Archive for March 14, 2016

Monday, March 14, 2016

Why Are We Fighting the Crypto Wars Again?

Justin Sink:

“You cannot take an absolutist view on this,” Obama said at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. “If your argument is strong encryption no matter what, and we can and should create black boxes, that I think does not strike the kind of balance we have lived with for 200, 300 years, and it’s fetishizing our phones above every other value.”


“I suspect the answer is going to come down to, how do we create a system that, encryption is as strong as possible, the key is secure as possible, and it is accessible by the smallest number of people possible for the subset of issues that we agree is important,” he said.

Juli Clover:

Obama went on to call on software engineers and technology companies to help the government solve the problem, and he said a thorough, well-formed encryption solution should be established before it’s desperately needed. He cautioned against the tech community disengaging or taking a position that “is not sustainable for the general public as a whole over time,” as it could lead to a stalemate that will ultimately lead to “sloppy” legislation should the political climate change after something “really bad happens.”

John Gruber:

Our phones are either insecure, making life easier for law enforcement — or, our phones are secure, making life more difficult for law enforcement, rendering some potential evidence unobtainable.

Nick Heer:

In many ways, I desperately want tech companies to try to work with lawmakers on this issue, because it’s become very clear that they have no idea what they’re talking about and it’s likely that they will codify regulations that are technically unfeasible now and destructive in the future.

Steven Levy (Hacker News):

Thus began the Crypto Wars. The government warned that unrestrained crypto would empower “bad guys” (terrorists, drug lords, kiddie porn purveyors). Business interests and privacy advocates argued that the only ones hurt would be citizens seeking to protect their information. (Disclosure boast: I wrote the book on this, and it’s still in print!)


For most of the ’90s, the government’s “compromise” on this issue — or its (pipe) dream — was that you could concoct a system where everything was locked down tight, but some carefully designed kink in the process would let the Feds get the information if they really wanted it. […] It was an unwieldy and impractical idea — especially since people who wanted security had options to buy stuff without Clipper Chips — and its demise helped lead the government to the conclusion that people highly motivated to protect their information were going to use crypto anyway. In theory at least, intelligence and law enforcement agreed to accept the fact that crypto was here to stay, and if they wanted to gain access to encrypted communications and files, they would do so by warrants and their own cryptanalysis, and not by demanding that the systems themselves should be weakened.

Previously: FBI Asks Apple for Secure Golden Key.

The Sadness and Beauty of Watching Google’s AI Play Go

Cade Metz (via Jason Snell, Hacker News):

Even after Lee Sedol returned to the table, he didn’t quite know what to do, spending nearly 15 minutes considering his next play. AlphaGo’s move didn’t seem to connect with what had come before. In essence, the machine was abandoning a group of stones on the lower half of the board to make a play in a different area. AlphaGo placed its black stone just beneath a single white stone played earlier by Lee Sedol, and though the move may have made sense in another situation, it was completely unexpected in that particular place at that particular time—a surprise all the more remarkable when you consider that people have been playing Go for more than 2,500 years. The commentators couldn’t even begin to evaluate the merits of the move.


Then, over the next three hours, AlphaGo went on to win the game, taking a two-games-to-none lead in this best-of-five contest. To date, machines have beaten the best humans at chess and checkers and Othello and Jeopardy!. But no machine has beaten the very best at Go, a game that is exponentially more complex than chess.

Cade Metz:

AlphaGo had already claimed victory in the best-of-five contest, a test of artificial intelligence closely watched in Asia and across the tech world. But on Sunday evening inside Seoul’s Four Seasons hotel, Lee Sedol clawed back a degree of pride for himself and the millions of people who watched the match online.


Using what are called deep neural networks—networks of hardware and software that mimic the web of neurons in the human brain—AlphaGo first learned the game of Go by analyzing thousands upon thousands of moves made by real live human players. Thanks to another technology called reinforcement learning, it then climbed to an entirely different and higher level by playing game after game after game against itself. In essence, these games generated all sorts of new moves that the machine could use to retrain itself. By definition, these are inhuman moves.


At this point, AlphaGo started to play what Redmond and Garlock considered unimpressive or “slack” moves. The irony is that this may have indicated that the machine was confident of a win. AlphaGo makes moves that maximize its probability of winning, not its margin of victory. “This was AlphaGo saying: ‘I think I’m ahead. I’m going to wrap this stuff up,’” Garlock said.

Update (2016-03-14): See also: Kirk McElhearn, Gary Robinson, John Langford, Hacker News, Sam Byford.

Update (2016-03-15): Sam Byford (Hacker News):

AlphaGo has beaten world-class player Lee Se-dol for a fourth time to win the five-game series 4-1 overall. The final game proved to be a close one, with both sides fighting hard and going deep into overtime.

Update (2016-03-16): Kieran Healey:

The Google/DeepMind team has a technical paper in Nature describing AlphaGo, the program they wrote.

Update (2016-03-17): Google:

First, this test bodes well for AI’s potential in solving other problems. AlphaGo has the ability to look “globally” across a board—and find solutions that humans either have been trained not to play or would not consider. This has huge potential for using AlphaGo-like technology to find solutions that humans don’t necessarily see in other areas. Second, while the match has been widely billed as "man vs. machine," AlphaGo is really a human achievement. Lee Sedol and the AlphaGo team both pushed each other toward new ideas, opportunities and solutions—and in the long run that's something we all stand to benefit from.

The Power of Preview

Adam C. Engst and Josh Centers:

The first option for how files should open is often confusing. Let’s say you have a Take Control PDF book open in Preview, and you double-click a JPEG-based photo in the Finder. It will open in the same window as the book!

And if you select the third option, when you select multiple images and open them in Preview, they all open in separate windows, which is overwhelming and makes navigation far more difficult.

The default option, Open Groups of Files in the Same Window, is generally the best choice.

I agree, but I often wish I could override that to open a specific group of files in separate windows. In particular, I usually want PDFs to be opened in separate windows, especially if they are multi-page. Navigation and removing pages is easier this way. I suppose this would be easy to do with a script, but it would be nice if it were built in. I almost always want groups of images to open in the same window, though.

Update (2016-03-14): I wrote the script for Preview.