Perhaps unsurprisingly, December was a slow month. Blog posts and articles dropped off over the holidays; the antics of Sam Bankman-Fried and Elon Musk created a lot of distractions. While we won’t engage in Schadenfreude over the Twitter exodus, or SBF’s fall from the financial firmament, the most interesting news of the month is the rise of Mastodon. Mastodon isn’t new, and it doesn’t yet challenge the major social media players. But it’s real, it’s scaling, and its federated model presents a different way of thinking about social media, services, and (indeed) Web3. And ChatGPT? Yes, everyone was talking about it. It’s been known to impersonate Linux, help developers learn new programming languages, and even improve traditional college courses (where its ability to make mistakes can be turned into an asset).

AI

  • One developer has integrated ChatGPT into an IDE, where it can answer questions about the codebase he’s working on. This application promises to be incredibly useful to programmers who are working on large software projects.
  • While most of the discussion around ChatGPT swirls around errors and hallucinations, one college professor has started to use ChatGPT as a teaching tool. His ideas focus on ChatGPT’s flaws: for example, having it write an essay for students to analyze and correct.
  • Geoff Hinton proposes forward-forward neural networks, which may be as effective as backpropagation while requiring much less power to train. He also proposes new hardware architectures for artificial intelligence.
  • Riffusion is a generative model based on Stable Diffusion that creates sound by generating spectrograms. Riffusion doesn’t work with sound itself; it only produces the spectrogram, which can be converted to sound downstream.
  • A deluge of content generated by AI has the potential to “poison” public sources of training data. What does it mean to train an AI on data that comes from another AI, rather than a human?
  • DeepMind’s AlphaCode has scored better than 45% of human programmers in a coding competition. Their most important innovation appears to be generating many solutions to a problem and running some simple test cases to select which solutions to submit.
  • Stability AI has announced that artists may remove their work from the training set used to build Stable Diffusion 3. Opting out requires creating an account on Have I Been Trained and uploading images to be excluded.
  • The World Cup used an AI “referee” to assist officials in detecting when players are offside. The system incorporates input from (among other things) a “connected ball” that provided position updates 500 times per second.
  • XetHub is “a collaborative storage platform for managing data at scale.” Essentially, it’s GitHub for data. It appears to be built on top of Git, but with a different approach to minimizing duplication, managing large objects, and supporting different file types. It supports repos up to 1TB, with plans to go to 100TB.
  • Large language models can be used to understand physician’s notes.  While these notes are recorded in electronic health records, they are full of abbreviations, many of which are idiosyncratic and difficult for anyone other than the author to understand.
  • ChatGPT’s training set included a lot of information about Linux, so you can tell it to act like a Linux terminal. You’ll get a shell prompt, along with a simulated filesystem. Most system commands work, and even some programming–though the output is predicted from the training set, not the result of actually running a program. Is this the future of operating systems?
  • Simon Willison is using ChatGPT and Copilot to learn Rust by solving problems from Advent of Code. Although ChatGPT occasionally hallucinates answers, it is surprisingly accurate, and capable of explaining what the code it generates is doing.
  • While ChatGPT’s ability to hold a conversation is impressive, its accuracy is not. StackOverflow has prohibited posts generated by ChatGPT because of incorrect answers.
  • Diffusion models, the AI models on which generative art tools like DALL-E are based, are being used to design new proteins that have specific properties. It is then possible to synthesize these proteins in a lab. These new proteins could lead to new kinds of drugs.
  • Adrian Holavaty’s experiments in music generation using ChatGPT are interesting. Adrian isn’t (yet) trying to get ChatGPT to compose new music; it’s more like “Give me Twinkle Twinkle in MusicML.”  Still, within limits, the chat server can do it.
  • OpenAI is continuing to improve GPT-3. A variant of GPT-3 has been trained to admit when it doesn’t know something, and is less prone to generating inappropriate responses. However, there are still many shortcomings.
  • AI was used to edit swear words out of a movie in production without reshooting any scenes, getting its MPAA rating from R down to PG-13.
  • Scott Aaronson’s lecture summarizing his work (to date) on AI safety is worth reading.

Programming

  • Dioxus is a library for write-once-run-anywhere Web and Mobile programing in Rust.
  • Fission is a web-native (as distinct from cloud native) computing stack that is truly local-first. It was designed to build distributed systems like Mastodon (though Mastodon doesn’t use it at this point) that don’t have central servers, and that can scale.
  • GitHub requires all users to enable two-factor authentication by the end of 2023. They have also enabled secret scanning for free on all public repositories. Secret scanning inspects code for authentication credentials and other secrets that may have been inadvertently left in code.
  • Is no code test automation the next trend in software testing? And looking to the future, is it a stepping stone to fully automated testing using artificial intelligence?
  • JavaScript on the edge? Will JavaScript become the common language for edge computing? That depends in part on what edge computing really means, and that continues to be vague. Is “edge computing” just caching on CDNs?
  • Stephen O’Grady suggests some heuristics to evaluate an organization’s commitment to developer experience.
  • Automated reasoning about programs is a useful adjunct to testing. The Halting Problem doesn’t mean that reasoning about errors in code is impossible; it just means that we (occasionally) have to accept “don’t know” as an answer.
  • Julia Evans (@b0rk) has an excellent set of tips for analyzing logs.  Julia has also offered a Debugging Manifesto.
  • AWS Clean Rooms are a new service that allows organizations to cooperate on data analysis without revealing the underlying data to each other.
  • WasmEdge is a lightweight Web Assembly runtime that’s built for cloud native applications, edge computing applications, and embedded systems.

Security

  • A security breach at LastPass, first reported last August, is worse than the company admitted. Customer information was stolen, including customer vaults containing sensitive information. The vaults are (probably) still protected by customers’ master passwords, though it’s possible the attackers have found a back door.
  • A new wiper malware, called Azov, is spreading rapidly in the wild.  Azov is a sophisticated piece of software that is purely destructive: it overwrites files with random data. Recovery is impossible, aside from restoring from backup.
  • Any new technology has security risks. Here’s a summary of security risks that developers working with WebAssembly should be aware of.
  • Bettercap is a next-generation tool for exploring networks: scanning and probing WiFi and Bluetooth, in addition to Ethernet, spoofing common network protocols, and many other features. It’s an all-in-one tool for network reconnaissance and attacks.

Biology

  • In Greenland, scientists have found and sequenced 2 million year old DNA. The DNA comes from a number of different plants and animals (including mastodons), and gives a picture of what Greenland was like when it had a warmer climate.

Metaverse

  • Nokia argues that the Industrial Metaverse will be centered on digital twins: computer simulations that run in parallel to real-world systems.
  • Webspaces are a new kind of website that can create 3D worlds, using nothing but static HTML. Webspaces preserve (or reclaim) much of the vision of the early Web: learning by copying and pasting from others’ sites, editing in the browser as an editor, and self-hosting.
  • Fashion may be the Metaverse’s first killer app. Though it’s fashion that only exists in the Metaverse–a constraint that’s both freeing and limiting.
  • Build your own Decentralized Twitter is a good introduction (first of three parts) to building federated services. Mastodon is the most prominent example of a federated service, but there are many more applications.

Web

  • Although compatibility issues remain, the latest release of the Chrome browser supports passkeys, a replacement for passwords and password managers that is much more secure.
  • danah boyd has published an must-read essay on social media, failure, and Twitter. danah doesn’t draw any conclusions, but gives an excellent analysis of what failure means.
  • The Brave browser is now showing “privacy preserving” ads in its search results. These ads are currently in a limited beta. Ads will be based only on search query, country, and device type. Brave also plans to release a for-pay ad-free browser.

Web3

  • The venerable WinAmp MP3 player now supports music NFTs. It can be linked to a Metamask wallet, and can download and play files that have been purchased via NFT.

Regulation

  • Europe has become the de facto leader in regulating technology; it’s safe to predict that Europe will implement regulations about cybersecurity, algorithmic accountability, and cryptocurrency in the coming year–and that technology companies will have to comply. It’s less clear whether these changes will have any effect outside of Europe.
  • Privacy regulators in Europe have ruled that it is illegal for Facebook to track user’s activity without explicit consent. This ruling seriously limits Facebook’s ability to use targeted ads.


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