Monday 29 November, 2021

Seen in a Yorkshire window

A window in Swaledale yesterday morning.

Quote of the Day

“For the past 40 years we have been programming computers; for the next 40 we will be training them.”

  • Chris Bishop, head of Microsoft Research in the UK, commenting on the significance of machine learning in today’s Long Read.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Redemption Song | Arranged and played by the astonishing Kanneh-Mason family.


Long Read of the Day

 How AI is reinventing what computers are

Insightful piece in Tech Review by Will Douglas Heaven. The usual caveat — for ‘AI’ read machine learning — applies, but otherwise it’s spot on.

Computers haven’t changed much in 40 or 50 years. They’re smaller and faster, but they’re still boxes with processors that run instructions from humans. AI changes that on at least three fronts: how computers are made, how they’re programmed, and how they’re used. Ultimately, it will change what they are for.

“The core of computing is changing from number-crunching to decision-­making,” says Pradeep Dubey, director of the parallel computing lab at Intel. Or, as MIT CSAIL director Daniela Rus puts it, AI is freeing computers from their boxes…

Read on

Facebook isn’t the most toxic tech company

Yesterday’s Observer column:

If you were compiling a list of the most toxic tech companies, Facebook – strangely – would not come out on top. First place belongs to NSO, an outfit of which most people have probably never heard. Wikipedia tells us that “NSO Group is an Israeli technology firm primarily known for its proprietary spyware Pegasus, which is capable of remote zero-click surveillance of smartphones”.

Pause for a moment on that phrase: “remote zero-click surveillance of smartphones”. Most smartphone users assume that the ability of a hacker to penetrate their device relies upon the user doing something careless or naive – clicking on a weblink, or opening an attachment. And in most cases they would be right in that assumption. But Pegasus can get in without the user doing anything untoward. And once in, it turns everything on the device into an open book for whoever deployed the malware.

That makes it remarkable enough. But the other noteworthy thing about it is that it can infect Apple iPhones…

Read on

My commonplace booklet

Robert Caro’s writing schedule

All the successful writers I know have one simple rule: write every day, no matter what. But the biographer Robert Caro — who at the beginning of his career wrote a landmark biography of the planner Robert Moses and after that has devoted the rest of his life to a truly monumental life of Lyndon Johnson — takes this rule to sublime lengths. He seems to regard a day in which he wrote less than a thousand words as a failure.


Early in the lockdown last year I bought and enjoyed Caro’s account of his working methods — Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing. It’s not for the faint-hearted, frivolous or occasional scribbler. Biography, it seems, is hard labour.

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