Updated Brain Map Identifies Nearly 100 New Regions

Updated Brain Map Identifies Nearly 100 New Regions
By Carl Zimmer
Jul 20 2016

The brain looks like a featureless expanse of folds and bulges, but it’s actually carved up into invisible territories. Each is specialized: Some groups of neurons become active when we recognize faces, others when we read, others when we raise our hands.

On Wednesday, in what many experts are calling a milestone in neuroscience, researchers published a spectacular new map of the brain, detailing nearly 100 previously unknown regions — an unprecedented glimpse into the machinery of the human mind.

Scientists will rely on this guide as they attempt to understand virtually every aspect of the brain, from how it develops in children and ages over decades, to how it can be corrupted by diseases like Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.

“It’s a step towards understanding why we’re we,” said David Kleinfeld, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved in the research.

Scientists created the map with advanced scanners and computers running artificial intelligence programs that “learned” to identify the brain’s hidden regions from vast amounts of data collected from hundreds of test subjects, a far more sophisticated and broader effort than had been previously attempted.

While an important advance, the new atlas is hardly the final word on the brain’s workings. It may take decades for scientists to figure out what each region is doing, and more will be discovered in coming decades.


Artificial Intelligence Swarms Silicon Valley on Wings and Wheels

Artificial Intelligence Swarms Silicon Valley on Wings and Wheels
Jul 17 2016

SUNNYVALE, Calif. — For more than a decade, Silicon Valley’s technology investors and entrepreneurs obsessed over social media and mobile apps that helped people do things like find new friends, fetch a ride home or crowdsource a review of a product or a movie.

Now Silicon Valley has found its next shiny new thing. And it does not have a “Like” button.

The new era in Silicon Valley centers on artificial intelligence and robots, a transformation that many believe will have a payoff on the scale of the personal computing industry or the commercial internet, two previous generations that spread computing globally. Computers have begun to speak, listen and see, as well as sprout legs, wings and wheels to move unfettered in the world.

The shift was evident in a Lowe’s home improvement store here this month, when a prototype inventory checker developed by Bossa Nova Robotics silently glided through the aisles using computer vision to automatically perform a task that humans have done manually for centuries.

The robot, which was skilled enough to autonomously move out of the way of shoppers and avoid unexpected obstacles in the aisles, alerted people to its presence with soft birdsong chirps. Gliding down the middle of an aisle at a leisurely pace, it can recognize bar codes on shelves, and it uses a laser to detect which items are out of stock.

Silicon Valley’s financiers and entrepreneurs are digging into artificial intelligence with remarkable exuberance. The region now has at least 19 companies designing self-driving cars and trucks, up from a handful five years ago. There are also more than a half-dozen types of mobile robots, including robotic bellhops and aerial drones, being commercialized.


9th Circuit: It’s a federal crime to visit a website after being told not to visit it

9th Circuit: It’s a federal crime to visit a website after being told not to visit it
By Orin Kerr
Jul 12 2016

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has handed down a very important decision on the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Facebook v. Vachani, which I flagged just last week. For those of us worried about broad readings of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the decision is quite troubling. Its reasoning appears to be very broad. If I’m reading it correctly, it says that if you tell people not to visit your website, and they do it anyway knowing you disapprove, they’re committing a federal crime of accessing your computer without authorization.

I think this decision is wrong, and that it has big implications going forward. Here’s a rundown of the case and why it matters. I’ll conclude with a thought about a possible way to read the case more narrowly, as well as why I’m not convinced that narrow reading is correct.

I. The Facts

Steve Vachani is the chief executive and founder of Power Ventures, which had a website at Power.com. (I’ll refer to Vachani and Power Ventures collectively as “Power.”) Power had a service that let users aggregate their contacts on different social media sites. Power’s software allowed Facebook users to authorize Power to go into their Facebook accounts and gather information for them for use at Power’s website. Power users also authorized the software to send Facebook messages to other Facebook users for them. Facebook didn’t appreciate this, and it sent a “cease and desist” letter to Power telling the company to stop. The cease-and-desist letter told Power that it was violating Facebook’s terms of use and warned Power that it may have violated federal and state law. Facebook also blocked Power’s IP addresses. Power just changed IP addresses and continued operating.

Facebook then sued, claiming that Power’s conduct violated the CFAA, a somewhat similar California unauthorized access statute and the CAN-SPAM Act. Just to keep things simple, I’ll focus this post only on the claims brought under the CFAA.

II. The New Decision

In the new decision, the court holds that Power violated the CFAA when it continued to access Facebook’s computers with users’ permission after receiving the cease-and-desist letter. Oddly, Judge Susan P. Graber’s explanation for why Power violated the CFAA focuses almost exclusively on Power’s state of mind rather than what Power did. The CFAA prohibits intentionally accessing a computer without authorization. Instead of explaining what counts as access “without authorization,” Judge Graber focuses mostly on whether Power had a culpable state of mind with respect to whether it was doing something unwanted.

Here’s the key analysis:

Initially, Power users arguably gave Power permission to use Facebook’s computers to disseminate messages. Power reasonably could have thought that consent from Facebook users to share the promotion was permission for Power to access Facebook’s computers. [FN: Because, initially, Power users gave Power permission to use Facebook’s computers to disseminate messages, we need not decide whether websites such as Facebook are presumptively open to all comers, unless and until permission is revoked expressly.] . . . Power users took action akin to allowing a friend to use a computer or to log on to an e-mail account. Because Power had at least arguable permission to access Facebook’s computers, it did not initially access Facebook’s computers “without authorization” within the meaning of the CFAA.

But Facebook expressly rescinded that permission when Facebook issued its written cease and desist letter to Power on December 1, 2008. Facebook’s cease and desist letter informed Power that it had violated Facebook’s terms of use and demanded that Power stop soliciting Facebook users’ information, using Facebook content, or otherwise interacting with Facebook through automated scripts. Facebook then imposed IP blocks in an effort to prevent Power’s continued access.

The record shows unequivocally that Power knew that it no longer had authorization to access Facebook’s computers, but continued to do so anyway. In requests for admission propounded during the course of this litigation, Power admitted that, after receiving notice that its use of or access to Facebook was forbidden by Facebook, it “took, copied, or made use of data from the Facebook website without Facebook’s permission to do so.” (Emphasis added; capitalization omitted.)


ARM: The $32B Pivot and Revolution

ARM: The $32B Pivot and Revolution
By Jean-Louis Gassée
Jul 24 2016

[ARM is now the dominant microprocessor architecture, a feat achieved through a combination of sharp engineering, a PC market failure, and an inspired business model pivot. The reward is a puzzlingly high acquisition offer from Masa Son, the maverick SoftBank founder.]

Chips built on the Advanced RISC Machine architecture are everywhere. Available in a wide range of sizes and power requirements, ARM processors impart intelligence and connectivity to devices ranging from high-end smartphones, tablets, watches to thermostats, drones, infotainment systems, and many other appliances. According to Wikipedia’s ARM Holdings article, 15 Billion chips containing an ARM core were sold in 2015.

And now, Japanese telecommunications company SoftBank wants to acquire ARM Holdings for $32B, a valuation that is a testament to ARM’s rise to the pinnacle of the microprocessor world.

How ARM managed to dethrone the previous emperor, Intel, makes for a fascinating story that can be summarized in three idiosyncratic, illuminating steps that include one ingenious move:

• Founded in the UK in1978, Acorn Computers started life as a PC hardware company. Initially successful, Acorn couldn’t compete with IBM in the business sector.
• The company extracted a choice bone from the corpse: The Acorn Risc Machine.chip.
• In a splendid pivot move, Acorn dematerialized the bone: They turned ARM into a licensable design.
Along the way, two heroes stood out:

• Sophie Wilson designed the instruction set for the first Acorn Risc Machine and received a lifetime award for her work.
• Hermann Hauserwas instrumental in spinning off ARM Holdings from Acorn.

(The links above will give you many more details on the complicated life of Acorn Computers, its struggles and innovations.)

But the ARM story needed another ingredient, an enabling innovation without which the heart of ARM’s business model — the licensing of processor design — would be impossible: Electronic Design Automation (EDA).

In the old days, circuits were prototyped by hand using a primitive breadboard. After the circuit was debugged and pronounced fit, it was translated into masks for printed circuit boards.

As integrated circuits grew to comprise thousands and then millions of logic elements, breadboards were virtualized: The circuit-to-be was designed on a computer, just as we model a building using architectural Computer Assisted Design(CAD).

A multibillion industry of software modules that could be plugged into one’s own circuit specifications soon emerged. Companies such as Synopsys, Cadence, and Mentor Graphics offered circuit design tools, and an ecosystem of third-party developers offered complementary libraries for graphics, networking, sensors… The end result is a System On a Chip (SOC) that’s sent off to semiconductor manufacturing companies commonly called foundries.


Congress: TSA is worst place to work in USG, nearly half of employees cited for misconduct; it’s getting worse

Congress: TSA is worst place to work in USG, nearly half of employees cited for misconduct; it’s getting worse
By Cory Doctorow
Jul 24 2016

The House Homeland Security Committee Majority Staff Report has just published its investigation on aviation security, and the title really tells you everything you need to know:  MISCONDUCT AT TSA THREATENS THE SECURITY OF THE FLYING PUBLIC.

The headline finding: nearly half of all TSA employees have been cited for misconduct, and misconduct has been on the rise since 2013. A lot of that misconduct is just not showing up for work (predictably, the TSA has terrible morale, the worst of any federal agency and is ranked among the worst places to work in the US government), with an equally large tranche relating to “insubordination, ignoring policies or security procedures, and disrespectful behavior” (being a dick). 

In more than 80% of cases, “non-disciplinary action” was taken against the TSA employees — in many cases, managers violated TSA policy by taking these non-disciplinary actions.

The report also finds that the TSA doesn’t keep adequate records of misconduct and response, and lacks mechanisms to address what misconduct it does track. Sometimes, the TSA ends up employing people whom other agencies have warned them against — for example, Customs and Border Protection warned TSA that a prospective hire had admitted to “selling and using drugs, accepting bribes, engaging in prostitution, and being involved in a credit card scheme” (the TSA hired this person); in another case, the US Postal Service warned TSA that one of their employees had “admitted to participating in the production, possession, and distribution of child pornography; abuse of an animal; and shoplifting.”

The Committee is alarmed by the longstanding dysfunction at TSA and the serious examples of misconduct that appear to exist at all levels of the organization. During the course of this investigation, it became clear to the Committee that TSA has not taken all the necessary steps to ensure that employees follow policies and that misconduct is properly addressed. TSA has issued policies and the Table of Offenses and Penalties that, in theory, should provide guidance to employees about appropriate conduct and processes for addressing misconduct. However, TSA has not put in place effective mechanisms to ensure that policies are followed.


Yes, floppy disks are still used at our nuclear bases—but there’s a good reason

[Note:  This item comes from reader Randall Head.  DLH]

Yes, floppy disks are still used at our nuclear bases—but there’s a good reason
By Kashmir Hill
Jul 22 2016

During his Republican National Convention speech Thursday night, Silicon Valley billionaire and Trump supporter Peter Thiel told the crowd that when he was growing up in America in the 60s, “the future was limitless.”

“It’s hard to remember this, but our government was once high tech,” he said. “But today our government is broken. Our nuclear bases still use floppy disks.”

It may sound unbelievable, but he’s right. When Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes toured a nuclear launch center in 2014, she found “a malfunctioning phone, floppy disks and an antique computer system without a monitor.” And the floppy disks were “the really old, big ones,” from the 70s era. They’re part of the Strategic Automated Command and Control System, the Pentagon’s communications system for issuing launch orders for intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombers, and tanker support aircrafts.

In other words, 60 Minutes found technology that reflected the time in which America’s nuclear weapons program was being ramped up.

So you may be slapping your forehead now and thinking, “Man, this place is in trouble.” But there’s an upside to using really, really old tech. As Brian Fung pointed out in the Washington Post earlier this year, using floppy disks and being insulated from digital networks is a deterrent against hackers. Think about the launch systems being in the cloud and then think about the OPM hack. Not exactly reassuring. Wrote Fung:

There are parallels here to fiction, which can be just as instructive. In the 2004 hit TV series “Battlestar Galactica,” humanity comes under assault from robots that it created. Much of the human space fleet is taken by surprise, crippled by a robot-built computer virus that spreads from ship to ship thanks to the sophisticated networks linking the crafts together. The Galactica, an obsolete warship due to be mothballed, is one of the few to survive the initial surprise attack. Why? Because the Galactica’s systems were not part of the humans’ IT network, sparing it from the virus that disables the rest of the fleet. The lesson seems clear: Sometimes, newer is not better.


White people think racism is getting worse. Against white people.

White people think racism is getting worse. Against white people.
Our research found whites think anti-white bias is more of a problem than anti-black bias.
By Samuel Sommers and Michael Norton
Jul 21 2016

How do Americans think about the role of race in our country’s daily life? News reports, social media and uncomfortable dinner conversations often point to one conclusion: They disagree. Many white Americans believe that the United States has entered a post-racial phase; many black Americans believe that race is as salient an issue as ever.

Recent polling identifies one area, though, where black and white Americans show remarkable convergence: They believe that race relations have gotten worse. Asked in a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this past week whether race relations in the United States are generally good or generally bad, 72 percent of black respondents said “bad.” So did 63 percent of whites. A recent New York Times-CBS News poll had similar results.

But this purported agreement obscures the fact that black and white Americans see issues related to race very differently. Just one week after the widely publicized fatal police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota — and days after a gunman killed five police officers in Dallas — 75 percent of blacks surveyed by the Times and CBS reported thinking that police are more likely to use deadly force against a black civilian than a white civilian. Only 36 percent of whites agreed.

Our recent research suggests yet another way black and white Americans see race differently: Whites now think bias against white people is more of a problem than bias against black people.

We asked 417 black and white respondents to assess how big a problem anti-black bias was in America in each decade from the 1950s to the present. We then asked them the same questions about anti-white bias — the extent to which they felt that racism against whites has changed since the 1950s.

Black and white Americans both thought anti-black bias had decreased over the decades. Whites saw that decline as steeper and more dramatic than blacks did, but the general impressions of the trend were similar for both races.

When asked about anti-white bias, though, black and white respondents differed significantly in their views. Black respondents identified virtually no anti-white bias in any decade. White respondents agreed that anti-white bias was not a problem in the 1950s, but reported that bias against whites started climbing in the 1960s and 1970s before rising sharply in the past 30 years.

When asked about the present-day United States, a striking difference emerged. Our average white respondent believed that at the time of our survey in 2011, anti-white bias was an even bigger problem than anti-black bias.