large consensus” that politicians regard as the Holy Grail.

Australia Traded Away Too Much Liberty:

People in South Australia will be forced to download an app that combines facial recognition and geolocation. The state will text them at random times, and thereafter they will have 15 minutes to take a picture of their face in the location where they are supposed to be. Should they fail, the local police department will be sent to follow up in person. “We don’t tell them how often or when, on a random basis they have to reply within 15 minutes,” Premier Steven Marshall explained. “I think every South Australian should feel pretty proud that we are the national pilot for the home-based quarantine app.”

What reasons can people give for this not coming to New Zealand soon?

Written by Tom Hunter

September 3, 2021 at 1:31 pm