Sunday, September 25, 2016

Stealing an AI Algorithm & It's Underlying Data is a “High-School Level Exercise”

The researchers found that the complexity of the algorithm mirrored how hard it was to steal. Simple yes-or-no algorithms, which can be used to predict whether a tumor is malignant or mortality rates from sepsis, can be copied in just 41 queries, less than $0.10 under Google’s payment structure. Complex neural networks, like those used in handwriting recognition, on average took 108,200 queries, but achieved more than 98% accuracy when tested against the original algorithm.

These attacks are limited by a few parameters: since APIs are typically monetized per use, this methods can get expensive over 100,000 uses, and also raise red flags with the service provider. Ristenpart says that deeper neural networks are vexing, especially if the approach is a conglomeration of a few different algorithms.

Once they had stolen an algorithm, the team was also able to reveal the data that had been used to train it. They tested this attack on a public data set of faces, often used for facial recognition, and found that every face could be reconstructed. The algorithm had memorized each face to such an extent that it could generate each person’s likeness. If a company were to train their algorithm on private data, like health records or their users’ information, there’s no guarantee it would be safe if the API were accessible.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.

- Isaac Asimov

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Ultimate Exit Interview

GOODWIN: When Lincoln was 23 years old, and running for office the first time, he said, “Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.” And then, a decade later, when he was in the midst of a depression so severe that his friends took all the knives, razors, and other dangerous things from his room, he said he was more than willing to die but that he had “done nothing to make any human being remember that he had lived.” Isn’t that incredible? So how would you describe your “peculiar ambition” that every man has? And when did it develop?

OBAMA: It’s always dangerous to amend the words of Abraham Lincoln, but let me see if this is a friendly amendment. I actually think, when you’re young, ambitions are somewhat common—you want to prove yourself. It may grow out of different life experiences. You may want to prove that you are worthy of the admiration of the demanding father. You may want to prove that you are worthy of the love of an absent father. You may want to prove that you’re worthy of other kids or neighbors who were wealthier than you and teased you. You may want to prove that you’re worthy of high expectations. But I do think that there is a youthful ambition that very much has to do with making your mark in the world. And I think that cuts across the experiences of a lot of people who end up achieving something significant in their field. I think, as you get older, that’s when your ambitions become “peculiar” …

GOODWIN: Oh, well said, sir. We can amend Lincoln.

OBAMA: … because I think that at a certain stage those early ambitions burn away, partly because you achieve something, you get something done, you get some notoriety. And then the particularities of who you are and what your deepest commitments are begin expressing themselves. You’re not just chasing the idea of “me” being important, but you, rather, are chasing a particular passion.

So, in my case, you could analyze me and say that my father leaving and being absent was a motivator for early ambition, trying to prove myself to this apparition who had vanished. You could argue that me being a mixed kid in a place where there weren’t a lot of black kids around might have spurred on my ambitions. You could go through a whole litany of things that sparked me wanting to do something important.

But as I got older, then my particular ambitions started cohering around creating a world in which people of different races or backgrounds or faiths can recognize each other’s humanity, or creating a world in which every kid, regardless of their background, can strive and achieve and fulfill their potential.

And those particular ambitions end up being rooted not just in me wanting to prove myself, but they end up being rooted in a particular worldview, a recognition that the world only makes sense to me given my life and my background if, in fact, we’re not just an assortment of tribes that can never understand each other, but that we’re, rather, one common humanity that can meet and learn and love each other.


OBAMA: Absolutely. I am a firm believer that you don’t do anything significant by yourself. Again, maybe there are exceptions. There’s the Picasso or the Mozart.

GOODWIN: Yes, Teddy Roosevelt wrote that there are certain geniuses, of which he was not one. But Lincoln was one. Keats could write a poem that nobody else could write.

OBAMA: I don’t fall in that category. I marvel at those people who are true geniuses of that sort. But what I’ve seen in my own life is that when I get something important done it’s because of a lot of other people—some who get credit, some who don’t.

- More Here

Wisdom Of The Week

Quote of the Day

Chance is commonly viewed as a self-correcting process in which a deviation in one direction induces a deviation in the opposite direction to restore the equilibrium. In fact, deviations are not "corrected" as a chance process unfolds, they are merely diluted.

- Amos Tversky, Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases

Friday, September 23, 2016

Quote of the Day

As Zweig shows us, civilisation is a more fragile thing than we often care to understand. Every generation in its youthful vigour takes the view that it is the zenith of creation — an improved version on all that has come before, an evolution towards the ideal. Ours takes for granted that it will live in peace and relative economic stability and that this will continue, almost regardless of what decisions are taken, because that is all we have known.

But of course, what seems permanent is only ever transitory. We are evidentially no better than those who preceded us — no one has yet written a finer symphony than Beethoven, or a better cantata than Bach, or come close to the polymathic genius of da Vinci. And if we struggle to match their achievements, what right do we have to insist we will avoid their mistakes?

- The World of Today, Chris Deerin

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Quote of the Day

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear.

- Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

I Used to Be a Human Being

After a long hiatus, Andrew (Sullivan) is back and makes you cry:

My goal was to keep thought in its place. “Remember,” my friend Sam Harris, an atheist meditator, had told me before I left, “if you’re suffering, you’re thinking.” The task was not to silence everything within my addled brain, but to introduce it to quiet, to perspective, to the fallow spaces I had once known where the mind and soul replenish.


Has our enslavement to dopamine — to the instant hits of validation that come with a well-crafted tweet or Snapchat streak — made us happier? I suspect it has simply made us less unhappy, or rather less aware of our unhappiness, and that our phones are merely new and powerful antidepressants of a non-pharmaceutical variety. In an essay on contemplation, the Christian writer Alan Jacobs recently commended the comedian Louis C.K. for withholding smartphones from his children. On the Conan O’Brien show, C.K. explained why: “You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away,” he said. “Underneath in your life there’s that thing … that forever empty … that knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you’re alone … That’s why we text and drive … because we don’t want to be alone for a second.”

He recalled a moment driving his car when a Bruce Springsteen song came on the radio. It triggered a sudden, unexpected surge of sadness. He instinctively went to pick up his phone and text as many friends as possible. Then he changed his mind, left his phone where it was, and pulled over to the side of the road to weep. He allowed himself for once to be alone with his feelings, to be overwhelmed by them, to experience them with no instant distraction, no digital assist.


And yet I wonder. The ubiquitous temptations of virtual living create a mental climate that is still maddeningly hard to manage. In the days, then weeks, then months after my retreat, my daily meditation sessions began to falter a little. There was an election campaign of such brooding menace it demanded attention, headlined by a walking human Snapchat app of incoherence. For a while, I had limited my news exposure to the New York Times’ daily briefings; then, slowly, I found myself scanning the click-bait headlines from countless sources that crowded the screen; after a while, I was back in my old rut, absorbing every nugget of campaign news, even as I understood each to be as ephemeral as the last, and even though I no longer needed to absorb them all for work.

Then there were the other snares: the allure of online porn, now blasting through the defenses of every teenager; the ease of replacing every conversation with a texting stream; the escape of living for a while in an online game where all the hazards of real human interaction are banished; the new video features on Instagram, and new friends to follow. It all slowly chipped away at my meditative composure. I cut my daily silences from one hour to 25 minutes; and then, almost a year later, to every other day. I knew this was fatal — that the key to gaining sustainable composure from meditation was rigorous discipline and practice, every day, whether you felt like it or not, whether it felt as if it were working or not. Like weekly Mass, it is the routine that gradually creates a space that lets your life breathe. But the world I rejoined seemed to conspire to take that space away from me. “I do what I hate,” as the oldest son says in Terrence Malick’s haunting Tree of Life.

I haven’t given up, even as, each day, at various moments, I find myself giving in. There are books to be read; landscapes to be walked; friends to be with; life to be fully lived. And I realize that this is, in some ways, just another tale in the vast book of human frailty. But this new epidemic of distraction is our civilization’s specific weakness. And its threat is not so much to our minds, even as they shape-shift under the pressure. The threat is to our souls. At this rate, if the noise does not relent, we might even forget we have any.

Quote of the Day

The thing that struck me was his intensity. Whatever he was interested in he would generally carry to an irrational extreme." Jobs had honed his trick of using stares and silences to master other people. One of his numbers was to stare at the person he was talking to. He would stare into their fucking eyeballs, ask some question, and would want a response without the other person averting their eyes.

- Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Quote of the Day

A great nation is not saved by wars, it is saved by acts without external picturesqueness; by speaking, writing, voting reasonably; by smiting corruption swiftly; by good temper between parties; by the people knowing true men when they see them, and preferring them as leaders to rabid partisans and empty quacks.

- William James