ISSUE 1.48

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Society in Code

The future of code litigation, fighting "fake news", giant botnets, even better Go computers, and more.


The Judge's Code

Complete and pure coincidence enables some of the most important legal disputes over code to be delivered to perhaps the one judge that actually knows how to code: Judge William H. Alsup. An interesting article covering the judge's upbringing and background as well as the Oracle v. Google case, where Oracle is suing Google on the grounds of copying roughly 15 lines of code verbatim that checks whether or not a number is within a given range (something that any first-year computer science student could produce). This is a case that can determine the future of the entire programming profession, affecting open source, proprietary code, and the future of litigation over code for the entire industry--and by extension, the entire world. Luckily, Judge Alsup calls bullshit--he also starts court way early, keeps his courtroom extremely cold, and demands to know who coughed--and then provides them a cough drop. Very interesting read into the complexities of copyright in software, a judge who codes (notably, in complete isolation), and the historical backdrop of code in the legal world.


As Google Fights Fake News, Voices on the Margins Raise Alarm

World Socialist Web Site's traffic dropped incredibly in April, which the owner, David North, ultimately found out was because Google had tweaked their search algorithms. Also in April, Google announced "Project Owl" to "surface more authoritative content". Meanwhile, Google declines to comment to the NYT and hasn't responded to David North. This sets a fairly dangerous precedent, but certainly not one I'm surprised by. Not that I'm claiming a complete and total conspiracy, but in every platform there's a shadow war occurring over content--and the actors personally invested in the results of that content. Even if it's just Google's insiders themselves, it seems difficult and extremely fraught to say what exactly is "fake news". The term "fake news" itself seems to have expanded to encompass news that is not completely false but merely sensational, and it's not difficult to imagine some well-meaning, patriarchal, I'm-doing-this-for-your-own-good types to decide that fake news is also anything that's fringe, polarized, or not "mainstream narrative".

Alas. What's to be done? Oh, I know! We could start a federated, decentralized search engine that's augmented and powered by the people in your network, with the ability to explore nodes of information into other people's search engine instances and see the bubbling that happens according to various communities, surfacing the algorithm and allowing you to make personal choices and what and where to see it. (It's too bad that nobody has time to make those choices intelligently.) Someone get on that, please.


A Gigantic IoT Botnet Has Grown in the Shadows in the Past Month

I love botnets. I mean, I don't love the concrete results of what they're probably used to do--to illicitly hammer core infrastructure of the internet or our dearest and most relied-upon services. But man, the idea of infestation, of packets of code essentially "turning" millions of devices? And the anthropomorphization of devices that aren't just computers (DVRs, security cameras, video recorders)! And how security researchers can "watch" it do its thing, infecting device after device--and unfortunately being powerless to stop it. It all just tickles my mind. Oooh!


Stunning AI Breakthrough Takes Us One Step Closer to the Singularity

This time, a new AI called AlphaGo Zero is able to defeat the regular AlphaGo by 100 games to 0. It was able to do this by playing itself for only three days, and was able to devise completely new strategies. I don't think I can not be sensational about this: that's right, it learned to play without a training data set, from nothing, and then kicked its old AI's human-beating-go-playing ass to the curb. AlphaGo "is no longer constrained by the limits of human knowledge".


The War To Sell You A Mattress Is An Internet Nightmare

Who knew that mattresses would be such a dire, intense, capitalistic struggle? It makes sense now, of course--I've been absolutely swamped in mattress ads, to the point it's ridiculous. So there must be something dire at work here, besides their just knowing that I am completely sick of my futon. (Yeah, I own a futon. I said it. What are you gonna do about it? (I'm sorry. I don't know why I'm getting belligerent about this.))


It Takes Just $1,000 to Track Someone's Location with Mobile Ads

The tl;dr: tracking you throughout social media, geotagging, grabbing your phone's mobile advertising ID (MAID), just have money and you too can stalk and abuse people. The worst part? There's not much you can do about it, besides paying more money for premium services that don't serve you ads. Or adblock, I guess. But it's not perfect everywhere.